In attempting to decide what action or actor on the California political scene had the greatest effect on the state’s policy and politics, naturally, you first think of politicians. None stands out more than Governor Gavin Newsom. He has been in the center of the crisis management dealing with outside disasters with the pandemic and its effects on California’s people and economy and the rash of state wildfires, as well as other newsworthy problems, some of his own making.

In responding quickly to the virus when it first hit the Golden State, Newsom reaped praise both nationally and statewide for not allowing California to suffer the deaths and contagion that hit other states, especially New York. But the praise has worn thin as the virus continues its destructive ways and Newsom’s solutions of lockdowns have disgruntled many residents.

Part of the reduced enthusiasm for the governor was created by his own stumbles, especially the incident at the French Laundry Restaurant. Then again, it added to Newsom’s notoriety in 2020.

Newsom also took the reins of the state during this difficult time by freely using executive orders. That position has also not worn well over time with legislators grumbling about the chief executive overstepping his authority and at least one court agreeing that Newsom’s actions have occasionally crossed the constitutional separation of powers.

On top of the coronavirus response and dealing with wildfires, Newsom has had his issues with the Trump administration and California policies that have gone crosswise with the president’s vision.

Newsom also found himself in the role of kingmaker of sorts as he will have to name replacements for U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as she becomes vice-president and Attorney General Xavier Becerra as he leaves to work for incoming president Joe Biden. There will likely be other top-ranking appointments to be made by the governor depending on whom he chooses to fill those posts. While those appointments probably will not be made until 2021, the jockeying and associated headlines are already here.

It’s hard to think of any other entity that made such a mark on California in this irrepressible year—unless it was the Covid-19 virus itself.

Most of what raised Governor Newsom’s profile was attributed to the devastating coronavirus. The quick response, the fight over closed churches, the rules to follow during the pandemic, the French Laundry, and now more lockdowns are all a result of dealing with the virus. 

But the coronavirus has meant much more to millions of Californians. The tragedy of thousands of victims dying or becoming ill. Jobs lost. Businesses closed. A new stay-at-home lifestyle often highlighted by Zoom meetings. Government revenue, especially on the local level, reduced drastically. Limited legislative sessions and reduced numbers of new laws. New places for legislators to meet in sports arenas and online. All governments, state and local, have altered agendas to deal with the crisis. Simply put, Covid-19 has disrupted California.

California 2020 is truly in the gnarled hands of the wretched Covid-19. Therefore, I nominate for the Black Bart Award as the leading issue that has affected California policy and politics in 2020 Covid-19.