Time was, Gavin Newsom dismissed the office of lieutenant governor by wondering what the job did and whether it should exist. The answers: not much and no.
But six years into it and aspiring to move over to the governor’s suite, Newsom is using the position of lite guv to be everywhere. As a UC regent, he voted against a tuition hike. That heartens younger voters.
As a State Lands Commission member, Newsom is challenging venture capitalist Vinod Khosla’s effort to restrict access over his property to Martins Beach in San Mateo County. That plays well to environmentalist activists.
Mostly Newsom is in the face of President Donald Trump, giving voice to horrified liberals by using the president’s medium of choice to regularly tweet smack to his 1.29 million followers.
If he is not deriding Jeff Sessions as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s choice for attorney general, he’s lauding judges for striking down Trump’s order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries as “a victory for an America that doesn’t cower behind walls or fear those fleeing oppression.”
On the phone the other day, Newsom played amateur psychologist: “Trump is fixated with this state. It’s the reason he was crushed in the popular vote. He wants to be in the Hollywood crowd. He will never be part of that crowd.”
And so Trump will look for ways to bring the rebellious state to heel, and Newsom can see no downside to confronting Trump, not in California, not when passions are so high, not when a Public Policy Institute of California poll finds a mere 34 percent of voters think Trump is doing a good job. You can’t get a haircut, go to a restaurant or stand in a movie line without hearing trash talk about Trump, especially not in San Francisco, Newsom’s town.
“I’m feeling the moment,” Newsom said. “I am feeling the assault, and I feel compelled to push back. I take this personally. I’m not going to be timid. I don’t want to be tactical. I want to be authentic. … We not going to accept this as the new norm.”
There was a time when Newsom could sound moderate, telling a Bee reporter in 2010: “I’m not profligate as a progressive. I come from the private sector. I created over 1,000 jobs.” In 2011, he annoyed Jerry Brown, the man he hopes to replace, by traveling to Texas to appear with then Gov. Rick Perry, Trump’s choice to be energy secretary, to see how the Lone Star State created jobs. These days, moderation is so yesterday.
“He is the most progressive, dynamic young leader in California,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, which has endorsed him.
He clearly has a nose for issues that resonate, as was evident in 2004 when he began his tenure as mayor of San Francisco by authorizing same-sex marriages, and became the first statewide politician in the nation to embrace full legalization of marijuana.
Of all the “progressive” stands he takes – and DeMoro lists several – she is most enthusiastic about his support for the nurses’ holy grail: government-provided health care, otherwise known as Medicare for all or single-payer.
“He doesn’t present himself as a revolutionary. But his policies and actions are progressive down the line. … He is going to resonate with the Bernie base,” said DeMoro, whose union aggressively backed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, so much so that the nurses never got around to endorsing Hillary Clinton.
DeMoro believes Newsom “will run for president one day.” First, there’s the matter of 2018.
In 2017, it’s impossible to handicap 2018. But Newsom enters the governor’s race with advantages. Having been San Francisco mayor, he is well-known in Northern California. Voters at this end of the state cast ballots more reliably than do Southern Californians.
He started the year with $11 million in various campaign accounts, more than his announced Democratic rivals, Treasurer John Chiang, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. A billionaire backing one of Newsom’s opponents could easily erase his money advantage with a $20 million independent expenditure.
Newsom is friends with his share of billionaires. Here are four: George Soros, Trump supporter Peter Thiel, Nicholas Pritzker and Sean Parker. All four embraced Proposition 64, the Newsom-backed iniitiative that legalized marijuana. Therein lies an advantage, and peril.
Heading into the Proposition 64 campaign, Newsom insisted he would not countenance a “new Gold Rush.” He said he was supporting legalization because too many people were locked up for marijuana offenses. That spin aside, entrepreneurs see opportunity, as is evident from the website of The Arcview Group, a company that connects investors and startups seeking to profit from the marijuana business.
“Cannabis is the next great American industry,” Arcview says on its website. “We look forward to building it with you.” Last week, Arcview Group hosted a Newsom fundraiser in Oakland, saying in its invitation: “I can’t stress how important it will be for the governor of California to be a staunch supporter and defender of cannabis legalization.”
Perhaps the rollout of legalization will be smooth. Maybe businesspeople won’t market the intoxicant to kids. But if it becomes the new tobacco or alcohol, voters would be right to hold him responsible. But whatever risk may come from marijuana commercialization, there’s no downside to weaponizing Twitter against Trump, not in California. And tweet he does.