Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor known for groundbreaking pushes on universal health care, gay marriage and legal marijuana, swept to victory Tuesday in the race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown as California governor.
In his victory speech, Newsom issued a stinging rebuke of President Donald Trump without mentioning his name, while arguing that California is more than a “state of resistance.”
“The future belongs to California... It’s time to roll the credits on the politics of chaos and the politics of cruelty,” Newsom said. “We don’t separate families and we don’t lock kids in cages... (California) is a state of results and a state of refuge.”
Newsom’s election marks the first time in more than 130 years in which a Democrat succeeded another Democrat for the office. He will be sworn in this January to succeed Brown, 80, who is leaving office having served 24 years in statewide office, including 16 as governor.
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The results reflect California’s deep-blue bent. San Diego businessman John Cox, a Republican, failed to make his case to voters that Democrats are to blame for the state’s deep affordability problems, a pitch he’d hoped would appeal to Democrats and independents during a year in which Republican voter registration fell below 25 percent. He led Cox, 56 percent to 44 percent, as returns came in.
At his campaign party downtown Los Angeles, Newsom’s supporters cheered as they watched MSNBC declare him California’s next governor.
Newsom campaign manager Addisu Demissie said Newsom’s victory provides a “beacon to the country” as a divided government takes control in Washington, D.C.
“California is going to show the country what progressive governance looks like,” Demissie said. “California is going to be the positive alternative to Trump.”
He has described his policy agenda as “audacious.” On the campaign trail, Newsom often said he’s “not afraid to take risks.“
“California has never succeeded by playing it safe,” Newsom told a crowd of California Democrats earlier this year.
He vowed Tuesday night to bolster policies expanding health care, jobs and education, and to address California’s affordability problems.
“We are far from perfect,” Newsom said. “Too many Californians are being priced out of housing, of health care and higher education. Too many workers are feeling the ever-tightening squeeze of automation and wage stagnation. Too many children are growing up in poverty and starting school from behind.”
Like Brown, Newsom has vowed to aggressively fight efforts by Trump and his administration to roll back Obamacare, undo the state’s strong environmental laws and loosen protections for undocumented immigrants. In the later weeks of the campaign, he argued that he would also act as “the adult in the room,” as Brown did, to curb legislative excess.
But how he will accomplish the agenda he outlined during the campaign remains an open question.
“By the time Jerry Brown was elected the third time, everyone knew what they were getting. The Capitol community is waiting to find out whether Newsom is going to present himself as a calming influence to tame the state Legislature, or as a partisan warrior who is going to rage against the machine,” said Dan Schnur, a veteran political analyst. “He’s presented both personas as a candidate. The question is which is going to define his approach as governor.”
Newsom’s expensive policy promises — he has vowed to push for universal health care, a statewide preschool program for all and a massive investment in state infrastructure and job training — will present steep challenges once he assumes office. Brown has warned that the economy could falter.
“It’s very possible that Gov. Newsom could face a recession, or at least a bear market, which means the tax collections won’t be as robust,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “He’ll have some tough choices to make.”
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee on his campaign bus last week, Newsom said he will take a cautious approach to state finances — the state Constitution requires him to present a budget by Jan. 10, 2019.
He said he will preserve the state’s estimated $13.8 billion rainy day fund accumulated under Brown.
“I’m not a profligate Democrat,” Newsom has said repeatedly.
Newsom has long pioneered socially liberal causes while remaining close to with powerful California business interests.
In his first year as mayor of San Francisco, Newsom flouted the law of the land — and bucked the national Democratic Party establishment — by granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples in what became known the “Winter of Love” that helped pave the way for the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
Under his leadership, San Francisco created the nation’s first universal health care system that allowed all residents, regardless of immigration status, to enroll in a program known as “Healthy San Francisco.” Though it was not insurance, at its peak in 2013, it provided health care access to more than 65,000 city residents within its borders years before Obamacare was even debated.
As lieutenant governor, Newsom also spearheaded the 2016 state initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
He’s also gone against the liberal wing his own party. In 2002, for example, Newsom led the fight to strip homeless people of welfare checks in exchange for government-funded housing, roiling progressives on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors who blasted him as a pro-business Democrat — equivalent to a dirty word in deeply liberal San Francisco.
He argued for a more business-friendly environment in San Francisco as he began building a network of 22 businesses under his PlumpJack brand of mostly wineries, restaurants and hotels.
On the campaign trail this year, Newsom agreed with criticism from Cox about California’s problems with housing affordability, acknowledging that homelessness has worsened and housing costs have skyrocketed under Democratic leadership and saying he has a “responsibility” to address it. He has outlined a goal of building 3.5 million new housing units in the next six years, an aggressive housing production target that the state has never come close to meeting.
He has promised aggressive action to address widespread homelessness that has led to public health threats from San Francisco to San Diego – needles littering streets, rampant drug use and a Hepatitis A outbreak in coastal cities.
From the state’s growing the state’s budget surplus, to high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels, Newsom said he’ll continue major investments and unfinished projects Brown pursued.
Though high-speed rail is behind schedule and over budget, Newsom said he’s “committed” to completing the first phase, from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley. Then, Newsom said, the state will discuss future financing options, including partnering with private sector businesses. He also said in January that the Delta tunnel project “has got to be a top priority for the next administration. You can’t walk away from this.”
On Brown’s efforts to establish clean energy rules for California, Newsom said he’s “eager to build on Gov. Brown’s legacy.”
He said he will continue to oppose any proposed expansion of offshore drilling, apply greater scrutiny to oil leases and work to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for California. He said he’s “interested” in advancing the concept of a regional energy grid.
“I have a bias leaning in favor,” Newsom has said. On instituting a moratorium for new fracking operations and oil leases — an issue Brown has faced intense criticism for declining to do — Newsom said he “wants to pursue those questions before I would adopt that.”
He said he had discussed the idea with the outgoing governor. Brown “said he has a lot of work that his staff has done...he said I better read before I make an opinion,” Newsom said. “He is very adamant about that.”
Newsom said he’ll distance himself from his network businesses. But he does not plan to get rid of them.
“I can’t do that. I am not going to sell,” he said, adding, “I can’t have any involvement, period. Governor — that’s a full-time job.”