Governor Newsom’s defining challenge

Gavin Newsom’s tenure as governor got off to a bit of a rough start.

The threat of storms forced the proceedings into a tent. Protesters disrupted his oath of office with chants. Finally – and most memorably – his two-year-old son, Dutch, toddled onto the stage in the middle of the inaugural speech and stole the show.

The governor handled it with humor and grace, turning the unexpected to his advantage. He’ll need to remain nimble as he takes the helm as California’s 40th governor. The months and years ahead will test him as nothing ever has before.

In his inaugural speech, Gov. Newsom spoke of California’s symbolic importance to the rest of the world. He cast the challenges facing our state as “moral imperatives” that must be addressed for the good of humanity. He specifically highlighted poverty, pollution, private prisons and payday lenders as threats to the California dream. He lifted up criminal justice reform, abortion rights and “middle-class jobs” as things he plans to fight for and protect.

Eyes glistening with emotion, Newsom said: “In our home, working people deserve fair pay, the right to join a union, and the chance at a middle-class life for themselves and their families.”

He promised a “Marshall Plan for affordable housing” and pledged to “lift up the fight against homelessness from a local matter to a state-wide mission.”

Inauguration speeches tend to be heavy on aspiration, and Newsom’s did not disappoint: “The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”

He made sure to throw the requisite elbow at President Donald Trump, blasting the “corruption and incompetence in the White House” while also pledging to represent “all Californians, not only those who voted for (him).”

The governor’s speech stuck to poetry and did not delve into policy specifics. For instance, he didn’t mention how he’ll solve the state’s chronic battles over disputed water supplies. If the record rains pounding California this week continue, they may save him from the problem of apocalyptic drought during his first year. Jerry Brown’s $14 billion budget surplus is another blessing, one that has temporarily fended off the budget drama of years past.

Now that the speech is over, however, the governing begins – and the sky wasn’t the only thing leaking in California this month. Newsom’s advisers have been busy dribbling out glimpses of his forthcoming budget. On the menu: billions of dollars in new spending. Not included: how California will pay for these new programs.

Among the new spending Newsom will propose in his first budget:

$1.7 billion for early childhood education. As he promised in his campaign, Newsom will take bold steps to support parents and fund child development programs. This will include $750 million for universal kindergarten, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Free community college: Newsom will propose $40 million in extra funding to provide a second free year of community college to California students, according to Politico.

Extended paid parental leave: Newsom “is expected to introduce a proposal to give families six months of paid leave after the birth of a child,” says The New York Times, adding: “What’s unclear is how California will pay for it.”

The fact that most of his budget news was leaked to East Coast publications suggests that Newsom is already eyeing a national profile for himself. But while the Potomac may beckon, a governor must first succeed along the banks of the Sacramento.

Newsom has vowed to continue Brown’s pattern of fiscal responsibility, a promise he repeated in his speech. “We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, pay down debt and meet our future obligations,” he said. “But let me be clear: We will be bold. We will aim high. And we will work like hell to get there.”

Balancing bold new ideas and limited resources will be the defining challenge of the Newsom administration. We look forward to the details.