On experience, knowledge and policy, Gavin Newsom is by far the better choice to be California’s next governor. But to seal the deal with voters, he must give a clearer picture of his top priorities and the specific actions he would take starting Day One.
So far, the Democratic lieutenant governor is pledging significant progress on a wide range of problems and making promises to a lot of different constituencies. That will help him win votes, but will make it more difficult to claim a mandate to do much of anything specific.
Republican John Cox has the opposite issue. His platform is paper thin.
The nine-item policy agenda on his campaign website consists mostly of vague pledges (to fix homelessness and immigration), mixed with criticisms of Newsom (if he gets his way, he would make health care lines as long as those at the DMV).
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We’d like to ask Cox for more specifics, but he declined our invitation to sit down for an endorsement interview, just as he did before the June primary.
In trying to assess Cox, voters have little to go on because he does not have a long public record, in stark contrast to Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor. While Cox has run for county recorder of deeds, the U.S. House and Senate, and briefly for president in 2008, he hasn’t been elected to anything. A real estate investor who spent most of his life in Chicago and now lives in San Diego County, he has sunk $5.6 million of his own money into his campaign so far, more than half its total contributions.
Now, he apparently believes he can slide into California’s most powerful office by piggybacking on the proposed gas tax repeal and blaming Democrats for the state’s rising cost of living. “Help Is On The Way” might be a catchy hashtag to use on social media, but it’s not much of a governing philosophy.
Voters are smarter than that. And we’re betting they’ll hear that when Newsom and Cox debate on KQED radio on Oct. 8.
It’s their only scheduled forum before Nov. 6, which is a shame. Voters in the nation’s most populous state, the fifth largest economy in the world, deserve more opportunities to take stock of the two men who want to be its chief executive for the next four years.
Cox snagged the second spot in the crowded top-two primary field by being the most electable Republican. But in a state where more voters are registered with no party preference than as Republicans, he’s going to have to do a lot more to have any chance at winning on Nov. 6.
Newsom has been running for three years, has a double-digit lead in the polls and is apparently so confident that until he launched a $1 million-plus statewide ad push in late September, he spent a good chunk of his time stumping for other Democrats in state legislative races, as well as those seeking to unseat Republicans in Congress.
Having allies will certainly help him pursue his agenda. But Newsom also needs to sharpen his own campaign message.
His spokesman says that Newsom’s top priorities, in no particular order, are: universal prenatal care and preschool; housing and homelessness; universal health care; and economic development. His campaign website lists two other primary issues – protecting the environment and defending “California values.”
Under each of those subjects, there’s a laundry list of actions that Newsom says he will take as governor.
He says he will lead the way toward single-payer health care. He promises college savings accounts for every kindergartner. He says he’ll create 500,000 apprenticeships by 2029. He says he’ll start a state bank to offer low-interest loans. He promises to lead an effort to develop 3.5 million new housing units by 2025. He vows to support the #MeToo movement with stronger workplace protections for women. And he says he will launch an initiative to eventually eliminate HIV.
Newsom makes many, many promises that will cost a lot of money. To govern successfully, he must focus, especially if California hits another economic downturn, which will reduce the amount of money he has to tackle his wide-ranging agenda.
Newsom likes to think of himself as a visionary. As lieutenant governor, with limited authority, he didn’t have much responsibility to turn his vision into reality.
However, as governor, he would have immense power to set the state’s agenda, to write the state’s laws and to decide how billions of dollars get spent. That makes it all the more important that Newsom choose his priorities wisely.