Bill Whalen

Will Newsom’s cabinet reflect all of California?

California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom stands amid a packed auditorium during a town hall meeting at the Teamsters Local 431 Joint Hall in Fresno on Friday.
California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom stands amid a packed auditorium during a town hall meeting at the Teamsters Local 431 Joint Hall in Fresno on Friday. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Seven days into the new year, I’m looking at the same quandary facing many a weekday commuter in congested Northern California: how to juggle same-day events in Sacramento and Silicon Valley.

On Jan. 7, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom will take his oath of office. A few hours later, college football’s playoff championship will get underway at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara – on an impossibly good day, a two-hour drive.

You won’t find a bigger cultural divide in these parts – blue-state hipness at the state Capitol vs. a red-state celebration of pigskin and pig parts at the stadium tailgate (the four participants in the college football playoff come from states that voted 54.9 percent or more for Donald Trump in 2016).

The blue-red divide brings to mind Newsom’s approach to his new job – specifically, what’s in it for Californians who are neither liberally erudite nor within breathing distance of sea air.

Newsom understands this, which is why he did the symbolic thing late last week, traveling to Fresno to convince locals he still has their back (Newsom lost six of the Central Valley’s eight counties and failed to reach 53 percent in the two counties he carried).

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The question now: will the governor-elect build an administration that gives even a minor nod to ideological diversity. In the spirit of Bill Clinton, who once promised a cabinet that “looked like America,” will Newsom compile a team that resembles the entirety of the Golden State?

Newsom wouldn’t be the first California governor of late to look for talent across party lines. Arnold Schwarzenegger, though technically a Republican, ended up with Democrats aplenty in the Governor’s Office. Rep. Norm Mineta, a San Jose Democrat, served as George W. Bush’s transportation secretary during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Bill Whalen

However, Schwarzenegger wasn’t a risen-from-the-ranks partisan – certainly not after the special-election defeat in 2005. His was the Darwinian governorship – evolution in Arnold’s thoughts and priorities as he warmed up to the likes of global warming and political reform.

Newsom already has evolved in the nearly 15 years since he first rose to prominence as a San Francisco mayor willing to defy existing law by sanctifying same-sex marriage. If Newsom does alter course on the job, it will be because circumstances changed (say, an economic downturn), not his core philosophy.

I don’t expect many, if any, non-Democrats to occupy state government’s appointed offices in 2019 – to the victors go the spoils.

But I do have two suggestions for the governor-elect.

First, consider appointing a Republican to serve as the new administration’s business liaison. Make it that Republican’s mission to listen to the concerns of the ag, tech, trade and tourism sectors, then report back to the governor.

If Newsom wants to prove he is indeed “pro-business and progressive,” this is one way to demonstrate his sincerity.

The other move: appoint an independent to run the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Here’s why: as we learned in 2018, natural disasters are color-blind – be it granola Malibu or the far more conservative stretches of rural Northern California, nature’s misery doesn’t discriminate between red and blue populations.

If natural calamities are California’s “new new,” then Newsom will have to invest more time and money in disaster preparation and relief. That’s a lot easier if the Cal OES director lacks partisan bloodlines (while we’re at it, Newsom should appoint an independent to run his office in the partisan-cleaved nation’s capital).

Plans call for the Newsom inaugural to be held outdoors, reflecting his faith in the Sacramento weather.

Hiring outside the partisan box? That too would be a show of good faith for his governance.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.
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