Governor Gav Gab or The Wayward Californian
Gavin Newsom delivered his State of the State address Tuesday in just under 18 minutes. It was weird optics for a governor facing a deluge of crises, especially coming from a guy known for his Fidel Castro-style multi-hour oratories when presenting his annual budget — just as long, but without the cigars, magnificent beard and fatigues.
With more than half of California voters (54 percent) convinced the state is on the wrong track, he owed it to them to take the address seriously. Like so much else in state government, that debt remains unpaid.
Newsom’s unusual brevity had one advantage. His vision for the future was revealed as myopic — all platitudes, social-justice signifiers and huge gaps revealed reality was missing.
From the looks of it, he’s got one plan — to run for president — and a slogan to go with it: throughout the speech, he referenced “The California Way.” He’s apparently oblivious to what that means in the Rest of America, where national progressives (consider Orange County’s own, Ezra Klein) worry that Newsom & Co. have governed so badly that they’ve damaged the progressive brand.
Here’s a closer look at the governor’s key points, and why he’s wrong on every one of them.
The Homeless Crisis
California’s out-of-control homeless problem and epic crime wave have both surged on Newsom’s watch. Two-thirds of nearly 9,000 voters polled said Newsom is doing a “poor” or “very poor” job addressing homelessness, up 12 points from 2020. And 51% of voters said the governor was doing a poor job on crime and public safety, up 16 points from 2020.
Newsom knew that his numbers were in the tank and admitted that, “Just a few years ago, California lacked any comprehensive strategy. No accountability, and no meaningful state resources to solve the problem.” That’s all changed under his leadership, Newsom claimed. But of course, everyone who lives in California knows the only change is that everything’s much worse. That’s because progressives believe homelessness is a housing issue – one driven by gentrification and capitalist excess – rather than a mental health and drug addiction problem. So Newsom has thrown billions of dollars at “homelessness,” which has been a cash-cow for counties and housing developers charging half a million dollars per unit of “supportive housing,” but it has not made a dent in the crisis.
Now grasping that, Newsom has a new proposal: “CARE Courts.” Like so many of his previous plans, it is more bluster than substance and repackages other similar plans almost as a branding exercise. California already has a program that uses the “black robe” effect of judges to compel assisted outpatient treatment. It’s called Laura’s Law and in 2020 Newsom signed the bill requiring all counties to have these kinds of mandated assisted outpatient treatment programs unless they opted out. Like San Francisco’s catastrophically failed “Linkage Centers,” ridiculed as open-air drug markets, this, too, looks destined for failure. Newsom staffers are choosing their words carefully to suggest that the program will be a magical combination of guidance programs for the severely mentally ill and addicted. But without fundamental reform of our mental health laws, which Newsom promised to pursue in January, enforcement of such a program will be as effective as previous attempts unless and until he has the guts to stand up to progressive groups like the ACLU that oppose any real effort to compel care.
California’s Epic Crime Wave
Soaring crime rates? Everyone (but Newsom apparently) knows the cause of the crime increase: Prop 47 has gutted penalties for crimes, prosecutors in major cities are refusing to prosecute criminals in the name of “social justice,” and politicians are defanging and defunding law enforcement.
Newsom’s solution? The governor admitted his approach is to not “revert to heavy-handed policies that have marked the failures of the past.” “Heavy-handed” seems to be his euphemism for “prosecuting crime.” And Newsom’s big idea, drum roll please, “we’re also investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new programs to tackle the root cause of crime, doubling down on proven violence prevention programs.”
Newsflash: the root cause of the crime surge in California is that the criminals know they can get away with crime because police departments and prosecutors have had their hands tied by progressive politicians. The best violence prevention program is prosecuting criminals.
The Nation’s Highest Gas Prices
When it comes to climate change policy, “California has no peers,” Newsom said. Fact Check: True! When it comes to enacting reckless “green initiatives” that have no basis in reality but destroy the state in easily demonstrable ways, California has no match. The average consumer in California already pays 80 percent more for electricity than the national average and pays the highest gas prices in the nation. That’s a genuine hardship for most Californians.
Newsom conveniently blamed the war in Ukraine and post-pandemic inflation for the rising gas prices. But he could single-handedly lower gas prices and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil if he would allow drilling in California. Newsom focuses on greenhouse gases as the only byproduct; we’d point out that others include good jobs, lower fuel prices, and general prosperity. Don’t tell that to the governor. He says drilling would only lead to “even more extreme weather, more extreme drought, and more wildfire.” See how that works? Newsom ignores proven solutions for fire prevention (forest management) and water recycling and storage (because environmentalists object), then blames capitalism and climate change for his failures and casts himself as a “green solutions” hero.
Newsom said he’s not “naive” that drivers are struggling to afford the high price of gasoline. His response? Get rich and buy electric. “Daily life still demands too much fossil fuel,” Newsom said. But who’s being naive? His mandate that all new vehicles sold in the state be electric by 2035 would radically increase electricity demand in a state that can’t even keep the lights on now.
Jobs, the Economy and California vs. Texas and Florida
“When it comes to the economy, California is unmatched. We dominate,” Newsom said Tuesday, pointing to “new” job growth in the state, but – fun trick! – he’s counting the jobs he destroyed with pandemic lockdowns that are only now coming back. The truth is California has one of the worst unemployment rates of any state, and workers and businesses are fleeing the state. And while Newsom spent part of his speech trolling his Republican counterparts in Texas and Florida, the latest U-Haul report ranks those states first and second respectively for places people are moving to, and California ranks dead last. On the contrary, California was “top state for out-migration” last year, an exodus so vast that U-Haul “simply ran out of inventory to meet customer demand.”
Nearly one-third of California voters gave California schools a “D” or “F” after Newsom kept schools locked down during the pandemic far longer than other states at the behest of the state’s teacher’s unions. The shutdowns led to historic student absenteeism, devastating learning loss on top of already dismal achievement scores in reading and math, and a serious mental health crisis for California kids. Newsom disgracefully ignored all of that in his “State of the State,” and instead pushed the absurd notion that “real transformation of our public education system” includes trapping kids in failing government schools at an even earlier age through “universal pre-kindergarten.”
Democracy the “California Way”
- In an outrageous comparison, Newsom compared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to what he called “authoritarian and illiberal impulses” also “echoing here are home,” dragging out the usual right-wing boogeymen who he warned are “agents of a national anger machine … scapegoating vulnerable minorities.”
- But the real authoritarian has been Gov. Newsom, who shut down schools, restaurants and businesses during the pandemic — and kept them closed far longer than necessary. The real anger machine is the governor who, facing a recall, dismissed his critics as supporters of January 6. The Governor seems oblivious to the fact that low-income minorities are most vulnerable when they can’t work because businesses are shut down and their children can’t get an education because schools are closed. What’s “authoritarian and illiberal” is Newsom’s refusal to give up his COVID emergency powers despite the fact that Omicron is waning.
If you missed Gov. Newsom’s State of the State, be sure to check out this round-up of CPC staff’s live-tweets during the address or view the full conversation on Twitter at #GovGavGab.
Dawn Collier is the communications director for the California Policy Center.