Gov. Gavin Newsom must maintain credibility to succeed as the state’s coronavirus czar, but he’s his own worst enemy in that regard.
When California legislators, decades ago, gave governors the power to declare emergencies and quickly deal with them, they probably had in mind sudden events such as earthquakes, wildfires or perhaps riots.
They probably didn’t envision a governor assuming almost dictatorial power over the social and economic lives of every Californian for the indefinite future, as Gavin Newsom did when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the state. Newsom shut down much of the state’s economy and commanded Californians to shelter in place.
From an epidemiological standpoint it seems to be working. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths are running well below early predictions. However, as the shutdown continues, as ordinary Californians grow weary of isolation and as the economic damage mounts, there are stirrings of rebellion and rising criticism of Newsom’s acts.
Legislators, even those of Newsom’s own party, are chafing that he makes major decisions with huge consequences without consulting them, such as a billion-dollar secret deal to acquire millions of much-needed face masks he first revealed on national television.
Last week, Newsom’s performance received very critical journalistic reviews in two hitherto friendly publications, the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee.
The Times published a very lengthy article, declaring that “Newsom’s recent waffling on the life-and-death decision and other actions have renewed critiques of the impatient, and at times chaotic, governing style that dogged Newsom in his first year in office.
“Though state lawmakers and advocates for businesses, nonprofits, seniors, healthcare and other groups waited their turn for aid or hesitated to speak out during the first few weeks of the unprecedented crisis as the governor grappled with immediate needs to slow the spread of the virus, that patience is running out. Legislators and advocacy groups want more input.”
The Bee’s editorial focused on Newsom’s lack of candor.
When, the editorial noted, Newsom announced that a vacant basketball arena owned by the Sacramento Kings basketball team would be converted into a hospital, he called it “an example of philanthropy at scale and people extending their hand.”
Later, however, the Bee revealed that the state is paying the Kings $500,000 a month and the editorial asks, “why didn’t the governor make it clear that this was a business deal rather than a donation?”
“Unfortunately, the governor has a long track record of making announcements that turn out to be half-baked,” the Bee editorial continued.
“In March, Newsom announced that Tesla CEO Elon Musk had delivered over 1,000 ventilators to California. Weeks later, it turned out that no California hospitals had received any actual ventilators.”
In early 2019, Newsom’s office confirmed that he and his family were moving into the historic governor’s mansion near downtown Sacramento. Weeks later, it turned out they were actually moving to a mansion in Fair Oaks.
“A month later,” the editorial continues, “Newsom announced…that he was essentially scrapping his predecessors’ plans for a statewide California High-Speed Rail project,” but “Afterward, he backtracked, denied what he’d said and blamed the press for reporting his words.”
One could add that while running for governor, he flatly declared that he would solve California’s housing crisis by building 3.5 million homes, only to dismiss it later as “an aspirational goal.”
Newsom is essentially promising Californians that if they obey his dicta everything will turn out all right, but to succeed he must maintain credibility, and at times he’s his own worst enemy.
Something like the guy in a white house 2,372 miles to the east perhaps?