California Gov. Gavin Newsom has acted on the death penalty, high-speed rail and wildfires. But he says resisting President Donald Trump has mainly influenced his first 100 days.
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In his first three-and-a-third months as California’s 40th governor, Gavin Newsom has grabbed a lot of headlines—and caught a lot of flak from critics who point out that the substance of his announcements hasn’t necessarily matched the sizzle in every case.
He canceled California’s high-speed rail project. Except, he didn’t. A closer look in the days that followed revealed that Newsom didn’t really change too much.
He pulled the California National Guard off the Mexico border. Well, almost. He left about a third of the troops at the border to fight drug smuggling.
He cut the Delta Tunnels water project in half, from two to one, which former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration was already floating.
And he placed a moratorium on the death penalty, even though California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.
In an interview this week with Capital Public Radio, Newsom said he’s sparking “overdue healthy conversations that add a little bit more nuance and specificity.”
The governor said it would’ve been easier to dodge some of those controversial issues. Instead, he argued, he’s trying to be bolder and more transparent.
“If there’s any point I’m trying to make, [it’s] that we’re not unwilling to lean in to some of these vexing issues,” he said.
Former colleagues at San Francisco City Hall say that’s exactly what Newsom did when he was mayor.
“It’s similar in the splashy part,” says Tom Ammiano, a former San Francisco supervisor and state assemblyman.
Ammiano said Newsom was splashy both when he delivered on his promises, as when he issued same-sex marriage licenses, and when he didn’t follow through, as—in Ammiano’s opinion—with Newsom’s efforts to address homelessness.
So now that Newsom is governor, “is there going to be follow-up?” Ammiano asked. “Will he be able to withstand the pressures to change, modify or lighten up? Which he did a lot as mayor—[he] would promise one thing and then in the end not be supportive of it.”
Newsom’s allies from his time as mayor acknowledge his “big splash” style. But they argue that even if his initial actions are incremental, he often gets there in the end.
And after all, they note, the governor only hit his 100-day mark on Tuesday.
“Listen, Gavin is a flashy guy,” said former Supervisor Angela Alioto, who endorsed Newsom in the 2003 mayoral runoff after losing to him in the primary.
“I mean, it’s hard to get around that. He’s not dull. He’ll never be dull,” Alioto said. “But the question is, as an elected official of the people, does he live up to what he says? And I believe he always has.”
Newsom—who’s also known to dive deep into policy and spent two hours unveiling his first budget proposal in January—is hardly the first Californian to deploy splash.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger leveraged his Hollywood stardom to great effect, although he left office with low approval ratings after alienating liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike.
“I see that passion and zeal for being the leader of the pack, and certainly that’s similar to Gov. Schwarzenegger,” said Schwarzenegger’s first press secretary, Margita Thompson, who noted Newsom and her old boss both sought to play on the world stage. “But—and this is something I just feel in my gut—from a stylistic perspective, [Newsom] just seems more cautious.”
Maybe, Thompson said, that’s because the U.S. Constitution prevented Schwarzenegger from running for president.
In any case, Newsom’s supporters note, gubernatorial tenures aren’t usually judged by big splashes. More crucial will be the next 100 days, and the days beyond that, as voters decide whether he has followed through on his promises.
This story is part of our California Dream collaboration. You can listen to Ben’s interview this week with Gov. Newsom about wildfire liability, immigration and much more here.
And you can keep track of whether the governor is delivering on his campaign promises with CALmatters’ tracker “Gavin: Getting Things Done?”