It’s difficult to fathom the idea of Gov. Gavin Newsom feeling political heat.
A year after his landslide election as California’s 40th chief executive, the young and photogenic former San Francisco mayor enjoys supermajorities for his party in both legislative chambers and benefits from a national economic boom that is now in its third year.
It would seem that the sky’s the limit for Newsom, a Democrat with national aspirations presiding over a heavily Democrat-favoring big state. As the Sacramento Bee’s Sophia Bollag notes, Newsom “can cite action on multiple fronts: Police will have new guidelines on when they should fire their weapons. Renters will see new protections against rent spikes. School districts will have more control over creation of new charter schools.”
Amid all this sunshine, the state’s voters are giving the new governor an emphatic and resounding “meh.” A Quinnipiac University Poll this summer had Newsom’s job-performance rating at 39 percent approve and 38 percent disapprove. Could the honeymoon be over this soon?
There’s even a budding recall, if you can believe that. A group that calls itself Keeping California Safe from Dishonest Politicians says it’s starting to gather signatures. Among its grievances are California’s controversial policies to legally protect – and give free health care to – undocumented immigrants, and an exodus of businesses and taxpayers the group argues will cost California a congressional seat in next year’s Census.
The group has 2,473 followers on Facebook – a far cry from the 900,000 signatures it is seeking to put a recall on the ballot. But hey, it’s been only 16 years since voters upset over vehicle fees in 2003 recalled Gov. Gray Davis a year after he was re-elected and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, so strange things have been known to happen.
Whatever the threat, Newsom behaves like he’s hearing it from somewhere. In the most publicized example of this, he ticked off his own party’s legislative caucus by throwing up last-minute roadblocks to a vaccine bill that had been targeted by libertarians and social conservatives.
But the biggest benefit for agriculture from the governor’s seemingly newfound centrism was his promised veto of Senate Bill 1. Newsom battled his party’s left flank over this bill, engaging in extensive negotiations over language and ultimately rebuffing the bill’s author, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, who had forced a vote to put it on his desk.
One Los Angeles Times columnist credited Atkins with bravery for confronting the new governor. I think the credit should go to Newsom, who took on California’s very powerful environmental lobby on the behalf of San Joaquin Valley farmers.
Maybe Newsom looks at the current presidential primary field and concludes that his best shot of becoming president will be as a moderate running in 2024, when Democrats will presumably be desperate to win after two terms of Donald Trump. Or maybe, as the Bee's Dale Kasler and Kate Irby opine, he just wants to give the voluntary water agreements in the valley a chance to succeed.
Whatever the explanation, his actions show that one-party rule isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.