Gavin New­som must de­cide how far he wants to lead Cal­i­for­nia to the left

Marysville Appeal-Democrat - - STATE - Los An­ge­les Times (TNS)

SACRA­MENTO – Few can ar­gue with Cal­i­for­nia Democrats that their sweep­ing vic­to­ries on Tues­day are a clear man­date to set in place an agenda for the state that will last well into the next decade. Less clear, though, is what those march­ing or­ders should be – and whether vot­ers will em­brace the full panoply of de­mands that have lurched the state’s dom­i­nant party left­ward since the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

No one will face that task more di­rectly than Gov.elect Gavin New­som. The 51-year-old Demo­crat, who won a re­sound­ing vic­tory over Repub­li­can chal­lenger John Cox, will pre­side not only over the na­tion’s largest econ­omy, but also as leader of Amer­ica’s most fierce re­sis­tance to Trump and the na­tion­al­ist shift of main­stream GOP pol­i­tics.

But the his­tory of how Democrats came to dom­i­nate Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics over the past quar­ter-cen­tury is a story less about provo­ca­tion than prag­ma­tism. The ma­jor­ity of the state’s mod­ern-era gover­nors have been Repub­li­cans. New­som’s plat­form was hardly one of a cen­trist, even though the state’s elec­torate has rarely been as lib­eral as its na­tional rep­u­ta­tion – choos­ing in­stead to be so­cially mod­er­ate but fis­cally stingy, en­vi­ron­men­tally pro­gres­sive but solidly be­hind get-tough-on-crime ef­forts.

No one knew that chap­ter of Cal­i­for­nia’s po­lit­i­cal life bet­ter than the man New­som will re­place in Jan­uary, Gov. Jerry Brown.

The cliche that has fol­lowed Brown for decades is his “ca­noe the­ory” of pol­i­tics, a be­lief that pad­dling a lit­tle on the right and then on the left en­sures the ves­sel of govern­ment steers in a straight path. Few lead­ers could pull off a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar ex­pan­sion of Medi-cal, the state’s Med­i­caid pro­gram serv­ing low­in­come in­di­vid­u­als, while at the same time com­ing across as a fru­gal guy who can­celed state worker cell­phones and stashed money in a rainy-day fund.

Con­ser­va­tives never thought the iconic Demo­crat was all that straight in his pad­dling. But Brown’s ap­proach stood the test of time; pub­lic opin­ion polls con­sis­tently found a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers liked the way he han­dled the job these past eight years.

New­som, in con­trast, made his cam­paign slo­gan “Courage for a change.” It came across as equal parts swag­ger about the path for­ward and a not-so-sub­tle re­jec­tion of what came be­fore. If the gover­nor-elect in­tends to re­cal­i­brate that bold prom­ise in the weeks and months to come, he didn’t of­fer any hints on Tues­day night.

“The sun is ris­ing in the west, and the arc of his­tory is bend­ing in our di­rec­tion,” he said to sup­port­ers at a crowded Los An­ge­les vic­tory party. “This is not just a state of re­sis­tance. Cal­i­for­nia is a state of re­sults.”

New­som, only the third Cal­i­for­nia lieu­tenant gover­nor in the past 70 years to win the top job, must quickly fo­cus on the prac­ti­cal. Gu­ber­na­to­rial tran­si­tions are a dive into the deep end of the pool, with state bud­get de­ci­sions that will need to be made – in con­sul­ta­tion with Brown – in a mat­ter of weeks, long be­fore New­som takes the oath of of­fice in Jan­uary.

The new gover­nor also may have to con­tend with the other Democrats elected to statewide of­fice on Tues­day, each seek­ing a plat­form to de­mand change. Most of them, like New­som, will be new to the job. None ran on a plat­form of mod­er­a­tion.

In Sacra­mento, they will join a Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture where Demo­cratic lead­ers have spent two years push­ing for­ward an agenda that has be­come the na­tion’s most per­sis­tent re­pu­di­a­tion of Trump. That ef­fort re­mains largely in­tact, thanks to Brown’s sig­na­ture on a se­ries of en­vi­ron­men­tal and im­mi­gra­tion laws. The pres­i­dent has largely ig­nored the state, al­though his ad­min­is­tra­tion un­suc­cess­fully asked the courts to block the “sanc­tu­ary state” im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment law en­acted ear­lier this year.

Brown has only oc­ca­sion­ally crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent, of­ten sound­ing a note of in­dif­fer­ence to any taunt from Trump about the state’s ac­tions. “We can fol­low our own tra­jec­tory,” he told re­porters Wed­nes­day. “I would rather fo­cus on the cre­ativ­ity and the unique op­por­tu­ni­ties and needs of Cal­i­for­nia, as op­posed to defin­ing ev­ery­thing in re­la­tion­ship to the pres­i­dent.”

New­som has been far less re­strained. He didn’t ref­er­ence Trump by name Tues­day, only by rep­u­ta­tion. “It’s been a long two years, but tonight Amer­ica’s big­gest state is mak­ing Amer­ica’s big­gest state­ment,” he said. “We are say­ing – un­mis­tak­ably and in uni­son – that it’s time to roll cred­its on the pol­i­tics of chaos and cru­elty.”

Nor has the gov­er­nor­elect held back in his em­brace of ideas that em­body the base of his Demo­cratic Party. No topic looms larger on that score than uni­ver­sal health care – New­som has in­sisted, as he did dur­ing a can­di­dates’ fo­rum last year, that “sin­gle-payer is the way to go to re­duce costs and pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive ac­cess.”

So will he lead an ef­fort in 2019 or be­yond to re­vive a stalled at­tempt in the Leg­is­la­ture to do just that? The party’s base may de­mand it, a test for New­som in his early days as gover­nor. The topic was a key flash­point dur­ing the 2018 pri­mary, when for­mer Los An­ge­les Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa said the pro­posal float­ing around the statehouse in 2017 was noth­ing more than “snake oil,” lack­ing the de­tails nec­es­sary to be taken se­ri­ously.


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