Three months in, New­som has only tepid ap­proval

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY DAN WAL­TERS CAL­mat­ters Colum­nist CAL­mat­ters is a pub­lic in­ter­est jour­nal­ism ven­ture com­mit­ted to ex­plain­ing how Cal­i­for­nia's state Capi­tol works and why it mat­ters. For more sto­ries by Dan Wal­ters, go to cal­mat­ com­men­tary

Gavin New­som coasted into the gov­er­nor­ship last year, de­feat­ing his Repub­li­can ri­val by more than a 3-2 mar­gin.

It seems a lit­tle odd, there­fore, that three months into his gov­er­nor­ship, he en­joys only tepid pop­u­lar sup­port.

A new poll by the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia found that just 45 per­cent of all adults, and the same per­cent­age of likely vot­ers, ap­prove of New­som’s gov­er­nor­ship so far.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that Repub­li­cans strongly dis­ap­prove of New­som, the most out­wardly lib­eral gov­er­nor of re­cent his­tory. Just 20 per­cent of GOP vot­ers say he’s do­ing a good job.

It is sur­pris­ing, how­ever, that his fel­low Democrats are less than fully en­thu­si­as­tic, with 65 per­cent ap­proval, or that just 35 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents, most of whom lean

Demo­cratic, like the job he’s do­ing.

Over­all, one could say, Cal­i­for­ni­ans are giv­ing their new gov­er­nor about a “C” — and that may be just about what he de­serves.

New­som clearly yearns to make his mark with an al­most dizzy­ing bar­rage of pro­nounce­ments and pro­pos­als, but some have been mis­fires.

Dur­ing his first State of the State speech, for ex­am­ple, he is­sued what turned out to be a very confusing ap­praisal of the state’s much-trou­bled high-speed rail project.

While prais­ing it as an “am­bi­tious vi­sion,” New­som then de­clared:

“But let’s be real. The project, as cur­rently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too lit­tle over­sight and not enough trans­parency, Right now, there sim­ply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Fran­cisco to LA.”

He went on to say he wants to “com­plete a high-speed rail link be­tween Merced and Bak­ers­field” that would tie into planned lower-speed rail into the Bay Area.

Clearly, he pro­posed to rad­i­cally scale back what had been seen as a statewide sys­tem and it was re­ported as such, but then New­som more or less back­tracked and blamed the me­dia for mis­in­ter­pret­ing his words.

The PPIC poll found that a bare ma­jor­ity of vot­ers ap­prove of scal­ing back the project, but there’s an ob­vi­ous split be­tween those who want it to be fully built and those who want com­plete aban­don­ment.

A se­cond mis­cue came when he said new re­gional hous­ing quo­tas would be cre­ated and if lo­cal gov­ern­ments didn’t meet them “we’re go­ing to take (trans­porta­tion funds) from you,” re­fer­ring to the state’s new gas tax.

The threat to withhold funds sparked an out­cry not only from lo­cal of­fi­cials but New­som’s fel­low Democrats in the Leg­is­la­ture, say­ing it un­der­mined prom­ises made to vot­ers when a mea­sure to re­peal the tax was on the bal­lot last year.

New­som was forced to scale back his pro­posal, say­ing it wouldn’t take ef­fect un­til well into the next decade —but even in that form, it faces an up­hill bat­tle in the Leg­is­la­ture.

The new gov­er­nor’s third big foray into untested po­lit­i­cal ter­ri­tory was his blan­ket re­prieve for more than 700 res­i­dents of Cal­i­for­nia’s death row.

He de­scribed it as a mat­ter of moral­ity, but last year, he and his cam­paign re­peat­edly pledged that de­spite his per­sonal op­po­si­tion to cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, he would re­spect the wishes of vot­ers, who twice in this decade re­jected ef­forts to re­peal the death penalty.

PPIC’s poll did find that by a 2-1 mar­gin, vot­ers pre­fer life imprisonme­nt with­out pa­role for mur­der­ers, rather than the death penalty.

Does that mean they would re­peal the death penalty as New­som hopes? Not nec­es­sar­ily, be­cause cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment ad­vo­cates would graph­i­cally de­scribe the sadis­tic crimes that landed so many killers on death row, and de­pict New­som as their sav­ior.


HEC­TOR AMEZCUA Sacramento Bee

Gov. Gavin New­som in­tro­duces his pro­posed state bud­get for fis­cal year 2019-20 on Jan. 10 at the Sec­re­tary of State au­di­to­rium.

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