Gavin New­somwasn’t ‘the first’ to take on the NRA and win

The Mercury News Weekend - - OPINION - By Ge­orge Skel­ton Los An­ge­les Times Ge­orge Skel­ton is a Los An­ge­les Times colum­nist.

You’ve got to won­der what goes through a can­di­date’s head when his first TV ad con­tains an in­dis­putable, ma­jor falsehood.

Maybe noth­ing goes through it. Maybe he doesn’t rec­og­nize the falsehood and it’s not an intentional lie.

Maybe he didn’t even see the ad — just overly re­lied on han­dlers who got sloppy or thought no one would no­tice what they re­garded as a typ­i­cal, with­inthe-bounds po­lit­i­cal ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

What­ever. It’s not the kind of tac­tic that builds pub­lic con­fi­dence in a gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date’s cre­den­tials to lead the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state and, be­cause of his rel­a­tive youth —50 — and charisma, au­to­mat­i­cally be­come a po­ten­tial con­tender for pres­i­dent.

Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som, fron­trun­ner in the race to suc­ceed termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown, ran a TV ad claim­ing he was “the first to take on the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and win.” Hardly. This is the rel­e­vant ad text, read by a pleas­ant-sound­ing fe­male nar­ra­tor: “The L.A. Times called Gavin New­som ‘Ahead of the pack, from gay marriage to gun con­trol.’ The first mayor to rec­og­nize marriage equal­ity. The first to pro­vide health care to ev­ery res­i­dent. The first to take on the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and win. The one can­di­date with the record of bold lead­er­ship and bold re­sults. …” Etc.

The Times did pub­lish a col­umn by Cath­leen Decker about New­som un­der an “ahead of the pack” head­line in De­cem­ber 2015. But the ar­ti­cle didn’t say he was the first to take on the NRA and win.

It’s true that in 2016, New­som spon­sored Propo­si­tion 63, a bal­lot ini­tia­tive that strength- ened Cal­i­for­nia’s al­ready tough­est-in-the-na­tion gun con­trols. It passed over­whelm­ingly with 63 per­cent of the vote.

It’s also true that the NRA waved a white flag early and didn’t spend money fight­ing the mea­sure. But af­ter the vote, it sued and won a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion block­ing a key pro­vi­sion that banned pos­ses­sion of large-ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines.

Af­ter New­som’s TV ad was re­leased April 23, it was as­sailed in sev­eral news me­dia out­lets. Poli­tiFact, a non­par­ti­san or­ga­ni­za­tion that ref­er­ees po­lit­i­cal ads, rated New­som’s claim of be­ing the first to fight the NRA and win as “false.”

There’s a long list of Cal­i­for­nia politi­cians who have tri­umphed over the NRA.

Start with Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein. When she was San Francisco’s mayor in 1983, the NRA tried to re­call her for sup­port­ing a failed state ini­tia­tive to ban hand­gun sales. She beat back the re­call at­tempt.

Then, af­ter be­ing elected to the Senate, the Demo­crat pushed through a na­tion­wide ban on as­sault weapons sales in 1994. Congress let the ban ex­pire in 2004.

Repub­li­can Gov. Ge­orge Deuk­me­jian, who died Tues­day and whose nar­row elec­tion in 1982 was sig­nif­i­cantly helped by gun own­ers, bucked the NRA by sign­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s first as­sault weapons ban

The leg­is­la­tion he em­braced was au­thored by two Los An­ge­les Democrats, state Senate leader David A. Roberti and As­sem­bly­man Mike Roos. The NRA tried to re­call Roberti, but he sur­vived at great cost. The fight crip­pled his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

In 1999, a fu­ture L.A. mayor, then-Assem­bly Speaker An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, used his lead­er­ship clout to as­sure nar­row pas­sage of a bill lim­it­ing hand­gun pur­chases to one a month. Vil- laraigosa now is run­ning against New­som for gov­er­nor.

There’s a long list of Sacra­mento politi­cians who have tri­umphed over the NRA, in­clud­ing for­mer state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les), cur­rently run­ning against Fe­in­stein as she seeks a fifth full term.

In 2016, De León pushed through leg­is­la­tion sim­i­lar to New­som’s ini­tia­tive and Brown signed it.

This col­umn would not have been writ­ten if the New­som camp had just admitted “we screwed up” and dropped the ad. But the ad kept run­ning and the can­di­date’s spokesman, Nathan Click, tried to jus­tify the spot.]What the ad in­tended to say, Click told me, was that New­som is “the first to take theNRA to the bal­lot box and win.” But that’s not what the ad says.

“When you’re try­ing to con­vey some­thing in 30 se­conds,” he replied, “you’re limited by the for­mat.” Not an ex­cuse. A sep­a­rate New­som ad be­gan run­ning si­mul­ta­ne­ously that voiced a sim­i­lar mes­sage with­out claim­ing he was “the first.” But it didn’t bump the un­truth­ful ad.

“When you ex­ag­ger­ate in a po­lit­i­cal com­mer­cial, it’s al­ways go­ing to come back to bite you,” said Demo­cratic con­sul­tant David Townsend, who’s not in­volved in the gu­ber­na­to­rial race. “Peo­ple ask, ‘ What else is he ex­ag­ger­at­ing about?’ Words mat­ter. You have to be care­ful not to over­reach.”

“Some­times con­sul­tants don’t even no­tice it,” Townsend con­tin­ued.

“Ev­ery­one is run­ning around like chick­ens with their heads cut off.”

Some­times they act head­less and get sloppy.

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