Wed, Apr

When Gavin Newsom Came to Town - To the East Area Progressive Democrats Meeting, No Less


EASTSIDER-Outside of being the former Mayor of San Francisco, and (also) formerly being married to Fox News Contributor Kimberly Guilfoyle, what do most of Southern Californians know about Gavin Newsom, who is running hard to be the next Governor of California? Not much. 

Well, Tuesday night, September 26, 2017, in a rare small-group appearance in front of a hundred or so progressive democrats, Gavin Newsom gave us the answers. It was a jam-packed event at the monthly East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD) meeting. Here’s my take... 

Let’s face it -- to a democrat like Gavin Newsom, this was the perfect venue. Most of the EAPD dems are real-deal small ‘d’ Bernie people, serious political activists who did not go away. They are the next generation wing of the party who got involved as delegates, wanted to dump Eric Bauman as State Chair, and unsurprisingly, love the ex-Mayor of San Francisco who stood up for gay marriage before it was cool. 

The Talk 

This meeting gave enough time (over half of the meeting) to get a hands-on impression of the candidate. Newsom’s prepared remarks were fairly short. It was clear that he wanted to interact with the group and mostly answered questions from the audience, a rare and very cool way for a politician to behave. And boy did he impress, giving progressive politics a good name. Here are a couple of examples I liked: 

He put California in a perspective I have rarely heard. For example, he noted that we are the largest majority/minority state in the nation. And within California, Los Angeles has the largest majority-minority population. So, of course our view of immigration isn’t the same as most of the Federal government, who quietly fear becoming like us. Of course, we celebrate that diversity that fuels our state. 

On the issue of climate change, he noted that California has taken the lead in its goal of reducing our emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Newsom made the case that this is good for both our environment and for new jobs. While Trump repudiates the Paris Climate Accord, Jerry Brown and California are the ones who have the partnership with China, and California leads while the feds dither. 

Questions and Answers 

Let’s face it. Most politicians hate real questions and answers, particularly in a small venue with no cover. Near as I can tell, Gavin Newsom loves it. Whatever you may think of his progressive politics, he is passionate, articulate, and unafraid to delve down into the core issues of big stuff, like education, housing, homelessness, and yes, healthcare. 

On a question about fully funded education for Californians, he did not toe the progressive line that education should be fully funded (a phrase I heard was $20,000 per student by 2020). Instead, Newsom was unafraid to articulate a different solution, which I suspect cost him some votes. 

He suggested that pure money won’t do the job since the moving parts of our educational system are very complex. So, he supports the goal of having California move into the top 10 educational systems in the country by 2020, whatever that takes. This is achievable, he argues, but not by simply pouring money into an increasingly dysfunctional educational system. 

On a personal note, I was impressed that he understands the critical part that the Arts play in education, stating that they are as critical to being educated as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The Arts help in developing creative thinking and conceptualizing, skills that will last even as the jobs we are educated for may or may not be around in the future. 

Regarding the criminal justice question, he noted how we got into an incarceration binge, imprisoning a huge number of Californians in the late 1990’s, which didn’t work, crippled the State’s budget, and destroyed a lot of lives unnecessarily. He is a proud supporter of legislation to reverse that trend and provide funding for the social programs we didn’t fund in the past, so that folks don’t wind up in jail in the first place. 

On the topic of Affordable Housing and the repeal of Costa-Hawkins (the state law basically prohibiting rent control), he points out that the City of San Francisco “knows a thing or two” about the problem. Digging into the weeds on how to fix this crisis, he is the only politician I know of to talk about the fundamental conflict between cities and counties when it comes to housing and how they balance their budgets. 

What? You bet. Cities derive their income from sales and use taxes. Counties, on the other hand, derive their income from property taxes. And if you don’t think that fundamental conflict doesn’t play out in the housing area, I suggest you do some research. 

Responding to questions about hopelessness, Newsom pointed out that when he was Mayor, San Francisco got about 12,000 homeless people off the streets. He’s also clear about the difference between shelters (which provide sleeping quarters) versus direct access to housing and support services (which deals with hopelessness). Los Angeles take note. 

The Takeaway 

I think we sometimes forget that Gavin Newsom is not just some newcomer flaming liberal out of San Francisco. He’s been around politics a long time -- his 1986 degree was in political science, he worked for Willie Brown’s 1995 San Francisco Mayoral campaign, and was elected himself Mayor of San Francisco in 2003, so his ideas are not simply pie in the sky liberalism. 

I’m told by friends that he looks like a movie star, carries self-assuredness to new heights, has “lefty” politics, and (groan) he comes from San Francisco. I get that. 

What I was surprised to learn during the evening is that he is also perfectly happy to dig down beyond the political platitudes we use for contentious issues and talk about facts, figures, and budgets. 

That’s rare. 

He does this by blending in statistics, demographics, and cost numbers seamlessly as he talks. I couldn’t write fast enough to fact check the numbers he was throwing out, but in the areas I’m familiar with, they seemed to be true. 

Currently there seem to be a number of candidates who have already announced, the most prominent of whom include Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang, and Delaine Eastin, plus some Republicans who don’t really count in the Los Angeles area. 

Given the group so far, you wouldn’t want to debate Gavin Newsom.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.



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