Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to be president of the United States, so he’s using his office to prove to Americans outside of California — the voters he’ll need to win in 2024 — that he’s actually a centrist. His grand ambition is providing welcome relief to Californians.
In a series of recent policy moves, Newsom has shocked his progressive fans and delighted his critics. For instance, when it became clear that his “clean energy” policies create devastating blackouts, Newsom backtracked on decades of progressive ideology: he called on the California Public Utilities Commission to delay the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. At the same time, the governor signed off on — likely authored — Assembly Bill 205. That bill will allow state energy officials to run gas and diesel generators to fill the massive gaps in the state’s stupid, bungled, utopian electric grid.
Confronted by these blasphemies, progressives and environmentalists are tearing at their own hair and have donned burlap sacks and poured ashes over their heads.
Then there’s Newsom’s newfound affection for what real moderates — including our own Edward Ring — call “water abundance.” Instead of allowing environmentalists to turn California into a desert in which the thirsty will envy the dead, water abundance calls for a return to common sense storage, recycling and desalination.
Speaking of desalination, the governor’s recent and surprising support for a desal plant in Huntington Beach led to howls of protest — and a no vote at the powerful Coastal Commission. The commissioners argued we didn’t need the extra water. As Los Angeles County bans outdoor watering, Newsom will soon look like the only reasonable California Democrat in the state.
Early this week, Newsom took on progressives in the area of drug addiction. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-Toon Town, crafted Senate Bill 57 to establish “safe-injection” sites in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland. But how’s it going to look to moderate American voters when they learn that in Newsom’s California the government is — call it what you will — helping addicts get high? Newsom sent the bill back to the state Senate unsigned, the kindest sort of “drop dead” a governor can offer.
Similarly, when Lyft announced that it had qualified Proposition 30 for the November ballot, Newsom said he opposed it. Prop. 30 proposes raising the top marginal tax rate on Californians with annual incomes over $2 million in order to subsidize electric vehicles. Why would Newsom oppose a bill to fund the clean energy programs he adores by taxing the wealthy? Because California’s high-income families already pay the nation’s highest income taxes. As a result, they’re leaving the state in such staggering numbers that they’re beginning to ding the state’s tax base. Raise their taxes further and stand back at wealthy Californians stampede for the exits. That exodus is bad for a man with his eyes fixed firmly on the Oval Office.
Newsom’s most interesting challenge is just days ahead. Assembly Bill 257, now moving through the state Senate, is the California union movement’s latest attempt to force fast-food workers into a union. Having failed to persuade them to sign up voluntarily, AB 257 will force them into something more Stalinist than a union: if Newsom approves it, a 13-person commission of political appointees represent fast-food workers in negotiations with their managers.
Never mind that the fast-food industry in California is one of the most remarkable engines of prosperity in the most prosperous nation on the planet. Never mind that its workers — most often members of marginalized communities — earn more on average than similar workers in unionized industries; or that its workers can move from high school to the front counter and then management with a speed that stands out globally; or that franchise owners are more often than almost anywhere else to be American immigrants who have risen into the ownership class.
Will Newsom roll into the 2024 presidential season as an enemy of such entrepreneurial energy? Will he hand the likes of Ron DeSantis the stick with which to beat the stupid out of him? Or will Newsom risk ticking off Big Labor by refusing to sign AB 257?
This is the beauty of American politics. Perhaps you think (as a Democratic consultant told me) “this moderate Gavin Newsom is the real Gavin Newsom.” Or maybe you believe this is pure political cynicism. Whatever you’re seeing, the short-term impact on Californians is a kind of liberation. The longer Newsom daydreams about life in the most powerful chair in the world, the longer we’ll get to live the California Dream.
Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center, and cohost with David Bahnsen of National Review’s Radio Free California podcast.