Before he entered the race for lieutenant governor in 2010, Gavin Newsom derided the job as a ceremonial post, expressing only "disinterest in and disdain for" the office, according to a former aide. Then, during the campaign, he took it all back, and this page endorsed him in the hope that he would use the platform in a "creative and constructive" manner.
Now finishing his first term, Newsom has ended up much like the other holders of this silly office. He's functioned respectably in his role as a UC regent and as chairman of the California Commission for Economic Development. But his relationship with the governor is bad, his duties are minimal and his accomplishments are few. His efforts to do more rather than less have been rebuffed. For the most part, he's less relevant today than he was as mayor of San Francisco.
It's not really his fault. It's just one of the realities of a do-little job that doesn't deserve to exist in its current form. Maybe the job made sense in the mid-19th century, when a governor who was "absent from the state" was truly out of touch, unable to communicate other than by telegraph, and needed a stand-in. Needless to say, that's no longer the case.
Today, the only true responsibility of the lieutenant governor is to hang around and wait for the governor's death or impeachment or incapacitation. And the only important question to be asked about a candidate is whether he or she would rise to that occasion. Once again, The Times endorses Newsom.
Newsom has made an effort in the job. He has traveled the Pacific Rim promoting California's economy. As a regent, he has fought tuition hikes. He sought to establish a council on homelessness, but the Brown administration had no interest. His plan to spur the state's economy was basically ignored. Meanwhile, he's assumed to be waiting to run for governor. He has kept himself in the public eye a bit, aided by his telegenic looks and glib charm. But it's not as if he's neglecting any pressing state business to appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
Most of Newsom's opponents in the race have seized on the vagueness of the office and the strained relationship between Gov. Jerry Brown and Newsom as reasons to elect someone new. But none seems likely to make a better go of it. Entrepreneur George Yang, a Republican, makes a good case for his expertise in promoting trade in China because he travels there regularly as a business consultant and speaks Mandarin and Cantonese fluently. Ron Nehring was the state Republican Party chairman from 2007 to 2011, which gives him some background in California politics. Both he and Yang talk about advocating for pension reform, but neither would have much influence on that issue as lieutenant governor.
The other candidates are even less ready for prime time. For example, Amos Johnson, a 30-year-old student at L.A. City College and an event security guard, showed up barefoot for an interview with The Times' editorial board. If Brown pays scant attention to Newsom, he's even less likely to take seriously any of these folks.
And if something catastrophic were to happen to Brown, Newsom would be a far more competent replacement as governor. He was a cocky mayor of San Francisco, but he was dynamic and smart. He's ready to step in, unlike his opponents.