In entering lieutenant governor’s race, Newsom alters view on position he mocked

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom officially jumped into the race for lieutenant governor Friday, explaining why he now wants a job he once disparaged as a ceremonial post without any real responsibility

Newsom, a Democrat, is known nationally, so his entrance changes the dynamics of the contest. The office he wants, after dropping his run for governor last fall, is low-profile but significant: Its occupant runs the state if the governor leaves California or cannot fulfill his or her duties.

In an interview Friday, Newsom, 42, said he was in a different place when he belittled the job, before and after quitting the governor’s race.

“Let’s be straight: I was running for governor and I was focused on that race,” he said. “It’s only appropriate and understandable that one’s focus will remain on what we were doing.”

Newsom, who has a baby daughter, cited the needs of his family and his current job, along with poor fundraising, in giving up his bid for governor.

This race is “very different,” he said, as is his personal life. Newsom’s daughter, a newborn last fall, is now 5 1/2 months old, and the mayor said he got the go-ahead from his wife and in-laws. “There would be no chance in heck that I’d ever even think about this without that support,” he said.

Showing that he had answered his own questions about the lieutenant governor’s responsibilities, Newsom said he would embrace service as chairman of the State Lands Commission, which is “very significant in terms of environmental stewardship,” one of his focuses as mayor.

He said he’d relish sitting as a regent of the University of California and a trustee of the California State University, which ties into his effort to organize students during his run for governor.

That the lieutenant governor is chairman of the California Commission for Economic Development was “lost on me,” he said, adding that he is interested in biotechnology, life sciences and other industries.

Newsom faces Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn in the Democratic primary in June. “Californians can see that one of us really wants the job and the other one is looking at it sort of as a consolation prize,” Hahn said in an interview. “I really want this job. . . . It’s an important job, and in the past, he has almost kind of made fun of it.”

Newsom declined to engage Hahn, whom he said he admires, or her consultant Garry South, who worked for him in the governor’s race but has excoriated him for his turnaround on lieutenant governor. Newsom said that back-and-forth was “tangential” and irrelevant to voters.

On the Republican side, conservative state Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) is facing state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria).

Maldonado has twice been appointed to the vacant lieutenant governor post by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I look forward to debating him on all the issues,” Maldonado said. “I am not running to look for something to do.”

Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.