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California Politics: Newsom commits to a gubernatorial debate

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking in Los Angeles last month.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

No one may have been more surprised than state Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) this week when Gov. Gavin Newsom committed to a debate with the Republican candidate for California governor.

When I caught up with him Wednesday afternoon, Dahle still didn’t seem convinced that it would actually happen.

“I’m excited about it,” Dahle said in phone call. “I will be surp — I hope he’ll do it. You know, he said he would, but we’re trying to get the details. I’ll do it anywhere. I’m pretty stoked about it.”

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Though Dahle said much of the interest in a debate has stemmed from reporters, he recently began prodding Newsom to join him on stage.

“I’ll accommodate Newsom: He can be in an A/C building w/ his sweater,” he tweeted earlier this week, jabbing the governor for filming video remarks about the heat wave while wearing a long-sleeve jacket. “We don’t have to debate flex alerts, gas prices, ZEVs, French Laundry, shutting schools down, crime, & all things pertaining to CA. He can dial [Ron DeSantis] for help since he’s fighting with Biden.”

A debate, in theory, offers more benefit to Dahle than Newsom, who is leading in polls by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

For the record:

1:24 p.m. Sept. 19, 2022An earlier version of this story said Gov. Gavin Newsom had nearly $5.7 million in his campaign account. Newsom has nearly $24 million in his reelection campaign fund as of June 30.

Newsom can use his official soapbox as governor to command uncontested media attention. Or, he can dip into the nearly $24 million he has tucked into his campaign account, as of filings earlier this summer, to spread his message to voters all over the state and beyond.

But Dahle has nothing to lose. With about $300,000 in his campaign coffers at last tally, a debate offers the Northern California farmer a chance to boost his name recognition and make his case to a larger audience than he can turn out on his own.

‘I want it televised’

California gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Brian Dahle on his farm in Lassen County.
(Phil Willon/Los Angeles Times)

“Yeah, happy to do it and we’ll do it just as we did the last time I ran for office,” Newsom said when asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he would debate Dahle. “So, I look forward to it.”

Last time was a bit of a snoozer.

The only one-on-one debate between Newsom and Republican John Cox in the 2018 general election took place inside a radio studio without any television news cameras in the middle of the day on Columbus Day, a federal holiday that California doesn’t recognize.

The Times described that debate as a “measured exchange” that lacked “the prime-time television audience that traditionally sees candidates competing for the most powerful and coveted political post in the nation’s most populous state.”

I forgot it even happened until Matt Shupe, a spokesman for Cox at the time who now works for Dahle, reminded me.

Cox had aggressively pushed Newsom to debate him and after some back and forth, the two sides settled on what was advertised as a “wide-ranging conversation” on KQED radio.

Dahle said he wants to debate and won’t be picky about the terms. But he has one condition.

“I want it televised,” he said. “I would love for it to be on TV and at least have cameras.”

He was careful not to knock radio, but said television can be more interesting for viewers and give them a chance to read body language, facial expressions and other visual cues.

Newsom’s team sprang into action to lock down important details — moderators, news outlet, location, time and day. Expect an announcement soon.

Newsom bashes DeSantis, Abbott

Newsom tweeted a letter he sent Thursday to the U.S. Department of Justice asking the federal government to investigate potential criminal or civil charges against Republican governors who are sending migrants to liberal cities.

He bashed Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, saying their political tactics were not clever, but “cruel.”

“I’m formally requesting the DOJ begin an immediate investigation into these inhumane efforts to use kids as political pawns,” Newsom tweeted.

The California governor inserted himself into the controversy hours after a bus carrying about 100 migrants arrived at Vice President Harris’ home in Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning. As President Biden‘s point person on migration from Central America, Harris has been dubbed the “border czar” by Republicans, who have criticized her for saying the border is secure in an NBC News interview over the weekend.

“VP Harris claims our border is ‘secure’ & denies the crisis,” Abbott tweeted. “We’re sending migrants to her backyard to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border.”

Newsom has been on a campaign to call out Republican governors, with a particular focus on DeSantis — a potential 2024 presidential candidate. His aggressive tactics included sharply pointed criticism of national Democrats for failing to fight back against the GOP.

The governor jumped into the fray over immigration just days before he heads to Climate Week in New York, where we can expect him to tout the California model to address climate change and continue his war on red state governors in a series of public events next week.

Newsom’s repudiation of other state leaders is also officially on the agenda for the Texas Tribune Festival in downtown Austin next weekend. MSNBC host Alexa Wagner will speak with Newsom about “what the nation’s most populous state can teach the other 49 — including this one” in an afternoon session on Sept. 24.

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‘That changed the paradigm’ on mental illness

Newsom signed a sweeping proposal into law on Wednesday to order mental health and addiction treatment for thousands of Californians, capping a difficult battle in the halls of the Capitol with civil rights organizations who argue his plan will strip the state’s most vulnerable residents of basic freedoms.

The governor and advocates say his new Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court model will begin to transform the way the state cares for an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 residents who struggle with severe mental illness and drug addiction and are at risk of endangering themselves or others.

My colleague Hannah Wiley spoke with families who have struggled to help a loved one and hope Newsom’s program may finally provide the recourse they need. Families Wiley interviewed believe CARE Court could give them an opportunity to ask for help before their child, sibling, spouse or parent ends up behind bars, or worse.

Newsom fired back at opposition groups, such as the ACLU of Northern California and the Southern Poverty Law Center, arguing that they’d prefer to keep the status quo that has failed Californians for decades. He said listening to personal stories from families inspired him more than his opposition.

“It’s one thing to receive an opposition letter from, you know, four-letter groups that have been out there for 30, 40 years, understandably, holding hands talking about the way the world should be and the way maybe it once was, though, I’m not sure,” Newsom said. “And it’s another to say, ‘Well, that’s wonderful, but what about my damn daughter? What are you going to do for her? This isn’t working.’ And that changed the paradigm.”

California politics lightning round

— The continuing success of illegal cannabis shops and the struggles of legal ones in the heart of L.A.’s Eastside offer a stark illustration of how California’s legalization of marijuana has gone wrong. Far from being eradicated, the black market is booming in plain sight, luring customers away from aboveboard retailers with their cheaper — if untested and unregulated — product.

— The advent of commercial cannabis unleashed a wave of corruption, prosecutions and accusations that has rocked local governments across the state and left them with few effective tools to combat the problem.

— Democratic Rep. Katie Porter lives in a UC Irvine faculty housing community developed to offer academics below-market rates. But she no longer teaches at UCI — a point her Republican opponent in the November election criticizes as an “insider deal.”

— The governors of California and New York have bills on their desks that would require companies to post pay ranges on job advertisements, which could spur larger companies to adopt the policy nationwide.

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