California Politics: What to make of Newsom’s romp through the South

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to students from New College of Florida
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to New College of Florida students during his stop on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, at the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library in Sarasota, Fla. Newsom was critical of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over his attempt to transform the liberal arts college.
(Mike Lang / Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has spent the last several days far from California, doing things California governors rarely do.

On Wednesday, he was in Sarasota, Fla., meeting with students from the New College of Florida, which has become a symbol of the national culture wars as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis tries to overhaul the progressive campus by putting conservative trustees in charge.

“I can’t believe what you’re dealing with. It’s just an unbelievable assault,” Newsom told a gathering of students and faculty from the college, calling DeSantis’ approach “weakness masquerading as strength.”


It was the latest attack in the ongoing rivalry between Newsom and DeSantis, both governors who were handily reelected last year after positioning their states as ideological opposites. DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for the Republican nomination in next year’s presidential election, has become Newsom’s favorite foil. He seems to mention DeSantis every chance he gets — in media interviews, at bill signings and, of course, on Twitter. Newsom’s visit to the Sunshine State took his trolling a step further.

Days before, Newsom visited Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., where he paid tribute to the nine Black students who desegregated the school in 1957 in one of the most iconic developments of the civil rights movement. Newsom also participated in events to raise money for the Arkansas Democratic Party.

In Montgomery, Ala., Newsom met with renowned civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson and recorded a video of himself in front of the church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor. In Jackson, Miss., Newsom spent time with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a Democrat who has accused his state’s Republican Legislature of apartheid-like policies and “plantation politics,” and attended Palm Sunday services at a Baptist church.

The trip with his wife and kids was Newsom’s way of kicking off a new national campaign that he announced last week to fight what he called “authoritarian leaders” and promote progressive values. He seeded a new political action committee called the Campaign for Democracy with $10 million leftover from last year’s reelection campaign and plans to use it to boost Democrats in red states and counter the GOP agenda on abortion, guns, gay rights and immigration.

(Side note: Because Newsom used campaign money for the trip, not taxpayer dollars, it was not subject to California’s ban on state-funded travel to 23 states with anti-LGBTQ laws. Lawmakers will consider a bill this year to repeal that ban, though aides to Newsom and state Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) both told me it’s just a coincidence that she announced her legislation to repeal the ban the day before Newsom announced his tour through red states on the no-go list.)

Newsom’s new campaign builds on his increasingly confrontational strategy of taking his messages beyond California, which has also included running ads in Florida urging Floridians to “join us in California, where we still believe in freedom,” and sponsoring billboards in seven states with restrictive abortion laws, telling women there that California “will defend your right to make decisions about your own health.”


So what should we make of Newsom’s latest romp through the Deep South?

Newsom has said he’s not interested in running for president next year and is supporting President Biden’s reelection. He’s also said he wants to play a role countering the GOP nationwide, inspired by the way national Republicans attacked him during the 2021 failed recall campaign against him and by what he sees as their agenda to roll back rights that women, people of color and the LGBTQ community have gained in recent decades.

This campaign is consistent with both of those messages and also helps Newsom develop his national profile in the unlikely event that Biden does not run for reelection and Democrats are looking for presidential contenders.

But the new campaign may say more about Newsom’s gaze past 2026, when he will be forced out of the governor’s office by term limits. It’s allowing him to foster a national network of donors and activists, and putting him in the role of Democratic Party-builder. That’s good preparation should he decide to run for president in 2028 — or seek virtually any other political post.

As Newsom has been saying for years, he’s “the future ex-governor.” It’s not yet clear what will come next, but Newsom appears to be doing what he can to keep that from being his only title.

I’m Laurel Rosenhall, The Times’ Sacramento bureau chief. Here’s what else happened this week in California politics:

Boy meets ballot

Clicking on leads to the campaign website for Ben Savage, the star of a similarly named 1990s network sitcom who is now running for Congress to represent part of Los Angeles County, reports Times political writer Seema Mehta.

The baby-faced 42-year-old, a Democrat, is among a dozen candidates officially vying for the seat held by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who hopes to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Rivals include a board member of the nation’s second-largest school district, state legislators, a West Hollywood council member and a former Los Angeles city attorney — people who have won elections and governed.

Yet none has received the attention Savage has — a televised interview on “Good Morning America 3,” as well as articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN — even though he came in seventh place in his only prior run for public office. The candidacy of Savage, whose “Boy Meets World” coming-of-age series was particularly popular among millennials, is the latest test of how much celebrity matters in American politics.

In this fun article, Mehta catches up with Savage and explains the long history of famous people running for office, especially in California.

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Latino Caucus at 50

When Martha Escutia was elected to the Assembly in 1992, she was one of seven Latinos in the 120-member California Legislature, part of the small but growing Latino Caucus that eventually would become a powerful force in the state Capitol.


“We would always tease each other saying that [the Latino Caucus] could probably fit in a phone booth,” Escutia told Times reporter Vanessa Arredondo.

By 1996, the California Latino Legislative Caucus had doubled to 14. Today, there are 38 members.

Formed in 1973 as a group that welcomes only Democrats, the Latino Caucus has championed policies to improve healthcare access for immigrants, allow college students without documentation to pay in-state tuition and create an ethnic studies requirement to graduate from high school, among other groundbreaking policies in its 50 years of existence.

Now an established force in the Legislature, Arredondo reports that the caucus is facing pressure to refocus its priorities to appeal to a new generation of voters.

Keeping up with California politics

A once reluctant Harris embraces her biracial identity in Africa
Vice President Kamala Harris has always been more comfortable talking about policy than about her identity. As a multiracial woman in the United States, she has refused to define herself by the family heritage that made her election to office historic. But in Africa — a continent rich in symbolism for the first Black female vice president and one that 3 million people of Indian descent call home — she has freely spoken of her identity, not only as a product of the African diaspora, but also a descendant of her Indian ancestors who lived there.

Skelton: There’s a bright side to the battery of California storms — more clean hydroelectric power and groundwater
We have undreamed-of water riches this spring after a three-year drought, writes Times columnist George Skelton. It’s now up to governments and utilities to take advantage of it.

‘Resign immediately’: San Diego County supervisor accused of sexual misconduct urged to quit
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond became the first board member to call for Nathan Fletcher to step down immediately, saying the accusations of sexual misconduct against the beleaguered supervisor detract from important county business. Fletcher said last week that he would resign effective May 15.


Taiwan president’s meeting with McCarthy inflames divide among local immigrants
A highly anticipated meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) that took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley drew condemnation and threats of retaliation from Chinese officials who believe that Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, is a breakaway region that rightfully belongs to Beijing.

How Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield is reacting to Trump’s indictment
For Republicans here — many of whom have long supported House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and think the 15 rounds of voting he endured for the speakership made him stronger — last week’s indictment is as Trump has described it: a politically motivated witch hunt meant to keep him out of office.

Skelton: California’s evolution on Big Oil — in the state Capitol and my own family
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legislation to penalize Big Oil’s alleged greed represents a sea change in California policy. Columnist George Skelton writes that his own family has directly experienced the dramatic change in public policy and attitudes toward oil.

Jerry Brown gets a rare beetle species named after him
Scientists are naming a rare species of beetle in honor of former California Gov. Jerry Brown after finding one at his ranch. Bembidion brownorum was last seen in 1966, but it hadn’t been named or described until one was collected near a creek on Brown’s ranch in Colusa County.

Opinion: Jerry Brown’s beetle legacy
At his insistence, there has been nothing named after California’s longest-serving governor. Until now. The beetle named Bembidion brownorum in honor of Brown is a fitting designation, writes Brown biographer Miriam Pawel.

California legislator proposes ‘Ebony Alert’ bill to report missing Black children, young women
Citing the overrepresentation and underreporting of missing Black children and young women in California, state Sen. Steven Bradford introduced a bill to establish an “Ebony Alert” system that would inform people of when they go missing — similar to the Amber Alert.

For domestic violence victims who commit violent crimes, new bill provides hope
Legislation by Assemblyman Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) would allow victims of human trafficking or domestic violence who allegedly committed violent crimes to present evidence of their abuse as an affirmative defense at criminal trials. The bill would also allow survivors to use their evidence of abuse after being convicted of violent crimes to petition to have their cases vacated.


A ‘sad day for Los Angeles’: Community leaders speak out on the Ridley-Thomas verdict
The conviction of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas on federal corruption charges drew a wide range of reactions, with some calling the verdict unjust and others simply expressing sadness over the outcome.

Column: Why a guilty verdict for Mark Ridley-Thomas doesn’t feel like justice to Black L.A.
Permanently sidelining someone who has been so effective at delivering funding and programs and infrastructure for often-neglected Black Angelenos actually feels like opening the door to greater injustice, writes Times columnist Erika D. Smith.

Opinion: Why Black Angelenos should be angry with Mark Ridley-Thomas
To get bounced because of a corruption conviction is a tragedy not because of racism but because Ridley-Thomas made choices. For job security for his son, and for funneling $100,000 to his son’s nonprofit, he imperiled the representation of all of us. He sold us out for cheap. That should make us angry, writes Erin Aubry Kaplan, a contributing writer to The Times opinion pages.

Column: Richard Alarcon is fine with his political legacy — but L.A.’s latest scandals irk him
The former L.A. power broker lives in an apartment in Chatsworth and works as a real-estate agent, a consultant and a van driver taking children to medical appointments. It’s a life far removed from when he ushered in a new era of representation by becoming the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley on the L.A. City Council in 1993, then the first Latino state senator from the area in 1998.

Editorial: Undocumented workers should be able to get unemployment benefits when they’re laid off
The Times editorial board throws its support behind Sen. Maria Elena Durazo’s bill to create a fund that would provide unemployment payments to undocumented workers who meet requirements similar to those imposed on workers who are U.S. citizens or otherwise authorized to work in the country.