A Newsom-DeSantis debate would be smash hit — if it happens

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
(Associated Press)
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Last night’s debate among the top Republican presidential candidates, sans front-runner former President Trump, provided a good warmup to what could be the most entertaining political sideshow of 2023 — a faceoff between California‘s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida‘s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

For those who are blissfully unaware, DeSantis earlier this month accepted Newsom’s mano a mano challenge to debate on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. Newsom had been prodding DeSantis to debate since last fall, and the pair have been tangling from afar for even longer.

DeSantis, who along with every other GOP presidential candidate trails far behind Trump in the polls, needed a big night during Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate to revive his sagging campaign — and that didn’t happen. Maybe a highly publicized sparring match with Newsom on Fox News, which would allow DeSantis to clearly distinguish himself as a conservative “anti-woke” culture warrior, will provide him with a much-needed jolt.

There’s still some haggling going on over the details, but it appears that both Newsom and DeSantis agree at least in principle to hold the event in Georgia in early November. There’s no guarantee this will happen, but two esteemed political columnists for the Los Angeles Times find the prospect entertaining, at the very least. Newsom and DeSantis disagree on almost everything. Plus, they really don’t seem to like each other.


Here’s a taste of George Skelton’s preview:

There’ll be no subtle differences in their philosophical views. They’re diametrically opposed on immigration, gun control, taxes, abortion, school textbooks and, fundamentally, the right course for America.

I’ll be eager to hear Newsom try to explain why there are now more homeless people in California than there were when he took office in 2019, despite his having spent billions in a failed attempt to solve the problem.

And it’ll be amusing — if agitating — to watch DeSantis try to answer for his crass, soulless stunt of flying desperate immigrants to California and dumping them on church steps.

Mark Barabak says the potential faceoff would provide an eerie flashback to 1967, when a California governor debated another big-state political celebrity whose path to the Oval Office also appeared blocked by his party’s well-established front-runner. At the time, California Gov. Ronald Reagan and New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy had little to lose.

Reagan’s performance drew wide notice.

Just a few months in office, the neophyte governor displayed a verbal dexterity and mastery of foreign policy that surprised many observers — not for the first or last time in his political career.


As Newsweek stated, “To those unfamiliar with Reagan’s big-league savvy, the ease with which he fielded questions about Vietnam may have come as a …revelation.”

Kennedy, for his part, meandered through much of the 50-minute exchange, appearing sullen and at times a bit bored. He was broadly judged the loser.

Not that it mattered all that much.

Be sure to read both columns if you want to be fully in the know, and stay tuned in to for the latest developments in the battle of the governors.

I’m Phil Willon, the assistant editor in the Times’ Sacramento bureau, filling in this week for Laurel Rosenhall. I used to cover Newsom and, in a weird twist of fate, I once covered the governor of Florida. Of course, that was back in the ‘90s when DeSantis was still in high school. “Walking Lawton” Chiles was in office back then — the last Democrat elected to lead the Sunshine State — and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson was running the show here in California. How times have changed. But enough reminiscing: Here‘s the week’s biggest news in California politics.

Tourist in Chief Biden’s visit to Lake Tahoe

President Biden, the Democrat who all Republicans on the debate stage Wednesday are hoping to replace in the White House, has spent most of the past week in Lake Tahoe vacationing with his family. Except for a brief trip earlier this week to Maui to meet with wildfire victims, Biden has stayed pretty much out of the public eye while vacationing at the three-acre, $15-million home of environmentalist and former Democratic presidential primary foe Tom Steyer.

But, as Ben Oreskes reports from the mountain community, the president’s visit has drawn attention to the growing tension in the High Sierra paradise between the millions of tourists who provide economic sustenance and efforts to preserve the natural splendor that draws them.

The president will be in town until Saturday, but his experience diverges sharply from the millions who flock to Tahoe by car and on busy weekends, sit in hours of traffic on the single road that circles the lake, fight for camping spots or pony up for a pricey hotel room. Even though the lake’s waters are clearer than they’ve been in many years, beach parking clogs up. Trash is strewn along hiking trails and graffiti scars trees and buildings.

Last year, the issues became so severe that prestigious Fodor’s Travel Guide listed the locale as a place to avoid, writing “Lake Tahoe has a people problem.” The Fourth of July in recent years has resulted in viral images of beaches covered with trash that not only is painful to see for locals but affects the lake. A record total of 8,559 pounds of trash was collected from six beaches this year.

A number of locals told The Times the COVID-19 pandemic, when people flocked to the basin in search of a reprieve from stay-at-home orders, was the breaking point. The region’s roughly 50,000 residents were overwhelmed by the influx — particularly the thousands who stayed for extended periods, reducing the already short supply of housing in the area.

“I feel like COVID tested the system,” said Morgan Steel, executive director of the Tahoe Rim Trail Assn. “It exposed something just because there were a lot more people working remotely, but I don’t think any of these issues or changes wouldn’t have come up had COVID not happened.”

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Unemployment pay for striking workers

With the months-long strike by Hollywood writers and actors putting labor issues in California in sharp focus, state lawmakers will be considering legislation to offer those on picket lines a little financial help.

Queenie Wong reports that Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank) has resurrected a bill that would allow workers on strike to collect unemployment benefits, an effort strongly opposed by business groups.

Striking union members in most states don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. In California, workers must meet requirements to qualify for unemployment benefits, such as showing they are unemployed through no fault of their own and actively searching for a job.

Lawmakers will have to weigh business and labor interests. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has stayed behind the scenes as the Hollywood strikes drag on and has been cautious about any appearance that he’s taking sides. Newsom has been hesitant to support new spending proposals, however, given that he and lawmakers recently agreed on a budget plan that closes a nearly $32-billion deficit.

Labor unions, including SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America, support the bill. The California Chamber of Commerce is strongly opposed.

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