California Politics: Newsom and his environmental agenda take the national stage

California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday.
(Bryan R. Smith / AFP via Getty Images)

Never shy about basking in the spotlight, California Gov. Gavin Newsom headed to New York this week to talk up his administration’s efforts to combat climate change and to take a swing or two at former President Trump and his Republican compadre, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Newsom hightailed it back East on the final day of the state Legislature’s 2023 session, when lawmakers passed a flurry of bills — including a few expected to cause the governor a fair amount of political discomfort when they land on his desk. So the trip offered a short reprieve that allowed Newsom to schmooze with world leaders and the national press — far away from pestering questions from California journalists about pending bills to raise the minimum wage for fast-food and healthcare workers, pay striking workers unemployment benefits and decriminalize use of magic mushrooms.

I’m Phil Willon, the assistant editor in The Times’ Sacramento bureau, filling in this week for Laurel Rosenhall. With some major help from Taryn Luna, who covers Newsom for The Times, here‘s the week’s biggest news in California politics.


Newsom attacks oil industry, among others

Newsom was the only U.S. politician who spoke at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit in New York on Wednesday, and he didn’t mince words about the cause of, and blame for, global warming.

The summit took a slightly different tone this year, with only “first movers and doers” invited to speak by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres at the one-day event. The list included representatives of 34 countries, with the United States or China not included. The summit was held during the U.N. General Assembly, which President Biden addressed Tuesday, and a series of events timed with Climate Week.

“For decades and decades, the oil industry has been playing each and every one of us in this room for fools,” Newsom said. “They’ve been buying off politicians. They’ve been denying and delaying science and fundamental information that they were privy to that they didn’t share or they manipulated. Their deceit and denial, going back decades, has created the conditions that persist here today.”

Days before the summit, California announced a lawsuit against five of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, alleging that they engaged in a “decades-long campaign of deception” about climate change and the risks posed by fossil fuels.

The governor sat down with the New York Times to discuss the lawsuit at a Climate Week event on Sunday. He also made time for a fireside chat with Hillary Clinton and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker at the Clinton Global Initiative on Monday, and later in a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. Newsom pushed back on Trump’s “made-up” claims that Democrats want to allow abortions up to and after birth and called McCarthy’s quest to impeach President Biden an example of “student government.”

California’s presidential delegates aren’t Trump’s only target

Back in July, the California Republican Party changed its rules for allocating delegates in the state’s presidential primary — a shake-up that works in Trump’s favor in the 2024 election. As a result, other GOP candidates may be discouraged from campaigning in California, and the state may be less competitive in next year’s nominating contest.


We’ll see next week, when the Republican presidential candidates — except for Trump, the GOP front-runner — convene for their second major debate at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley.

California is not the only place where Trump’s campaign has been working to change the way states select presidential delegates, reports Times writer Seema Mehta.

The former president’s aides have sculpted rules in dozens of states, starting even before his 2020 reelection bid. Their work is ongoing: In addition to California, state Republican parties in Nevada and Michigan have recently overhauled their rules in ways clearly designed to favor Trump.

This election, “despite a large number of candidates, only the Trump campaign went out and did the really hard grunt work of talking to state parties to try and get them to meld their rules to Donald Trump’s favor,” said Ben Ginsberg, a veteran GOP attorney who represented the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush — notably during the 2000 Florida recount — and Mitt Romney.

The success of the Trump campaign’s effort is partly attributable to his aggressive courting of state GOP leaders. The former president has headlined fundraisers that have raised millions of dollars for state parties. He wooed their leaders at the White House when he was president and has feted them at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida since leaving office.

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