California’s most liberal governor ever, Newsom took on more than he could handle in his first year

Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has moved the state even further left, George Skelton writes.
(Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California state government just became even more leftist, as hard as that might be for some to envision. But it’s indisputable after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s action on 1,042 legislative bills.

One result is that the state seized more control over people’s lives, placing more restrictions on their behavior.

For example, Newsom signed legislation forbidding people from smoking or vaping at state beaches or state parks. Millions of cigarette butts clutter beaches, backers argued. And discarded cigarettes ignite mountain wildfires.


Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar bills three times.

“If people can’t smoke even on a deserted beach, where can they?” Brown asked in one veto message. “There must be some limit to the coercive power of government.”

This is another law that won’t really be enforced — like last year’s banning of unrequested plastic straws in restaurants.

Newsom and the Legislature just added some more bans. Other examples:

Hotels must stop providing tiny plastic shampoo bottles starting in 2023. We’ll all need a new supply source for our travel kits.

Fur trapping for animal pelts was outlawed. That’s fine. But also banned was the manufacture or sale of new fur products, such coats and shawls. What’s next? Leather chairs? Baseballs?

Circuses were prohibited from using elephants, lions and other trained animals in their shows. There goes the circus.


Brown had a libertarian bent and a refined political sense. He instinctively knew how far voters could be pushed before they rebelled.

By one count, Newsom signed into law 69 legislative proposals Brown had vetoed.

Newsom is arguably the most liberal California governor ever, at least since Pat Brown in the ‘60s.

Citizens get the government they elect. And last year they elected an unabashed liberal as governor, plus a Legislature with a Democratic supermajority led by lefties. Given the one-party control, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the state Capitol produced a liberal product.

Some examples:

The ‘gig’ law

Governor Newsom's signing of a bill to reclassify up to one million contract workers as company employees is seen as a boon to organized labor and to ride-hail drivers.
Governor Newsom’s signing of a bill to reclassify up to one million contract workers as company employees is seen as a boon to organized labor and to ride-hail drivers.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

This was probably the biggest bill of the year, a gift to organized labor. It reclassifies up to 1 million workers as company employees rather than independent contractors, making them recruit targets for unions.

The change will benefit some workers, such as Uber drivers; they’ll be eligible for company benefits. But it’s bad for others, such as rig-owning independent truckers and psychotherapists; they savor setting their own work hours.

Many will try to get exempted from the law when the Legislature reconvenes in January. And ride-share companies have pledged a hefty $90 million to try to repeal the law on next year’s presidential election ballot. So this story hasn’t ended yet.


Newsom tightened up California’s toughest-in-the-nation gun control laws even more.

One good signing: A bill eliminating ghost guns, which are homemade, unregistered and untraceable. Dangerous dudes have been avoiding background checks by ordering gun parts online and assembling the weapons themselves.

The new law will require a background check for purchase of the firearm’s essential part: the lower receiver that other gun parts are attached to. The chief flaw: The bill won’t take effect until mid-2024.

Two other practical gun bills Newsom signed will expand California’s “red flag” law. Under it, a law enforcement official or immediate family member can ask a judge to issue a Gun Violence Restraining Order if the gun owner is feared to be a danger to himself or others. If the order is issued, the gun owner’s weapons are seized for up to a year.

The strengthened law will allow an employer, co-worker or school employee to request a restraining order. And the length of the order is extended to five years.

Brown vetoed all those gun bills.


Newsom didn’t come close to fulfilling his campaign promise of universal healthcare. It’s a practically unreachable goal because of the cost and politics.

What the governor and the Legislature did do was provide Medi-Cal insurance for young, poor adults up to age 26, including immigrants living here illegally. Liberal lawmakers also wanted to provide Medi-Cal for undocumented seniors, but Newsom restrained them.

Subsidies were provided to middle-class families so they can buy insurance.

There was a lot of talk in the Legislature about a governor who swung at every pitch, many of them out of the strike zone.

Newsom, unlike Brown, took on more than he could handle and diluted his strength.

A prime example: affordable housing and homelessness — tough problems Newsom hasn’t found the political solutions for yet. He and the Legislature added nearly $3 billion for various programs and enacted some modest rent control. But housing should top their agenda for next year.

Newsom lost some credibility with the Legislature on at least two issues.

One was his weird fumbling before signing a highly contentious bill that stiffened the requirement for school children to be vaccinated.

At first Newsom promised to sign the measure if it was changed to narrow its scope. It was. Then, after the bill passed the Assembly, he demanded that it be altered again. A compromise was reached. But lawmakers questioned the worth of the governor’s word.

Newsom also angered many legislators, especially Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), when he vetoed her anti-Trump environmental protection bill. Newsom rolled over for San Joaquin Valley agriculture interests that want more irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The president intends to provide it.

Overall, Newsom’s first-year grade remains at B-minus.