California Gov. Gavin Newsom began a news conference Friday to unveil his $222.2-billion state budget proposal with a plea for forgiveness and a warning: The exhaustive 90-minute presentation he gave for his first spending plan one year ago wasn’t an exception, it set a precedent.
“I want you to be prepared that I’m going to extend this as a new pattern,” Newsom said of his lengthy budget reveals. “And I do that because I want you to know what my priorities are, I want you to know what matters to me.”
This year, Newsom spoke for nearly three hours, largely delivering his speech in an uninterrupted monologue that offered as much insight about his financial priorities as governor as it did the personality of the sharply dressed 52-year-old Democrat with impeccably styled hair.
Before a captive audience of journalists and television cameras, Newsom appeared to revel in the wonky, fiscal wonderland of his own making. No topic was too big, no detail too small: tampon taxes, a looming economic downturn, billion-dollar pension liabilities and the food on school lunch trays.
“I just had enough of TCAC, CDLAC, OPR, CalVet, HCD, CalHFAs,” Newsom said, losing reporters in a complex web of agencies involved in funding housing programs. “Six of you understand what the hell I just said, no one else does. And that’s the point.”
There was no TelePrompTer in sight, just a notepad on a lectern edged by pink Post-it Notes.
Displaying a speaking style all his own, Newsom described his proposals as “audacious” and formed with “intentionality.” Observers noted the frequency with which he used the words “in this space,” repeating the turn of phrase more than 30 times (not including the times he said “in that space” or “the space”) as he discussed work on school meal programs, the intersection of mental and physical health, a school bond, college affordability and other topics.
“In terms of our intentionality in this space, you recall we put $650 million in emergency grants in last year to help support cities and counties,” Newsom said of funding to address homelessness.
And by the end of the briefing, which began in the morning and stretched until after the lunch hour, not a single reporter’s hand remained raised with questions.
Here are a few quintessentially Newsom moments from the governor’s news conference:
Newsom the marathon speaker
It took a three-person rotation of sign language interpreters to keep up with the governor, who rarely paused for more than a few seconds. Some reporters came armed with snacks, anticipating a long speech. Newsom talked for nearly 100 minutes straight before taking questions.
Name that czar
On the campaign trail, Newsom pledged to appoint the state’s first ever homelessness czar, a Cabinet-level role that would take the lead in addressing one of California’s biggest problems. At a news conference in August, the governor said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas were both acting in that capacity, though he had not yet filled the position. But Newsom also told the Fresno Bee that Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly was effectively his homelessness czar. Then in December, Newsom hired Matthew Doherty, who led homelessness efforts at the federal level under former President Obama and President Trump, as “an expert advisor” to the governor on homelessness, raising suspicions that he might be the actual homelessness czar people had been waiting for. On Friday, Newsom tried to address confusion over the position, preempting questions from reporters on the topic by doubling down on his ownership of the role: “You want to know who’s the homeless czar? I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.”
Newsom’s encyclopedic recall of his budget proposal was on full display at Friday’s presentation. A reporter asked the governor what he would do to address 500,000 housing units that had been approved by developers in California, but hadn’t been constructed. Without missing a beat, Newsom directed the journalist to the exact spot in his 246-page budget that touched on the issue: “Yeah, take a look at page 115, upper right. You’ll see a chart with four graphs.”
Accidentally transposing a bill number in response to a question, Newsom paused to comment about how the fumble was evidence of his learning disability: "... 1611, uh 1161, proving the dyslexia.” The governor, who has made education a centerpiece of his administration, has opened up about his struggle, from time to time talking about how he had a difficult time with his studies while growing up. When visiting an elementary school recovering from the Camp fire last year, Newsom declined an impromptu offer to read to a class of students and admitted that he dreaded reading in public.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown displayed less public interest in the media. But Newsom often foreshadows actions he thinks will be headline-worthy and tries to direct reporters to stories he thinks they should write. On Friday, Newsom teased a program to give laptops to prisoners that his office hasn’t yet announced: “Ask me about it. Talk to your editors about it. That’s a story when we do it.”