Newsom feels pressure to show results for California in second term

A man, next to a woman and children, speaks into microphones
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and their children in Sacramento, delivers remarks after winning his second term in office Tuesday.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Donald Trump often denied that he watched CNN, but Gavin Newsom readily admits he’s a regular Fox News viewer.

And he hates what he hears about California.

The conservative cable network often criticizes the “California exodus” of residents who can’t afford to live here. Fox News host Tucker Carlson calls the state “a Third World country” that can’t keep the lights on.

After Newsom accused Fox commentator Jesse Watters of “sowing the seeds” of the attack on Paul Pelosi, the host blamed the governor for not “deporting the deranged drug addict felon” who assaulted the 82-year-old husband of the House speaker with a hammer.


As Newsom enters his second term, he said he feels the pressure to contradict that narrative from Fox and what he calls the Republican Party’s “surround-sound anger industry.”

Words, tweets and California-centric ads in red states won’t be enough. He knows the state, and his tenure as governor, will be judged on his ability to deliver results on his promises.

“They’re coming for California. It’s not exaggerated,” Newsom said in an interview before the November election, referring to the state’s right-wing critics. “They do not succeed unless we fail.”

To understand Newsom’s West Coast perspective, think of the Golden State as the archetype of the Democratic Party. Or, as he often says, “America‘s coming attraction.” He is immensely proud of the possibility that his home state could soon be named the fourth-largest economy in the world.

But if the image of California as crime-ridden and overpriced with homeless encampments filling its sidewalks wins out, the state becomes less of a paragon of liberal governance and more of a referendum on altruistic Democratic values.

“That’s a heavy weight, and that’s why we need to get our act in order on homelessness, clean up the streets,” Newsom said. “Those are vulnerabilities for our party, for our state and I think for democracy because Democrats have to prove themselves at a different level now in terms of performance. So, I feel that weight. I feel that responsibility.”


That mind-set may also help explain some of the impatience he showed in his first term and what he hopes to accomplish in his newly earned second.

Newsom packed his first four years in office with new laws and programs — such as a new system to force treatment for people who are severely mentally ill and drug addicted. He hopes they will begin to address the affordability and quality-of-life problems in California today and lay the groundwork for a better and more equitable state in the future.

Other progressive actions that drew national headlines — pausing executions, protecting abortion rights and phasing out gas-powered cars, to name a few — not only affect California, but also are examples of Newsom trying to use the state as a model to move the country forward.

His first term was also complicated by the pandemic, marred by a GOP-led recall election and underscored by his attempts to make himself one of the country’s leading Democratic figures.

Speaking in what he’s dubbed the “California for All” conference room in the governor’s office, Newsom said his second term is about implementing and showing results.

“Program-passing is not problem-solving. We’ve solved none of the problems,” Newsom said. “We’ve got to get in the ‘how business,’ and that’s the hardest thing in the world.”


Newsom has earned a reputation for trying to fix every problem he encounters. Through his state budget and legislation, he adopted a vast policy agenda that he used to generate media interest.

But news releases about the more tedious side of governing — releasing previously announced state funding, or touting nominal program successes — won’t attract the same level of attention he became accustomed to in his first term. Political observers say Newsom will have to do more than merely announce new plans.

“They can sell the headline, but the devil is always in the details, and that’s where they seem to lack success,” said David McCuan, chair of the political science department at Sonoma State.

McCuan pointed to two glaring examples: the Employment Development Department’s delayed payment of unemployment benefits during the pandemic, and Newsom’s premature victory lap on a major deal to secure personal protective equipment, which failed to deliver masks when they were needed most.

Newsom’s aides describe the governor as a hard charger by nature and don’t expect his personality to change. They expect a much slimmer legislative agenda from the governor in the next few years, a greater emphasis on following through.

“I think the second term is always kind of about implementing,” said Dana Williamson, Newsom’s incoming executive secretary. “I think that will probably be his focus, but there’s always opportunities out there to come up with new things.”

Newsom said he doesn’t believe people understand the way in which his administration has begun to address California’s deeply rooted challenges of poverty, homelessness and housing affordability.


The governor took advantage of the state’s historic budget surplus to fund an expansion of Medi-Cal eligibility to all immigrants in 2024, the expansion of paid family leave, free preschool for 4-year-olds and a boost in the earned income tax credit, among other programs to bolster the social safety net and provide more opportunity for upward mobility to those living in poverty.

With the backing of voters and opposition of civil rights groups, Newsom shuffled to the right politically on homelessness by creating CARE Court this year. The new system could end up forcing an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 unhoused Californians struggling with severe mental illness and addiction into a court-ordered treatment plan.

“People need to see results and they deserve it,” he said. “I hear the critics loudly, and they’re not wrong about a lot of things. But they are also not right about a lot of things.

“I’m really excited about the next few years and how, even with the macroeconomic head winds, people will start to see the results. That it’s not just rhetoric.”

Many economists expect a recession on the horizon in the U.S., which has weakened the forecast for California despite its economic growth.

The most recent economic outlook from the state Department of Finance, published in May, anticipated growth to continue in the current budget year. But it noted heightened near-term risks and uncertainties. California’s budget is dependent on income tax paid by its wealthiest residents. State revenue collected through September is $7 billion below the Newsom administration’s last forecast from May.


Williamson said she anticipates the challenges one might expect, such as wildfires and natural disasters, and braces for the kinds that no one sees coming.

“It’s a combination of the economy and the unknown,” she said.

Williamson is a veteran in California government and politics with experience helping Gov. Jerry Brown navigate budget deficits in his first term. Newsom’s decision to tap her to fill a void as his top aide is a sign of his preparation for the kind of transition that he foreshadows in his second term.

Newsom’s state budget this year includes $37 billion in budgetary reserves, split between the state’s rainy day fund and other accounts.

Analea Patterson, whom Newsom recently appointed as his Cabinet secretary, said the state has $72 billion built into the budget to cover cash shortfalls. That cushion will come from budget reserves, planned early debt and pension payments, and infrastructure spending over multiple years that can be pulled back.

“The goal is to use the resiliency so that we can continue to maintain and build out those programs without having to cut the stuff that we just invested in,” she said.

But in tough economic times, California’s problems could become only more difficult to solve.


The pool of Californians on Medi-Cal, the state’s healthcare system for low-income residents, would probably rise if more people fall into poverty during a recession. That could coincide with a plan to expand healthcare coverage eligibility to all immigrants regardless of legal status.

Dustin Corcoran, chief executive of the California Medical Assn., said the need for Medi-Cal already exceeds availability in many parts of the state.

“Having a Medi-Cal card does not mean you can access care,” Corcoran said. “There’s a real opportunity in Newsom’s second term to deal with that and manifest the stated goal of equity in healthcare for all patients regardless of their source of insurance.”

Patterson said the state is procuring new providers to serve Medi-Cal patients. The changes have already sparked lawsuits challenging the state’s procurement process from health plans that were left out.

“From my perspective, this is part of the great implementation that we are going to be doing, which is holding ourselves accountable and holding the providers accountable for serving people on Medi-Cal,” she said.

The state’s 2022-23 budget includes $10.2 billion over multiple years for homelessness. In addition to providing more funding, Newsom has taken a number of steps to make it easier for communities to green light projects to build more housing.


One week before the election, the governor called out local governments for “settling for the status quo” on plans to reduce homelessness, which he said set a collective goal to reduce the number of people living on the street by only 2% statewide by 2024. He said he would convene a meeting this month to urge more ambitious targets.

“The state’s vision is realized at the local level. Period. Full stop. As is the nation’s at the state level,” Newsom said. “And so we have a role to play, and we need to see that role expressed at the local level. L.A., I can’t take it anymore. The streets. Crime. We own that.”

Jim DeBoo, who is stepping down as Newsom’s executive secretary at the end of the year, said the governor became hyperfocused on defeating the GOP image of California during last year’s recall election. Competing in an uneven year with no other major contests made Newsom the singular target of attacks from Republicans in California and beyond.

“It was one thing: a referendum on Gavin Newsom’s governing, which was a proxy for the Democratic platform as a whole,” DeBoo said. “Being on the receiving end of that every day, all day long, it has an effect. You can you choose.

“You can just take it and feel down or you can fight back and get on the offense. That’s what we tried to do in the recall, and this just really became an extension of that.”