Opinion: Newsom probably can’t lose this fall
Gov. Gavin Newsom easily won this month’s California primary election. But no matter, he will still have to run this fall.
After demonstrating overwhelming vote-getting power both in this balloting and last fall’s abortive, Republican-led recall election, is it possible he might somehow contrive to lose in November’s runoff election?
The easy and very likely answer is no. For one thing, no candidate who so overwhelmingly whipped all the opposition since the state adopted its top two “jungle primary” system has ever lost, or even seen their springtime edge diminish much in the general election.
But there is also evidence Californians are unhappy with the direction where Newsom has led the state since 2018, and there is no sign of any kind of course change from him. There have been some signs he may be a little bored with the job, too – blithely taking off on family vacations both last Thanksgiving week during the spate of smash-and-grab burglary/robberies and leaving again for two weeks in late March and early April as inflation began striking hard at the pocketbooks of almost all Californians.
There is no evidence yet that many voters hold those absences against Newsom, but there’s ample evidence most voters think the state in general is on the wrong track. In a springtime survey by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, about 60 percent said they believe this.
The survey’s director, Mark DiCamillo, told a reporter that “Californians are giving a negative rating of the direction of the state. That coincides with how voters are viewing their personal financial situation.”
Could Newsom have done something about that? For sure, rather than take his family to Central and South America as inflation bit harder and more suddenly than it has anytime in the last 40 years, Newsom could have stayed home and done some serious jawboning, as governors often do in economic crises.
No one knows if it would have been effective, but Newsom could have summoned the heads of California’s major gasoline refiners to Sacramento when they first raised prices more than $1.30 above last year’s levels. He could have threatened them with legislative actions including oil depletion taxes like those in other oil producing states like Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. He could have invited legislators in to discuss price controls with the executives.
Even if it produced little result, meetings like that would have been good theater, creating the impression Newsom cares about inflation’s effects on individuals and that he’s determined to help. But he did nothing like that. Perhaps boredom with his job is the reason for such an abject lack of creative thinking.
Or maybe he’s just taking his reelection completely for granted and figures he doesn’t have to do anything special to earn it.
But the crises in this state that produce the “wrong direction” poll finding go far beyond gasoline prices. They also include realities like the fact found in other surveys that 64 percent of Californians feel their taxes are too high. It’s no coincidence that this number and the level of “wrong direction” discontent are virtually identical. Especially since fully 42 percent of voters also said in the polls they are worse off financially than one year ago.
Then there are falling enrollments in both public schools and community colleges, by proportions far greater than the state’s population loss of less than half a percent over the last fiscal year. The enrollment figures indicate pessimism over the future, many Californians concluding it may not matter whether or not they try to better themselves.
There’s also the continuing dilemma of homelessness, where no one offers a proven solution. Newsom has at least demonstrated caring and interest in this, devising a plan to force thousands of the unhoused into counseling and psychotherapy, like it or not. That’s condemned by some as too draconian and coercive, but no one else has much of an alternative.
It adds up to a situation where Newsom remains the obviously huge favorite for reelection, but just might be ripe for ambush if rival Brian Dahle can quickly come up with tens of millions of dollars and overcome the Republican tag after his name.
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Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.