SACRAMENTO — Gavin Newsom took the oath as California’s 40th governor Monday and instantly challenged President Trump, promising a “progressive, principled” administration that will counter “corruption and incompetence” in the White House.
“It is up to us to renew the California dream for a new generation. And now more than ever, it is up to us to defend it,” Newsom said. “But there is an administration in Washington clearly hostile to California’s values and California’s interests.”
The former San Francisco mayor painted a picture of California as a virtual “nation-state,” one that will push beyond the strictures proposed by the GOP leaders in Washington toward a more progressive future.
“What we do today is even more consequential because of what’s happening in our country,” Newsom said on the west steps of the state Capitol, which were enclosed by a tent against the threat of rain. “People’s lives, freedom, security, the water we drink, the air we breathe — they all hang in the balance. The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us.”
The new governor promised to offer “an alternative to the corruption and incompetence in the White House. Our government will be progressive, principled and always on the side of the people.”
He also talked about his plans to improve life for California’s families and quickly showed what that means. About halfway through the new governor’s 25-minute address, 2-year-old Dutch, the youngest of Newsom’s four children, wandered onto the stage looking for his father.
Newsom scooped the boy up to loud laughter and continued with his speech, saying the state will support parents so they can give children the love and care they need, “especially in those critical early years.”
Newsom talked about the need for a range of programs to shore up California’s safety net and deal with problems “that have been deferred too long” amid the state’s growing prosperity, such as homelessness and chronic hunger.
“These aren’t merely policy problems,” he said. “They are moral imperatives. So long as they persist, each and every one of us is diminished.”
Like all inaugural speeches, Newsom’s talk was long on vision and short on specifics. He called for a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing and fair pay for workers and said the state will “never waver in our pursuit of guaranteed health care for all Californians,” but he was silent on exactly how the state will pay for those new initiatives.
Throughout the speech, Newsom walked a fine line between his stated need to keep California on the careful financial course plotted by his predecessor, Jerry Brown, and his campaign promise to shake up the state.
“We will prepare for uncertain times ahead. We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, pay down debts and meet our future obligations,” Newsom said. “But let me be clear: We will be bold. We will aim high, and we will work like hell to get there.”
He saved some of his most fulsome praise for Brown, who was governor during the two terms Newsom spent as lieutenant governor. To a standing ovation from the crowd, Newsom gave Brown credit for much of California’s progress.
The new governor promised “a California for all,” uniting the state’s heavily populated — and heavily Democratic — coastal urban areas with the more conservative rural and agricultural regions to deal with the problems that affect all residents.
“We will not be divided between rural and urban or north and south or coastal and inland,” the new governor said. “We will strive for solidarity and face our most threatening problems — together.”
Over the next several weeks, Newsom plans to introduce policies that he hopes will make the California dream accessible to more than wealthy people living in coastal regions.
Among the new spending priorities Newsom has signaled in recent days are state support for expanded pre-kindergarten classes, making the second year of community college education free for full-time students who now get their first year funded, and six months of paid leave from work for parents of newborn children.
Missing from his speech Monday was any direct mention of single-payer health care, a sign that Newsom is continuing to temper his campaign promise to deliver it. As he said Sunday at a pre-inaugural event, “no one — no one — is suggesting that we can overnight change the way we’re doing business. But we will take some risks. We will do some things that will create some unease.”
The challenge will be to show that Newsom is more than a leader of the anti-Trump resistance. He must solve intractable problems that plague the state. One in 5 Californians lives in poverty, 3 million don’t have health insurance, and homelessness has spread from cities to rural areas.
Skyrocketing housing costs threaten to turn a generation of young Californians into perennial renters or drive them from the state in search of an affordable life.
Newsom has never shied from championing leading-edge, often controversial ideas, whether it was the Care Not Cash program in San Francisco aimed at replacing most direct welfare payments for homeless people with housing and services, pioneering City Hall sanctioning of same-sex marriages, or the statewide legalization of recreational cannabis.
Yet two questions have always shadowed Newsom: whether he can transform his ideas into policy, and how much he is driven by his future political ambitions. He has ruled out running for president in 2020, but a successful first term would put him in prime position for a 2024 run should the Democrats fail to win the White House next year.
The idea that California is big enough and important enough to push back against the Trump-led national government found quick agreement from Democratic legislators.
“We do have to go at it alone, because Donald Trump has declared war on California,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco. “Whether it be health care, education, drug prices, civil rights, you name it, we have to create our own destiny.”
“California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, so we march to the beat of our own drum,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat who chairs the budget committee. In Washington, “they can’t even get a budget passed. They can’t fund government. It’s a very different philosophy of governance here than in Washington, D.C.”