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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

For California’s sake, Gavin Newsom needs to stifle his presidential fantasies

Newsom’s attempts to moderate his politics are degrading his promises to California’s progressive voters.


California Governor Gavin Newsom is pictured in 2019.

On Oct. 23, California Governor Gavin Newsom became the first state governor to visit China in over four years. Despite mostly receiving attention for crashing into a Chinese elementary school student during a pickup basketball game, he framed the week-long trip as a way to discuss climate change and other issues with Chinese President Xi Jinping, even as U.S.-China relations continue to sour. This visit is also an indication of Newsom’s presidential aspirations, since hopefuls without experience in the field often begin their campaigns by building a foreign policy repertoire. While he has explicitly ruled out running in 2024, the Democratic field is wide open for 2028.  Newsom’s recent fundraising spree, coupled with his upcoming debate with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, clearly indicate his aspirations for a higher office. However, Newsom’s ambitions are causing him to leave the interests of his constituent Californians behind.

While California as an independent nation-state would have the fifth largest economy in the world, over 800,000 residents moved out of the state between 2021 and 2022 primarily due to the rising cost of living. California also has 30% of the nation’s unhoused population, a number that only continues to increase. It is clear that change must happen, but Newsom has taken the opposite approach this year and recently vetoed over 100 bills that were sent to his desk by the state legislature. Policies that he vetoed include a cap on insulin prices, free condoms in public schools and a ban on caste discrimination. These bills should be common sense for a progressive state like California — the insulin price cap policy even has the backing of 88% of Americans nationwide. Newsom’s response was that the long-term costs are still passed down to consumers through higher premiums from health plans,” and, while he has a plan for California to start producing its own insulin, that will take at least a year, highlighting the importance of immediate change.

Newsom has been attacked by many prominent Republicans such as DeSantis, who believes that California is being ruined by Newsom’s “leftist government.” Newsom’s approval rating has fallen to just 12% among Republicans and he appears to be moderating his politics in order to widen his national appeal and avoid tying his name to controversial legislation. He is even backing down on his promise to fight climate change, despite signing the world’s first pathway to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Since signing the plan last year, Newsom has cut California’s climate spending by six billion dollars and vetoed a bill that would have invested in clean energy for its public schools, citing cost concerns. However, Newsom also opposed a proposition to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to fund investments in electric vehicles, so it’s clear that his main concern is not the budget deficit. Instead of trying to improve his national image by listening to the criticisms of non-Californian Republicans, he should do his job by signing bills that will help mitigate the issues that California faces.

While Newsom is seen as a potential successor to two-term hopeful President Joe Biden, California has never produced a Democratic nominee for the presidency, since its politics tend to be out of touch with the rest of the country. Democrats should instead look to candidates who can appeal to a wider range of voters and have experience winning in swing states. One rising star in the party who meets these criteria is Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, who won his race by almost 15 points in a state that Biden only carried by one.

Gavin Newsom needs to stop letting his ambitions get the best of him and remember his current job description — governor of the most populous state in the nation. However, I still think that there’s hope for California. When Newsom was mayor of San Francisco, he defied state law and issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a groundbreaking decision for the gay rights movement. I hope that Newsom can rediscover this courage and stop worrying about what his critics say. California needs a strong, progressive leader more than ever in order to prove Republicans wrong.