Grading Gavin Newsom’s Big Debate

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In 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom challenged the McClatchy chain’s California editorial and opinion writers to “look that up” when he claimed that Texas ​​middle-class families “pay more taxes than middle-class families in California.” There was no need from some of us to look it up – we knew he was wrong. So did he. But that didn’t stop him then, nor did it make a difference in his recent debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he made statements that can’t stand up to scrutiny.

We can classify Newsom’s tales from the debate in three ways.

Misleading Accounts

When asked to defend his record as the only California governor to have lost population for three straight years, Newsom argued that “per capita, more Floridians move to California than Californians move to Florida.” The U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2021 and 2022, 88,165 Californians moved to Florida while 53,249 Floridians moved to California. That’s a net gain for Florida of 34,916.

But Newsom phrased his response in “per capita” terms, implying that a larger portion of Florida residents relocated to California than the other way around. Another way to look at it, though, is that Californians fleeing to Florida have increased the state’s 2020 population by 0.004%. At the same time, the 53,249 Floridians who moved to California in 2021 and 2022 didn’t come close to offsetting the larger exodus of the nearly 700,000 people who left California from April 2020 to July 2022.

Newsom also claimed that “​​1,406 books have been banned just last year under Ron DeSantis’ leadership.” But not a single book has been banned. There are no books that cannot be sold or read in Florida. Deciding which books are appropriate and inappropriate for school libraries and curriculum, a practice common to every state and community, is not a ban.

When criticized for his response to the COVID outbreak, the California governor tried to turn it around and accused DeSantis of being “​​a lockdown governor.” Fair enough. DeSantis initially followed the same steps nearly every governor took. But he adjusted and removed restrictions in April 2020 – at roughly the same time Newsom was warming up to the authoritarian powers that he used to inflict damage on his state.

Outright Falsehoods

Newsom claimed ​​DeSantis’ Florida had a greater “learning loss during COVID” than he had in California.

But as PRI’s Lance Izumi points out in the Orange County Register, Newsom “presided over public school closures that lasted longer than in most other states,” which “had a devastating effect on students who were already achieving at low levels prior to the pandemic.”

Using the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam – “often referred to as the nation’s report card,” says Izumi – as the standard, it’s clear that California student performance fell sharply math. In 2019, before schools were closed, 29% of eighth-graders were proficient on the NAEP math exam. Three years later, that portion declined to 23%.

The damage was particularly harmful among minority students.

“While Newsom keeps talking about equity, his policies produced academic disasters” for black and Hispanics, Izumi added. A mere 7% of black California eighth-graders were proficient in the 2022 NAEP math test, falling from 10% in pre-COVID 2019. Hispanics’ proficiency slipped to 11% from 15%.

Bizarrely, Newsom said “we’ve gotten 68,000 people off the streets.” As Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Kiley (Rocklin) said, that’s “preposterous.” About 30% of the country’s homeless, more than 171,000, are in California, according to federal data released a year ago. And it’s a number that has been climbing. “Since 2020,” says the Public Policy Institute of California, the state’s “overall homeless population has increased about 6%, compared to just 0.4% in the rest of the country.”

So when were these 68,000 moved off the streets? If Newsom was referring to placing the unsheltered in shelters, people would have noticed. With more than 115,000 living literally in the streets last year, reducing that number by more than half would be evident, but no one in California is saying they’re seeing fewer homeless people – unless they live in San Francisco, or were visiting, when Chinese President Xi Jinping was in town last month.

Questions Dodged

A number of times Newsom simply avoided the questions put to him. When asked why so many have fled California, he filibustered, telling viewers “I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record” though the debate was intended to contrast red state and blue state policies. Despite multiple opportunities to respond, Newsom continued to sidestep the question.

Newsom declined, as well, to give straight answers about federal crime data. Had he been forthcoming, he would have had to admit that California is trending toward lawlessness.

“Despite the FBI crime statistics that indicate a downward trend in violent crime nationwide, California’s is increasing, 6.2% for property crimes [in 2022] over 2021 and 6.1% for violent crimes over national figures of a 6% decline in violent crime and a property crime rate that is comparable to California’s,” says PRI’s Steve Smith.

“Most concerning to me,” Smith continues, “is California’s increasing aggravated assault numbers. We are up in almost every county. From 2019 to 2022 45 of 58 counties saw increases. In 28 counties they were up 30%. Only San Joaquin County decreased and only by just 10%. Orange increased the most at 74%.”

In a debate that wasn’t short on invective, DeSantis called Newsom a “slick politician.” But even the most unctuous of governors can’t slither out of the facts.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

 

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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