In the wild year that was 2020, many political stars rose and fell. None may have gone on quite the roller coaster ride than California Governor Newsom. Since each month of last year felt like a lifetime, I thought I’d review some of the good and bad moments from Newsom’s 2020.
Governor Gavin Newsom hit the ground running at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, he announced a deal for 200 million masks a month on The Rachel Maddow Show. The hashtag #PresidentNewsom was also trending on Twitter in April while the governor said California’s “nation-state” status was key to increasing personal protection equipment supply and coordination.
It appeared the Golden State governor could do no wrong in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, with Politico even calling his press conferences “must-see TV.”
In the course of the last month, Newsom has been handed one of the rare political appointment jackpots in recent memory. With Vice President Kamala Harris’ move to Number One Observatory Circle, Newsom was gifted an early Christmas present by being able to appoint Secretary of State Alex Padilla to complete Harris’ senate term, and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber to finish Padilla’s term as Secretary of State. The gifts kept coming though, as the Biden administration nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary.
Polls, Polls, Polls
The latest PPIC poll in November 2020 said that six out of ten Californians approve of Newsom’s job performance. He has consistently held top marks during 2020 and remains popular despite the growing resentment over the French Laundry scandal.
Not Another Newsom Plan
One key component of the plan that may backfire is when schools are eligible to reopen. Newsom said that new seven-day county cases have to be below 28 per 100,000 residents. As of now, schools in only four counties – Sierra, Trinity, Plumas, and Humboldt – meet the threshold. If California school re-openings are delayed, it may bump up against the promise made by the Biden administration to reopen American schools within 100 days of Biden taking office.
Meanwhile, his mysterious coronavirus economic council did nothing to boost the economy. More and more, it seems like it was a payoff to Newsom supporter and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer, and made the most news for the resignation of Disney CEO Bob Iger over state reopening disputes.
Made in China
What began as one of Newsom’s bright spots in 2020 turned bad fast with growing skepticism about the governor’s contracts for securing personal protective equipment. Days after Newsom announced the deal for 300 million N95 masks on MSNBC, then-State Senator Holly Mitchell submitted a letter to the California Department of Finance asking for the contract’s full details.
That weekend, Vice News published a story that BYD, the Chinese company who won the California contract to manufacture personal protective equipment, was blacklisted by the federal government due to its ties to the Chinese military, questionable labor practices, and had little to no experience manufacturing personal protective equipment.
California was refunded $247.5 million of the $495 million down payment in May when BYD failed to meet a deadline for federal certification by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. BYD failed a second certification in late May 2020, only for Newsom to extend BYD’s deal after the masks finally met federal regulations in the summer.
Newsom’s most stinging hit came in November when details of his dinner party at French Laundry, an expensive Napa Valley restaurant, became public. Pictures of Newsom and guests dinning indoors became public and the governor apologized, admitting that he “made a bad mistake.” It was a “do as I say, not as I do” moment that was the exact opposite of what he encouraged Californians not to do for most of the year.
Stereotypical Government Agency
Let’s not forget the ongoing mess that is the California Economic Development Department or EDD. According to CALmatters, the EDD unemployment claim backlog is back up to 746,000 as of Christmas Eve. Newsom promised to clear the backlog by January 2021.
The once hopeless-looking petition to recall Newsom allegedly has collected 800,000 signatures. The governor’s French Laundry dinner and state economic frustrations are fueling a renewed recall push.
The up and downs of the Newsom administration remind me of a fantastic book by mountaineering author and journalist Sebastian Junger. Junger, who rose to fame with The Perfect Storm, uses Tribe to dissect how different cultures handle war, military veterans, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
One memorable part of the book is Junger’s description of the Iroquois and how they had peacetime and wartime leaders. The analogy measures leadership in times of “peace” and crisis.
No one expects every action by Newsom, or any governor, to be perfect.
But we can all agree that the government’s purpose is to secure freedom and opportunity for its citizens, especially in times of crisis. Junger’s example of the Iroquois shows there are great leaders who excel in times of peace, while others are made for trying times of war.
If 2020 has shown California anything about their government, it’s what kind of leader Newsom and the rest of our elected officials are, and what they are not.
Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager at PRI.