Gov. Gavin Newsom made waves this week when he said that mandatory state water restrictions could be coming soon to a dry lawn near you.
“At the moment, we’re doing great,” Newsom said. “But if we enter another year of drought – and as you know our water season starts Oct. 1 – we will have likely more to say by the end of September as we enter potentially the third year of this current drought.”
This admission is more in line with the Gavin Newsom that we know. Throughout his term – and as evidenced by his sweeping use of executive powers during the Covid-19 pandemic – Newsom has never met an expansion of government power he didn’t like.
But throughout the spring and summer to date, I’ve noticed a different Gavin Newsom in public. Fighting the distraction of the recall campaign, Newsom has been measured, muted, even aloof at times.
For example, he held a series of photo ops showing him cleaning up the state including a recent event in Long Beach “to clean a cluttered lot near the 91 and 710 freeways.” That same week, the Stockton Record reported that “instead of a mask, Gov. Gavin Newsom donned work gloves and pitched in . . . during a visit to a north Stockton homeless camp, helping Caltrans workers clean up and meeting with residents and outreach workers.”
This begs the question – how will his approach change once “the Ides of September” are upon us?
Should things turn out in his favor on September 14, Californians are wondering what Newsom will emerge post-election. Will we see a return of the Covid-era Newsom who made announcements of new initiatives, mandates, and restrictions virtually every day? Or will we see more of the seemingly subdued Newsom? Consider the following policy vacuums:
New State Covid-19 Restrictions: As the Delta variant has raged in California and cases dramatically increased, Newsom has deferred to local officials – many of whom have acted to impose new mask mandates. With Sacramento County officials expressing concern about hospital emergency room beds filling up fast, could we see more mandates coming after the election? Or worse, could we see a return to the red and purple tier system of state mandated restrictions, or a return to state-ordered economic lockdowns?
School Reopenings: One of the biggest political firestorms has been the reopening of California public schools to in-person instruction following mass closures during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. While public schools are largely reopening on schedule, the debate rages over a state mask mandate for all students and another mandate requiring teachers and school personnel get the Covid-19 vaccine or submit to regular testing. PRI’s Lance Izumi has written of the dramatic learning losses for students thanks to Covid-19-fueled school closures. Will these latest mandates be the last, or could we be headed for a return to school closures amidst the rise of the Delta variant – especially if it is demanded by supportive teachers’ unions?
Single-Payer Health Care: While Newsom is a public proponent of single-payer, he has largely avoided the subject while Governor – punting the issue to a gubernatorial-appointed commission that continues to work behind closed doors. Earlier this summer, the National Union of Health Care Workers – a big Newsom supporter – held a rally at the State Capitol urging Newsom to push harder for single-payer. After September 14, might single-payer move to the top of the legislative agenda with a grateful Newsom as its biggest cheerleader?
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.