Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to focus on his day job

(Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom needs to focus on his day job

California politics, elections 2024, homepage news

George Skelton

November 9, 2023

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently returned to planet Earth from the global stratosphere and was hit with a downhome reality: California voters have turned negative about him.

It’s not entirely clear why, but according to a nonpartisan poll, more voters now disapprove (49%) than approve (44%) of the way he is handling his job.

This is a stunning decline since February, when the same polling firm, the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, found the exact opposite. Since then, Newsom’s disapproval has increased significantly by 10 percentage points and approval has fallen by 11 percentage points.

Veteran IGS researcher Mark DiCamillo told the survey co-sponsor in the Los Angeles Times that Newsom is taking on a new persona of sorts. He is no longer just the governor of California. He is a spokesperson for the National [Democratic] party and in principle voters are asked to respond to it.

Many react with frowns.

DiCamillo elaborated on this in his op-ed, writing: Newsom’s recent moves to take a much more active role in national Democratic politics appear to be linked to his recent decline. Voters here certainly have mixed views about taking on this role at a time when California faces mounting budget challenges and a host of other pressing issues.

The pollster didn’t mention the other issues, but most people are quite familiar with the list:

Homelessness has not really improved, according to Newsom.

Nor is there the scourge of unaffordable housing.

He promised to punish

Big oil

for gouging gasoline prices, but that didn’t happen. Gas prices fluctuate, but are always higher than other states.

This is a high-tax state, which contributes to the exorbitant cost of living.

Downtowns in some cities of San Francisco and Sacramento, for example, have deteriorated, largely because they have not yet recovered from the governor’s forced office closures during the pandemic. Students have not yet caught up to classroom closures and likely never will.

None of this is entirely Newsom’s fault, but he is the man voters put in charge of the state government.

Based on the reporting on several top executives, I suspect that Californians expect their governor to focus on the job he was elected to do, rather than traveling around the country and the world playing national and global politics, and perhaps to line up for a future presidential race.

Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is the best example. During his first term as governor, he ran for president twice but failed miserably. His popularity fell and the Democrat lost a Senate bid he should have won in 1982. During his second term as governor, Brown focused on his day job and achieved high grades.

Newsom says he’s not interested in the presidency, which indicates that’s the furthest thing from his mind, but I suspect few people believe that. And he is being described by the news media as a potential candidate for the White House in 2028, if not next year, apparently to the delight of his inner circle.

A turnoff for me is that Governor’s press office promotes Newsom group meetings as fireside chats. This is either a show of disrespect for history and the great FDR, or just simple ignorance.

In the IGS poll, California voters gave Newsom decent marks for his recent trip to China, with 50% approval and 39% disapproval. But the wording of the question almost guaranteed positive responses. Interviewees were told by Newsom that the purpose of the trip was to discuss how California and China can work together to address climate change issues.

That’s the reason [the polling numbers] came back positive, DiCamillio says. It’s about climate change. After the journey was completed, it seemed like much more than that.

Newsom appeared to be trying to play the role of global statesman, undermining him on the world stage in an effort to burnish his resume for a future presidency.

If the governor really wants to take the lead on a global issue, he could speak out forcefully, preferably in a televised address, against the anti-Semitic incidents on California college campuses stemming from the war between Israel and Hamas.

In the poll, voters were divided over his more prominent role in national Democratic politics and attending out-of-state events to criticize the Republican Party and its political leaders.

Voters were almost evenly divided: 45% in favor, 43% against.

Newsom has raised campaign money for President Biden and Democratic candidates in other states and has waged the culture wars with conservatives across America who went beyond his assigned job as governor.

As a general rule, not discussing national issues is not big politics here in California from a voter perspective, DiCamillo says. It is best to pay attention to state issues. And that’s not what Newsom wants to talk about.

In reality, Newsom talks a lot about state problems. But his goal these days seems to be national politics.

Newsom’s negative assessment is also undoubtedly a result in large part of the current gloomy mood of voters

to take off

about politicians in high positions, including President Biden.

A poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that 56% of voters think the state is heading in the wrong direction. Two-thirds believe the American Dream is not true. And three-quarters expect today’s children to be worse off financially than their parents.

Presidents and governors get blamed for the economy and credit for the economy, says PPIC pollster Mark Baldassare. They probably don’t deserve it either.

In any case, Newsom should stick more closely to the job he asked for and that voters gave him.


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