Newsom secured second term. But no progress on key issues.
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To no one’s surprise, Governor Gavin Newsom topped Tuesday’s snap election results, putting him in a runoff in November against little-known and lightly funded Republican nominee Brian Dahle, a state senator from Northern California. rural. The former mayor of San Francisco is set to be California’s last incumbent governor to be easily re-elected. But unlike the latter two, Newsom doesn’t have a signature achievement in the office. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger easily retained the seat in 2006 after working with Democratic lawmakers to deliver the most productive session of the legislature in years – the most memorable enacting the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act. . Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown also easily won another term in 2014 after a brave show of tough budget management that erased the trope that California was “ungovernable.”
By contrast, despite record revenues and strong Democratic majorities in Sacramento, Newsom has made little to no progress on key state issues. He rules as a progressive without a broad and bold vision of how the Golden State should address its problems. This must change.
When it comes to housing and the interrelated issue of homelessness, Newsom has never come close to meeting the goals it set in 2018 of adding 500,000 new homes per year. Despite sweeping new laws that make it much easier to add homes to existing single-family lots, California isn’t building even a third of that number of units. Meanwhile, the cost of housing continues to hit new highs, impoverishing middle-income families. And despite unprecedented injections of billions of dollars in new government funds for homelessness programs, the problems are worsening in most cities, including San Diego.
So what can a governor do? Changing the bases of the debate. Make bold changes to enable the easy conversion of empty shopping malls and office buildings into housing, recognizing that online shopping and the number of those working from home will only increase. Use tax incentives to get developers to build huge dormitory-style apartment buildings with shared bathrooms and kitchens. Adopt prefabricated houses that can be erected for a fraction of the usual cost. Most importantly, don’t treat “process” victories — new laws and regulatory changes — as real victories. Demand results.
In education, Newsom continues to break records on the funding its budgets provide for K-12 classrooms. But just as many education experts have been saying for years, school quality isn’t just a function of school spending. The lingering achievement gap leaving many black and Latino students behind has widened further when classrooms have closed during the pandemic. Yet instead of looking to what worked in various populous liberal states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York—carefully measuring student and teacher performance and developing rigorous best practices—California has made even more more difficult to use these tools. The state must measure how it spends this money.
On water, with the Governor’s call to reduce water use largely ignored, the climate emergency has forced state leaders to consider making the momentous decision to limit water use by farms, which use four times the water available in the state. than cities (40% versus 10%). Agriculture now represents only about 2% of the state’s economy. In a historic drought like this, conservative limits on water use for heavily exported crops like alfalfa and almonds make sense. Many other reforms to limit water waste and add reservoirs make sense. But none can provide the short-term relief that would come from a new approach to farming.
Newsom was elected in 2018 talking about big, bold goals. It’s time for achievements. He defends his record with a vigor that belies how difficult life is for many Californians. But if he wants to make history, he must change his cautious ways and follow the walk as well as talk.