Gavin and Me: Reflections On Gavin Newsom, the Past and Promise of California Politics
Politically speaking, I grew up with Gavin Newsom. The man who now takes office as California’s Governor, despite his relative youth, has been a consistent fixture in San Francisco and California politics during my whole personal and professional development. In a deep blue city such as San Francisco, his first mayoral race against the Green Party’s Matt Gonzalez was one of the few times the kids in my class (or rather their parents) were pointedly divided politically. Over the past fifteen years, this seemingly innocuous local San Francisco race has been a harbinger of coming divides in politics both across California (as we saw in the contentious 2017 state party chairmanship election and then again in the Dianne Feinstein-Kevin De Leon primary of 2018) and then in America with the Clinton-Sanders divide of 2016 and beyond. The promise that Gavin Newsom’s governorship holds in 2019 and beyond is the promise of synthesis, the execution of a program that can appeal to all wings of the diverse progressive movement, it may well be an existential issue for the country for his vision to succeed.
Gavin Newsom’s career on both the San Franciscan and Californian stage has seen the rise of polarizing trends from a citywide to nationwide level. This trend began in the 1990s as Newsom transitioned from being a small business owner to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The rise of the internet saw an unprecedented economic boom and created wealth on a scale heretofore unimaginable. In my mind, this was symbolized by the construction of AT&T Park and with it the rise of the South of Market (or SoMa) district as a concentration of the newly affluent and ultra tech-savvy. All across the country cities have followed this trend; new urban stadiums accompanied by artsy, affluent districts with a bohemian new “creative class” awash in new prosperity and sophistication. Southern California too, saw its own versions of these emerge, such as Los Angeles’ Silver Lake or San Diego’s Gaslamp District. But all of this prosperity came with its downside.
Having grown up in Newsom’s San Francisco and now living here again as an adult, the upside and the downside are crystal clear. While never a cheap place to live, rent has gone through the stratosphere for even the smallest apartments. And while homeless on the streets was always an unfortunate presence when I was growing up, the problem has skyrocketed to the point where it has been compared to Mumbai. Downtown Los Angeles and even Santa Monica have seen similar problems emerge, even as their own wealth has increased in similar fashion to the Bay Area.
When Newsom was first running for office in 2003, he was seen as the pragmatic, pro-business candidate against the staunch progressive Gonzalez. And yet, his terms saw San Francisco, for all of the issues I mentioned, became a model for progressivism in several important ways. Not only did Newsom advance progressive achievements in social issues by presiding over the first legal gay marriages in San Francisco, he did so on an economic front as well with Healthy San Francisco, a universal health care program that he hopes to make a model for the state.
One of the other downsides of this cost of living increase is how it seems increasingly difficult to raise a family here. As a young person who grew up in California, it often seems impossible to envision giving any kids I might have the same upbringing that I did, and I am far better off than most men and women my age. How must my less fortunate peers feel? Thankfully, Newsom seems to appreciate the scope of this problem, hence his proposal to drastically expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit. As Vox.com has pointed out, this credit has kept millions of Californian families out of poverty, and hopefully will continue to do so on an even larger scale.
One of the main challenges for progressive people is going to be finding a way to resolve the many contradictions and disagreements that sprang up prominently in 2016, but (as the San Franciscan case shows) were latent even before then. Newsom’s vision for the state incorporates many of the ideas that resonate with supporters of Bernie Sanders, but at the same time he has demonstrated an ability appeal to more centrist-leaning progressive people as well. Resolving that contradiction will certainly be the great challenge of his next four years as governor, but so far, I would not bet against it.