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California Focus: Gavin Newsom looks to governorship

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A few feet behind Gavin Newsom as he sipped a drink in a coffee shop near Los Angeles International Airport, a tall man with a wet paint roller wiped a menu blackboard clear, giving the store a clean slate.

But Newsom’s words and attitudes in an interview made it clear the symbolism was only partially complete.

“I tend to agree with (current Gov.) Jerry Brown on 95 percent of things,” said the lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor. “I differ with him on some of his bill signings and vetoes, on gun control for one example. When I was mayor, (now Senator, then District Attorney) Kamala Harris and I tried to shut down the Cow Palace gun shows. Jerry had the chance to do that last month, but instead he vetoed the bill. I would have signed it.”

Democrat Newsom – leading Republican John Cox by double figures in every poll this fall in their run for governor – thinks that if elected, he would also be more involved in women’s and children’s issues, ascribing his interest to his second wife, actress Jennifer Siebel. “If you’ve met my wife,” he grinned, “you may not be surprised at how the dynamics of women’s issues might change.”

But Newsom says anyone who expects he might loosen the state’s purse strings when the famously parsimonious Brown era ends may be mistaken. “I was anything but a free spender when I was mayor,” he said. “Just look at my record.”

He also says he won’t back California away from resisting many of President Trump’s policies. “I admire (Atty. Gen.) Xavier Becerra’s 44 (and counting) lawsuits against the Trump administration’s moves,” Newsom said. “He’s right on all of them. These lawsuits are principled and go deep in pursuing California values. I will defend California’s values on the environment and immigration and other issues and I will not be timid.

“At the same time, I will not go to bed every night thinking what I can do the next day to resist Donald Trump. I’ll do what’s necessary and right.”

Newsom also wants to re-instill civility in politics. He says he’s come to admire some traits of opponent Cox, a businessman who moved to California from Illinois about a decade ago.

“I like his resiliency in the face of long odds,” Newsom said. “His whole history shows that. I admire his putting himself forward the way he has.”

Does this mean he might give Cox a job in a putative Newsom administration, as he did with some onetime opponents in San Francisco? Say, make Cox a University of California regent or a California State University trustee? “He approves of (federal Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos and what she’s trying to do,” Newsom said. “So that would be a no.” What about a spot on the state’s Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing? Newsom just chuckled.

Newsom said he’s also learned from other election rivals, like former state Schools Supt. Delaine Eastin. “For authenticity, unbridled conviction, humor and energy, there’s no one like Delaine. I may well recruit her for something. The same for (former Los Angeles Mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa.

“There are ways to let your opponents save face.”

Newsom added that he’ll likely heed the problems of homelessness more than Brown. “We took 10,000 people off the streets when I was mayor,” he said. “But when you build affordable new housing for the homeless, for every 10 that you house, 10 more soon arrive. So we need to regionalize the problem and the solutions. We also need to be careful about over-promising, not give people the idea we can do more than we actually can accomplish.”

And what about running for president? “Oh, God no. No. No. But I realize no one cares what I say about that. I still get the question. Maybe that’s why I’m now on Trump’s radar (the president has mocked him twice recently on Twitter). But I mean what I say.”

But what about a year from now, if Democrats don’t coalesce around a single candidate? “I will say California gives the structural advantage of holding an early primary in 2000. This state should play a central role in the future of America and the Democratic Party.” Which may mean, stay tuned.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.