Though he may have been 45 minutes late for his own “meet and greet” at San Benito High School on Saturday, March 4, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom had to know by the enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd of seemingly like-minded county residents that he was in a friendly neighborhood. The former mayor of San Francisco and current lieutenant governor made a whistle stop of sorts in Hollister to speak and press the flesh as he campaigns for the governorship. And there was no shortage of eager folks who sought to get closer to the Democratic candidate for selfies and handshakes.
Unlike the hostile reception that some Republican legislators have received in town hall meetings around the nation, Newsom was greeted like a hometown hero. And he quickly made himself at home after San Benito County Supervisor Robert Rivas gave him a fervent introduction. After thanking the crowd, Rivas invited them—if they were Democrats—to either volunteer or give money to the local party affiliation.
Rivas shared his concern with those in the room by what he was seeing coming out of Washington as he refused to say the name of President Donald Trump to cheering and applause. He told them what is happening is scary and a threat to the foundation upon which the county was founded.
“We’re lucky because we live in California and it’s up to us to protect the future,” he warned. “That’s why next year’s governor’s race is so important. We need a governor who is tough, who has been tested, a governor who stands with people and not corporations. We need a governor who is going to stand up to Washington, but more importantly, stand up for the California dream. What we need is a true Democrat.”
To shouts of, “we love you Gavin,” Newsom said one of the reasons he was late was because of what was happening in Washington and because it was Saturday and the country was waking up to a series of new presidential Tweets. In a time-honored speechmaking tradition, he warmed the crowd up with jokes about Trump’s Tweets, contrasting them to the president's address to the nation comment of putting aside trivial things. Newsom said that after the Tweets, the press tracked him down to get his response, which was “it’s important not to be distracted or intimidated.” He said, however, that it is important, as a state, not to be bullied by “this current occupant of the White House.”
As an example of distraction, Newsom mentioned a front-page news story in the Washington Post that stated Trump is proposing a 17 percent cut to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). He said the Central Coast understands the significance of the proposed cuts, part of which, he claimed, would be a half-billion-dollar reduction in a satellite system that provides climate change information. He also claimed there would be millions in cuts to fishery programs, which would affect Californians, in particular.
Newsom also brought up proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Flint is not just in Michigan, folks, it’s right here in our own backyard,” he said, referring to issues of contaminated water. “There’s one million people with dirty drinking water in the State of California.”
Republicans, Newsom said, were doing what Democrats were accused of in creating the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) behind closed doors as the GOP attempts to repeal and replace the legislation. He said more than four million Californians would be adversely impacted and $20 billion is at stake if Republicans don’t produce an effective replacement.
On immigration, Newsom said he had met with Silicon Valley companies whose concern was H1B visas. In Salinas, he said all he heard about was the “new drought,” or the lack of farm workers.
“No state is more affected by the issue of immigration than California,” he said.
As he has toured California over the past year giving speeches, no matter what the topic was people always ask Newsom about Trump, he said. This makes it difficult to focus on issues that have real impact on people in the state, he said, noting that he has been working on an economic development strategy with the Brookings Institute, as well as an education plan that focuses on broad access to universities and community colleges.
“The best politics is a better idea, but at the end of the day, it’s the ability to apply those ideas,” Newsom said. “Love or hate me, and I know it’s not unanimous in this room, I’m not afraid to take risks. My wife did not support my position on Proposition 64 (recreational marijuana). As a parent, she was concerned about it. I’m not pro the marijuana initiative that I helped draft. I’m anti-prohibition.”
Newsom commented that thousands are incarcerated because of non-violent cannabis-related crimes and that more than one million could have their criminal records expunged because of the passage of Prop. 64, which he said was actually an “economic justice initiative,” a “social justice initiative,” and a “racial justice initiative,” rather than being about legalizing marijuana.
He compared his stance on Prop. 64 and the lack of support for it by Democrats statewide to his backing of Proposition 47 (reduction of some felonies to misdemeanors). As he ticked off other issues, such as the repeal of the three-strike law, the death penalty, affirmative action, xenophobia and nativism, it began to sound like a revival meeting, as members of the audience would call out each word as he said it.
“We’ve got to be held to a higher level of accountability. You’ve got to hold me to a higher level of accountability,” he challenged the crowd, and then he recited like an auctioneer a long list of social issues, finishing off with, “To say is not to do. What’s the strategy? Democrats, we own that. Society becomes how we behave. We are our behaviors.”
Newsom went on to say that while Democrats “are the broken system of government,” they are also the “antidote,” as he took questions from the audience. First, he was asked what lessons could be taken from when he was mayor of San Francisco and his approach to universal health care and how he could apply that to the state. He responded that the best-case scenario would be a block grant of Medical dollars, which he claimed would dilute purchasing power because Congress will not, on an annual basis, re-appropriate inflation-adjusted dollars to make up for the inflation of health care costs.
He went on to say critics claimed that cities and states supposedly could not guarantee universal health care without bankrupting their general funds, tearing down existing health care institutions, or causing companies to flee the state.
“We proved them wrong on all three counts,” Newsom said. “San Francisco was the only city in the United States of America that currently has universal health care, regardless of pre-existing conditions, regardless of your ability to pay, and let me say this, proudly, regardless of your immigration status.”
He claimed that 94 percent of those who receive universal health care in San Francisco report that they are satisfied with their care. He said he was confident those lessons could be applied to the state because the architect of his health care plan is Mitch Katz, his former county department of health director and who for the past six years has filled the same office for Los Angeles County.
“Mitch is helping me process a strategy to replicate the model up and down this state and in every county, including yours,” he said. “In full disclosure, I think it’s inevitable—not everyone agrees on this—that this country reconciles that the only way to provide true universal health access at a reasonably affordable rate is Medicare for all.”
He described San Francisco as the “public option that was a critical missing piece of the ACA.” He said health care is the primary issue as related to the budget.
“Nothing else matters except health care,” he said. “It is the budget in California.”
One woman said 10 percent of the education budget comes from the federal government and wanted to know that as governor if he would guarantee that he would back a resolution to make San Benito High School a sanctuary school. He laughed at the “got’cha question,” and then segued into a comment about Trump and newly-confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and how they made their case while at a private school to further the ideological agenda of privatizing education.
“That is alarming beyond words,” he said. “I believe in public education and will fight like mad for our public schools. This is not the case of every Democrat running for governor. Of all this issues this is the wedge issue in this gubernatorial race.”
A woman called out, “How do we fight?”
Newsom responded that when he was mayor, he openly promoted sanctuary city policies. He commented that FOX News commentators Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs criticized him for doing so.
“I’m intimately appreciative of the threats around de-funding sanctuary cities, large and small,” he said. “Don’t forget, Rudy Giuliani’s New York City was a sanctuary city and one of its principal proponents.”
He said California is a $2.44 trillion economy and it needs to be proactive in resisting the federal government’s potential moves against sanctuary cities. He told them to “anticipate, don’t just react.” He said about the federal government, “If you’re going to withhold money from us, we can withhold money from you.”
After a raucous applause, he continued, “My political folks didn’t like that. Four hundred five billion dollars is our contribution to the federal government. The legislative analyst’s office estimated we receive—that includes your Social Security taxes—$368 billion, which makes us a donor state to all those red states that don’t like dependency, except when it comes to federal contributions from you.”
California is the tent pole of the American economy, Newsom said, despite the fact that the state provides in-state tuition for DREAMers, and have sanctuary city and living-wage policies, a statewide EPA.
“All those things they say can’t be done because it will ruin the economy, we’ve proven them wrong,” he said.
One man asked Newsom how he intends to reverse the trend of large prison populations and help people to transition back into communities. Newsom said literacy issues needed to be addressed as early as the third grade. He said more money goes to prisons than education, proved by the fact that over the last 30 years the state has built 22 prisons compared with only one new university campus.
Another man said he appreciated Newsom’s support of Prop. 64, but thought a bigger opportunity for the county than marijuana was industrial hemp cultivation, manufacturing and distribution. He wondered what Newsom would do in working with the federal government concerning hemp. Newsom began his reply by implying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ opinion of California was counter to the state’s stand on marijuana.
“They’ve been talking out of both sides of their mouths about what they’re going to do as it relates to not just recreational marijuana, which is legal in eight states, but medical marijuana, which is now legal in 28 states,” he said. “One of the things people did not realize is that hemp was also legalized under Prop. 64. There are profound opportunities to do some things that California can take advantage of from an economic perspective.”
Newsom said he has advised everyone who sees the potential benefits of marijuana and hemp to police themselves because anyone who takes advantage of the moment endangers the entire industry. He also told advocates that he does not want his own children using cannabis because “it’s dangerous for kids.”
“At the same time, drug dealers don’t card kids,” he added. “They don’t care about what they’re selling your kids, and they’re on every street corner. I want to get them off of the street corners. I want to get rid of the cartels. But I also want to give you, the community, the power to decide your fate in this county.”
When asked about his opinion on the proposed high-speed train that would run from San Francisco to San Diego through the Pacheco Pass just north of San Benito County, Newsom described the long, torturous journey the system has taken with a price tag that skyrocketed up to $100 billion and then dropped several billion as routes were changed over and over again. He said, as of today, he favors a $7.5 billion first phase construction project that would take the train from the Central Valley to Silicon Valley.
“That’s the bird in the hand that we’re likely to get at least that phase one,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing, to connect this region into the fastest growing part of the region. You don’t have to be pro or con high-speed rail, but we have to electrify Caltrain. It is too important to this economy not to do that. But, unfortunately, the Republicans in California decided to de-fund $647 million for their down payment on the electrification by trying to connect that to the high-speed rail and basically kill the high-speed rail project.”
Afterwards, Rivas, an unabashed supporter, said Newsom, rather than his gubernatorial competitors, is the best choice to govern the state because of his leadership style. Rivas said that when he first ran for office in 2010, Newsom inspired him.
“It’s not so much the work he’s done, but it’s the style and how he approaches the job,” Rivas said. “He has a style of solving problems. Whether you agree with him or not, his style, which can be abrasive to some, you always know where he stands on the most important issues."
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