Hours after soundly defeating a recall attempt, Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday fled the bitterly partisan halls of the Capitol in Sacramento for the sticky, cacophonous safety of a school in Oakland.
“It’s a treat,” he said of his visit to Melrose Leadership Academy, joking that he might want to add a fifth kid to his family. “This is what lights me up.”
But amid passing out popsicles and joining listening circles, the governor stopped to talk a little shop. Yes, he plans to seek a second term, which means he’ll be back on the campaign trail gearing up for a June primary and, presumably, a general election next November.
And, he said, defeating the recall has given him a renewed sense of purpose as leader of the Golden State.
“It sharpens your focus about time,” Newsom said, saying that there are things like addressing homelessness and climate change that he wants to focus on in the next several months, not just the next several years.
“This is a gift. It’s precious,” he said. “I feel enlivened, I feel more energized and I feel a deep sense of responsibility.”
The pandemic, too, has also stretched his vision of what is possible, he said, pointing to the state’s efforts to get thousands of homeless people into housing as the coronavirus spread. Without offering specifics, he said “we’re going to be talking more” about eviction protections in the coming weeks and focusing on getting rent relief dollars out to those who need help covering bills.
He demurred when it came to possible new pandemic mandates, trotting out an often-used phrase — “we believe in localism” — in response to a question about whether the state as a whole could see student vaccine mandates like the one in Los Angeles.
But, Newsom insisted, “we are not timid,” leaving open the possibility of future actions should a winter surge in cases grip the state again.
And while he pushed back at the idea that he feels vindicated after winning the recall, Newsom called his victory a win for science.
Still, Newsom said, “I’m not naive….good enough never is.”
He’d like to see more people get vaccinated, and continued mask wearing, he said, pointing to the fact that fewer than 10 schools have closed in California because of COVID this school year, a tiny fraction of the thousands of closures across the U.S.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Newsom said, adding that he woke up from his election win “committed” to addressing the challenges the state faces.
And Newsom presented something of a peace offering for recall supporters, saying, “They matter and I care and I want them to know I’m going to have their backs as well.”
Regardless of how he decides to govern in the coming months, Bob Shrum, director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, said the resounding recall win puts Newsom in an ideal position to take bold action.
“I think he’s immensely strengthened,” Shrum said. In their attempt to oust him, he continued, the Republicans “kneecapped themselves” instead.
Shrum said he expects Newsom to launch a “major initiative” on homelessness by the January State of the State speech. “He may do it sooner than that.”
And, he said, “It’s clear from the exit polls there would be overwhelming support for stricter mandates” to get the pandemic under control.
For now, Shrum said, “he has a lot of freedom to do whatever he wants with the bills sitting on his desk,” including when it comes to controversial topics like increasing housing density and police reform — although he’ll have to calculate how much heat he’s willing to risk taking from opposition with yet another election looming.
That opposition may not manifest itself at the polls too strongly, however, if, as is expected, conservative radio host Larry Elder — Newsom’s lead challenger in the recall — becomes the face of the GOP. While his views — from rejecting any minimum wage to opposing Roe v. Wade — appeal to a vocal minority in the state, they are far to the right of most voters.
“Likely this will be a rematch of the recall,” Shrum said, which would work in Newsom’s favor. “This is political proof of the old adage that if you go for the king, you better get the king.”