Dan Walters | State of the State or a Stump Speech?


The California Constitution requires that “the governor shall report to the Legislature each calendar year on the condition of the state and may make recommendations.”

Traditionally, that has meant that the governor would personally address a joint session of the Legislature early each year to lay out a legislative agenda, including a new state budget.

For reasons known only to himself, Gavin Newsom has shunned that tradition after following it during the first two years of his governorship. He gave his third State of the State address to an empty Dodgers Stadium during the COVID-19 pandemic and his fourth in a state agency auditorium, rather than the Capitol. Last year, he just sent a letter to the Legislature after doing a multi-stop tour of the state.

On Tuesday, just a few days before the halfway point in the year, Newsom deviated from tradition again with a pre-recorded video, delivering what is likely the most belated State of the State address in California history.

But was it truly a State of the State address, or the opening event of his 2028 campaign for president of the United States?

The first passages were a full-on verbal attack on the “poisonous populism of the right” from Republicans in Congress and GOP-leaning states, calling them the “forces of darkness.” He cited a slew of statistics that he said proved the superior virtues of California compared to rivals such as Texas and Florida.

“Our values and our way of life are the antidote to the poisonous populism of the right, and to the fear and anxiety that so many people are feeling today,” Newsom said. “People across the globe look to California and see what’s possible, and how to live and advance together and prosper together across every conceivable difference.”

The not-so-subliminal message, of course, was that the nation and the world would be better off if they ignored the social media and televised images of California and emulated the policies and programs he and the Legislature have wrought, inferentially by making him the leader of the nation.

His portrayal of California, however, was as lopsided and propagandistic as those aired in right-wing media. The state constitution’s mandate that he report on the condition of the state to the Legislature also suggests that he “make recommendations” for improvement but Newsom had none.

Rather, he implied that everything in California is wonderful, saying that “across the spectrum California simply has no peers.”

“The state of the state is strong and resilient,” Newsom said at the end of his nearly 30-minute video.

However, California has some knotty problems that have not been resolved, and in some cases have gotten worse. For instance, Newsom touted the state’s efforts to deal with homelessness, such as building temporary housing. But there are more unhoused people in California now than when his governorship began in 2019.

The programs he started or expanded to deal with not only homelessness but also mental health, drug abuse, housing costs, early childhood education and other issues are still works in progress. Whether they bear fruit will not be known, most likely, until after his governorship ends.

What will be occupying Newsom’s attention then? Despite his oft-stated lack of interest in running for president, he has been doing all the things that a would-be candidate for the White House would be doing — including delivering a State of the State address implying that he would be eager to wage political war on Republicans four years hence. 

Dan Walters’ commentary is distributed by CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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