Gavin Newsom’s name isn’t on the Nov. 8 ballot, but California’s lieutenant governor has a lot riding on the outcome.
Newsom’s personally sponsoring two of the ballot’s 17 statewide measures, one that would legalize recreational marijuana, Proposition 64, and another that would impose new regulations on gun owners, especially on their ammunition purchases, Proposition 63.
Newsom portrays them as moral crusades aimed at rationalizing drug laws that make criminals out of harmless users and protecting the public from gun violence.
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However, the two measures are also ways for the occupant of an obscure office to raise his public profile for his already declared campaign for governor two years hence and develop mailing lists and fundraising bases for that campaign.
Newsom, then the mayor of San Francisco, wanted to run for governor six years ago, but Jerry Brown jumped in and Newsom had to settle for biding his time in the lieutenant governor’s almost powerless position, trying as best he could to gain traction for 2018.
There was more than a tinge of irony to Newsom’s lowering his sights in 2010: The Brown and Newsom families have been personally and politically intertwined for decades, and Newsom was, in effect, compelled to give way to a quasi-uncle 29 years his elder.
The two have had an occasionally prickly relationship since then. Newsom has been trying to rise above the obscurity of his office but hasn’t been given any noticeable career-boosting help by Brown, and the two have disagreed on some issues, such as the bullet train system that Brown wants to claim as a legacy.
“I’m not opposed to the vision,” Newsom told the Sacramento Press Club this week, citing his support for the original bond issue that voters narrowly approved in 2008.
But he quickly added that he hasn’t yet seen a way to finance its $60 billion-plus cost. “It’s a math issue right now,” Newsom said.
He was even less committal on Brown’s other big legacy project, boring two water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, saying, “I’m in the very interesting position of continuing to develop a firm position on this.”
Newsom also deflected questions about the other three men who he could be facing in 2018. Treasurer John Chiang has already announced, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is weighing a bid, and billionaire Tom Steyer, a Brown ally on climate-change issues, is making precampaign moves of some kind but being coy about his intentions.
With virtually no potential Republican candidate on the horizon in an increasingly Democratic state, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that it will be a Democrat vs. Democrat race under the state’s top-two primary system.
However, Villaraigosa and Steyer could be tapped for Cabinet positions by Hillary Clinton should she, as expected, win the presidency, and it’s also possible that Dianne Feinstein would retire from the Senate, opening that high-profile position in 2018.
It would be a good bet that Newsom will be one of the finalists for governor in two years, but whom he would face is still very much up in the air.