Following many months of campaigning and spending, the Golden State’s general election is now in the past. And as predicted, things don’t look very different. Governor Gavin Newsom was easily re-elected, and the Legislative Democratic supermajority is still in place – as are Democrats in every Constitutional office.
Early returns predicted that all of the state’s incumbent Democrats were on the path to being handily reelected: Governor Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Lanhee Chen, the state controller candidate that some thought could be the first Republican to win statewide office in California in nearly two decades, ended up losing to his Democratic opponent Malia Cohen by double digits in early returns — raising questions about the GOP’s future in the state.
When it comes to ballot measures, three easily sailed to victory: Proposition 1, to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state Constitution; Prop. 28, to require the state to spend more money on arts and music education in public schools; and Prop. 31, to uphold a state law banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products.
On the other hand, voters decisively rejected Props. 26 and 27, which would have legalized sports betting at Native American casinos and online, respectively; and shot down Prop. 29, the third effort in as many elections to increase regulation of kidney dialysis clinics.
Proposition 30, which would levy a new tax on millionaires to fund electric vehicle programs and hire more firefighters, also was defeated (see article on Proposition 30 for more color).
Will Newsom Really Serve Four More Years?
Governor Newsom – as predicted – handily beat Republican state Senator Brian Dahle by double digits. Last year Newsom defeated the recall by a slightly larger margin, similar to his 2018 election victory over John Cox.
Whether Newsom will stay in office for the next four years, however, has been the subject of widespread speculation.
Newsom has insisted that his out-of-state travel and spending were all about countering a GOP narrative on the national level and has said on multiple occasions that he has no interest in a presidential 2024 bid. During the only debate against Dahle, Newsom committed to serving all four years of a second term.
But his actions, which have grabbed the attention of Democrats and Republicans across the country, have been largely perceived as a preliminary tryout for the White House in 2024.
Newsom’s fourth year in office was marked by ambitious policy goals around abortion, gun control, climate change and homelessness. Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, Newsom has worked to position California as a safe haven for the nation’s abortion seekers and a state that “still believes in freedom.”
Other than calling homelessness his number one priority (he said this in his first term also), Newsom has said little about his specific goals going into a second term. The increasingly visible problem of homelessness has garnered criticism both in and outside California. The state is home to nearly a quarter of the nation’s entire homeless population, and sprawling tent encampments have become a common fixture under overpasses, on sidewalks and in public parks.
Newsom, more than any of his predecessors, has put up a lot of state funds to combat the problem, but in recent months has shifted blame to local leaders. Last week, he issued a blanket rejection of local California governments’ plans to curb homelessness, putting on hold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
If Newsom is indeed harboring presidential aspirations, he’ll only have a small window to fulfill them. President Joe Biden hasn’t bowed out from 2024. If he does, Vice President Kamala Harris is widely expected to run again in his stead. Even though the governor has been willing to criticize Democrats on the national stage, he seems reluctant to counter Biden or Harris directly.
Newsom’s New Advisor for Next Term
Also, this week, Newsom announced that he is adding a new chief of staff with the addition of political veteran Dana Williamson, who is set to take over from Jim DeBoo.
Williamson will become Newsom’s third top staffer since he took office. DeBoo said in a text message that it was “time to take some weight off the shoulders and refocus.”
Williamson was previously a trusted adviser to former Governor Jerry Brown and has continued to work in high-level California political campaigns.
Unlike the previous term, Williamson may have helped guide budget negotiations in a time of scarcity. After enjoying a record budget surplus, California has seen revenue consistently fall short of expectations as the state braces for a potential downturn with tech companies announcing massive layoffs and very few IPOs anticipated.