Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
In honor of Independence Day, Napa Valley Register is providing unlimited access to all of our content from June 28th-July 4th! Presented by Pearson's Appliance

Dan Walters: Gavin Newsom’s first term: Reality bites

  • Updated
  • 0

Last weekend, Gavin Newsom released the first video ad of his campaign for a second term as California’s governor.

Dan Walters, CALmatters Commentary

Dan Walters writes for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to

It is, therefore, an appropriate moment to look at what he said he wanted to accomplish as governor during his 2018 campaign and how it has turned out.

A two-word summary would be “reality bites.”

Candidate Newsom, touting a book entitled “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” embraced its central point that visionary leaders should seek “big, hairy audacious goals.”

“I’d rather be accused of (having) those audacious stretch goals than be accused of timidity,” he said at one point.

True to that philosophy, Newsom told voters he wanted to do big things, such as creating a single-payer health system, solving the state’s chronic shortage of housing and completely converting California to renewable energy.

During his 2018 campaign, the state Senate passed a single-payer bill and Newsom enthusiastically endorsed it, saying there was “no reason to wait around.”

“I’m tired of politicians saying they support single-payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem,” Newsom said.

The 2018 bill stalled in the Assembly but when another bill cleared the Senate and was pending in the Assembly this year, Newsom made no effort to get it passed and it died without a vote.

A commission Newsom appointed to study single-payer’s feasibility has issued a report that lays out options but offers no clear path to implementation. Essentially, single-payer is no more likely today than it was four years ago.

Instead, Newsom’s budgets have incrementally extended Medi-Cal coverage to uninsured residents, including undocumented immigrants, but in the long term, that coverage depends on the state’s notoriously volatile revenues.

As he was running for governor, Gavin Newsom pledged to “lead the effort to develop the 3.5 million new housing units we need by 2025 because our solutions must be as bold as the problem is big.”

The pledge would have required increasing production to 500,000 units a year, but actual construction has been, at best, about 20% of that figure. Newsom downplayed his pledge to “a stretch goal,” telling the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a stubborn issue. You can’t snap your fingers and build hundreds of thousands, millions of housing units overnight.”

And so it has gone — Newsom edging away from “big hairy audacious goals” one-by-one when they proved impossible to achieve in the real world.

Two recent positions on high-profile environmental issues also illustrate how reality has tempered his governorship.

One reality is that California is afflicted by severe drought and, due to climate change, may face permanent shortages of water. One very controversial option is tapping the limitless supply of ocean water and stripping out its salt.

Recently, the state Coastal Commission recommended that the state’s second desalination plant not be built, but Newsom reiterated his support. “We need more tools in the damn tool kit,” Newsom told the Bay Area News Group editorial board.

That, at least, was a consistent position, but he modified his stance on another real world issue — whether California’s only remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, should be shuttered as now scheduled.

The San Luis Obispo County plant generates at least 6% of the state’s electrical energy and closure could leave California, whose power supply is already marginal, in the dark.

Newsom had supported decommissioning Diablo Canyon but told the Los Angeles Times editorial board last week that California will apply for federal funds aimed at keeping threatened nuclear plants in production, saying, “We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option.”

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


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

San Francisco police say one man was killed and another was wounded in a shooting on a commuter subway train. Two San Francisco supervisors say the deceased victim and gunman appeared to know each other and got into an altercation. The shooting occurred on a San Francisco Muni train around 10 a.m. The perpetrator ran out of the train along with others when it stopped at the Castro station in the city's historically LGBTQ neighborhood. The second person who was shot is believed to have been a bystander. Police say it was the first shooting they could recall on a Muni train.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the Roe decision, here are key takeaways of what to expect for abortion in California. They include the politics, more legislation, a possible influx of out-of-state patients and changes for health care providers.

California’s governor and top law enforcement official say they're working with legislative leaders to keep dangerous people from carrying concealed weapons in public. They plan legislation next week after a U.S. Supreme Court decision Thursday invalidated a key part of the state’s current law. Attorney General Rob Bonta says the high court’s ruling still leaves states with the right to limit concealed carry permits to those who may safely possess firearms. Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, says he expects a flood of gun owners to apply for concealed carry permits. He says they will dare authorities to go against the Supreme Court's decision.

Police in San Jose, California, have shot and killed a suspect in a pair of fatal shootings after a car chase and standoff. Authorities say the suspect fired on police both during the pursuit and after he barricaded himself inside a residence in a South San Jose neighborhood, southeast of San Francisco. No police officers were injured. The fatal confrontation came about 12 hours after the first shooting was reported Tuesday evening in San Jose. Two hours later, a second shooting was reported in Modesto, California, that resulted in the death of a 29-year-old woman. Modesto officials say the shooting was linked to the suspect.

After weeks of talks, state lawmakers are told there is a tentative agreement on California tax relief between Gov. Newsom and legislative leaders. It includes refunds of as much as $1,050, but officials caution that the deal isn't final.

A controversial proposal by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to prod more homeless people into mental health treatment is making its way through the Legislature. This is despite deep misgivings from lawmakers who worry there isn’t enough guaranteed housing for the program to succeed while forcing people into court-ordered services. The legislation unanimously cleared the Senate last month, and passed out of the Assembly judiciary committee Tuesday. Newsom has said his proposal will allow more people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders to get the treatment they need. But civil liberties advocates who oppose the proposal say forced treatment will not work.

Authorities in Los Angeles County say a woman and two dogs found dead on a path were struck by lightning. A sheriff's official says the bodies were found Wednesday morning along the San Gabriel River in Pico Rivera. Thunderstorms with lightning and downpours began rumbling across Southern California before dawn as a low-pressure system off the coast pulls monsoonal moisture into the region. The National Weather Service says the weather will become calmer on Thursday and then return to more typical June conditions.

Police in San Francisco are searching for a man who shot and killed one person and wounded another inside a subway train and then fled when the train stopped in the Castro District, the city’s historically LGBTQ neighborhood. San Francisco police late Wednesday released a still photo from surveillance video of a man they described as a person of interest and asked anyone with information to contact authorities. Police say the man, who hasn’t been identified, is thought to be the person who shot a 27-year-old man to death and shot and wounded a 70-year-old man. The San Francisco Medical Examiner identified the person killed as Nesta Bowen. The office said it did not know where Bowen lived.

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News