Gavin Newsom is sworn in as governor of California by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (R), as Newsom's wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom (C), watches on Jan. 7, 2019, in Sacramento. Stephen Lam/Getty Images
Gavin Newsom is sworn in as governor of California by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (R), as Newsom's wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom (C), watches on Jan. 7, 2019, in Sacramento. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

A Family Affair as Gavin Newsom Becomes California's 40th Governor

A Family Affair as Gavin Newsom Becomes California's 40th Governor

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Gavin Newsom was sworn into office as California's 40th governor Monday, marking the beginning of his tenure with a vividly personal inaugural address that previewed his administration's focus on children and on lifting California families out of poverty.

Newsom, a liberal Democrat from San Francisco, promised to govern for all Californians — even as he also pledged to defend the California Dream against political forces outside its borders.

But his speech was upstaged by the appearance of his 2-year-old son, Dutch, who toddled up onto the stage as Newsom announced his focus on early childhood care and education. Newsom rolled with the interruption — at one point picking Dutch up — but it also put into sharp focus the connection between Newsom's personal life as a father of four and his policy aspirations.

It was a marked departure from the tenure of Jerry Brown, who rarely ventured into the personal realm when discussing policy.

"All kids — not just the children of a governor and filmmaker — should have a good life in California," Newsom said. "They shouldn't be ripped away from their parents at the border, and nor should they be left left hungry when politicians seek to pour billions into a wall that should never be built."

Talking about childhood poverty, Newsom noted that his own single mom took in foster kids even as she worked three jobs. And he tied the challenge of governing to what he's seen on the campaign trail.

"We have a homeless epidemic that should keep each and every one of us up at night. Too many children know the ache of chronic hunger," he said. "These aren't merely policy problems — they are  moral imperatives, and so long as they persist, each and every one of us is diminished."

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Newsom referenced the Trump administration and its polar-opposite policies throughout his address — but he never mentioned the president by name. Instead, he offered a full-throated defense of California's priorities and values.

"So deep does the California Dream run in the history and character of our state that it can feel as enduring as our primeval forests or our majestic mountain ranges," Newsom told a crowd of thousands who gathered inside of a tent, as clouds hovered over the state Capitol. "It's up to us to renew the California Dream for a new generation."

In a nod to the disparities that exist within California — 26 mostly rural counties voted for Newsom's Republican opponent in November — the new governor pledged to "represent all Californians, not only those that voted for me."

"I recognize that many members of our rural communities feel that Sacramento doesn’t care about them — that we don't even really see them. Well, I see you. And I care about you. And I will represent you with pride," Newsom said.

Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, said her caucus looks forward to working with the new governor.

"Our rural areas have been under-represented in Sacramento and I love the fact that he's willing to bring those issues to the forefront," Waldron said on KQED and Capital Public Radio's inauguration broadcast.

Newsom takes office after eight years of leadership by one of California's most experienced statesmen, Jerry Brown. He is joined in the state Capitol by a supermajority of Democratic lawmakers, and inherits a nearly $15 billion budget surplus.

But he tried to strike a balance in the speech between the ambitious, progressive policies he espoused on the campaign trail — universal health care, universal preschool — and the reality of budgeting in a state of nearly 40 million people.

"We will prepare for uncertain times ahead. We will be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, paying down debt, and meet our future obligations. And we will build and safeguard the largest fiscal reserve of any state in American history," Newsom promised, adding: "But I want to be clear: We will be bold."

That could be music to the ears of the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, which occasionally clashed with Gov. Brown over pushes to increase state spending.

"If you look at early childhood education, for example, Oklahoma is far ahead of California," said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on the inauguration broadcast by KQED and Capital Public Radio. "So if we want to think about programs that we need to institute, I think that's a good place to start."

"There's a lot of things we've talked about as a state and haven't done, and we know that there are ways of getting the funds out there," Rendon added.

Looking beyond the state's borders, Newsom also promised to offer an alternative to what he called the "corruption and incompetence" in the White House.

"Our government will be progressive, principled and always on the side of the people," he said. "This will take courage. That’s a word that means different things to different people. To me, courage means doing what is right even when it is hard. That will be the mission of our administration."

And Newsom strove to connect his policy aspirations with the storied California Dream, citing the Gold Rush and Silicon Valley's success to argue for a more level playing field for all Californians.

"You shouldn’t have to find gold or make it in the movies or create a billion-dollar startup to live the California Dream. It is for everyone," he said.

Throughout the morning, Newsom's family was front and center.

His oldest daughter, Montana, led the Pledge of Allegiance that kicked off the ceremony.

And the state's new "first partner," Jennifer Siebel Newsom, read the crowd a poem by former state poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

"Herrera weaves together Spanish and English, reminding us of our common humanity," Siebel Newsom said of the poem. "Reminding us that we are all one California family."