One month ago today, Gavin Newsom succeeded Jerry Brown as California governor. And anyone doubting the start of a new era in the California governor’s office need only watch Newsom’s January state budget presentation.
“I, unlike the previous administration, may spend a little bit more time on this than you want,” Newsom said, sporting his trademark grin. “So just warning you, full disclosure: This is something I really enjoy!”
Newsom then talked about his budget for the next two hours.
That’s right — two hours. An hour-long presentation followed by an hour of questions.
And while Brown would propose his budgets in the state Capitol’s media room, with giant blue poster board charts, Newsom invited a couple hundred people to a much larger auditorium, with Powerpoint slides that he said “will punctuate some of the fundamental points we want to advance.”
Both men are Bay Area Democrats. And both come from politically connected families. But in style — and in substance — Gavin Newsom is proving to be a very different California governor than Jerry Brown.
At least, the second Governor Jerry Brown.
'That’s not management. That’s helter-skelter.'
It wasn’t just how the two governors presented their spending plans. It was how they wanted to spend money as well.
“Jerry Brown proposed a budget and he only wanted a few things,” Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) noted at a recent Public Policy Institute of California event. “Gavin’s thrown everything out there.”
Dan Newman, a senior campaign aide to both governors, said that’s a fundamental difference between the two men.
Brown “was more willing to let certain subjects wait for another day or another governor,” Newman said, while Newsom “tends to swing at every pitch. He is genetically unable to say, something is too hard or too politically fraught.”
And so Newsom packed ideas from his campaign’s 30 policy teams into his very first budget.
“I know it’s rote and cliché to say it’s a reflection of our values,” he said near the start of his two-hour budget presentation, “but it is a reflection of our values.”
In contrast, Brown bristled at a question in our Capital Public Radio exit interview last December when I asked him about issues he chose to avoid.
“The basis of your questioning is that I should be on every topic all the time,” Brown said. “And that's not management. That's helter-skelter.”
'As different as their respective hair styles'
“They’re about as different as their respective hair styles,” said Bill Whalen, a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution who used to write speeches for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
Brown is 80 and bald. Newsom is 51 and has a full head of slicked-back hair. And, Whalen said, Newsom is more “visibly energetic.”
“I’m not suggesting in the least that Jerry Brown sat in his office and did nothing but play Fortnite,” Whalen said. “He was a very busy governor — but doing a lot of things behind the scenes.”
Or, as Brown quipped to the Sacramento Press Club last December: “One of the things I’ve worked hard to avoid is overexposure.”
Newsom, Whalen pointed out, has already held public events throughout the state. The governor met with unpaid TSA workers at the Sacramento airport, held a housing roundtable in San Jose, took his cabinet on a road trip to the Central Valley to discuss clean drinking water, and flew down to San Diego last week to discuss the border crisis.
“He enjoys being in front of the cameras,” Whalen said. “He enjoys being visible. And that’s going to be his style.”
Indeed, a moment at his San Diego news conference last week exemplified Newsom’s comfort in front of a crowd.
In the middle of his remarks, the room suddenly went dark. Instead of ending the event, he turned the moment to his advantage.
“When the lights go out in other parts of the country,” Newsom said, pausing to savor the moment as the crowd chuckled, “here in California, we turn them back on.”