Upbeat Gov. Gavin Newsom to Deliver State of the State

Brontë Wittpenn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will give his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, a statewide platform to share his increasingly optimistic message for the nation's most populous state in a year he will face voters for reelection.

After two years of mask mandates, lockdowns and wildfires, Newsom has been setting a sunny, upbeat tone in recent weeks as he prepares for what looks to be a relatively easy campaign.

“It’s been an extraordinary, extraordinary few years,” Newsom said Saturday during a speech to the state Democratic Party's convention. “I’m telling you, I mean this with the core of my bones, the best is yet to come.”

But Newsom's optimism has clashed with some of the state's supersized problems. Crime has increased in California's major cities, while the homeless population remains a visible indictment of the state's leaders.

Over the weekend, the statewide average gas price surpassed $5 per gallon for the highest average eve r, part of a plethora of rising prices because of inflation. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden banned oil imports from Russia, a move that will further deplete supply.

Newsom has ordered the state to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and halt all in-state oil drilling by 2045, a move some Republicans argue will only increase the state's reliance on foreign oil.

“Gas prices are out of control. Let's suspend the gas tax, stop using foreign oil and focus on energy independence policies that don't place new burdens on working families,” said Republican Assemblymember Suzette Martinez Valladares, who issued the Republican “prebuttal ” to Newsom's speech on Tuesday. “We must end the energy policies that punish Californians while rewarding countries like Russia and China for their bad behavior.”

Newsom has proposed pausing a slight increase in the state gas tax scheduled to take effect this summer. But Democratic leaders in the Legislature have balked at that proposal, arguing it would make it harder to maintain the state’s roads while only providing barely noticeable relief at the pump.

Newsom has not offered any hints about what he will emphasize in his speech, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Two years ago, on the eve of the pandemic, Newsom broke with tradition by devoting his entire speech to one issue: homelessness. Last year, Newsom spoke to a mostly empty Dodger Stadium at a time when he faced an uncertain recall election.

But this year, Newsom can deliver a speech from a position of strength after having mostly shored up his political vulnerabilities. Just six months ago, voters rejected an attempt to remove Newsom from office. And since then, Larry Elder — his most well-known and well-funded Republican rival — has bowed out of the November election.

Since then, Newsom has doubled down on his pandemic policies, announcing the state will require coronavirus vaccines for schoolchildren while mandating booster shots for health care workers.

Still, Newsom faces some unrest within his party as progressive activists are angry at Newsom for not trying to pass a universal health care system like he promised during his first campaign for governor in 2018.

On Saturday, Newsom noted he still supports a universal health care system — “Don't think we're going to abandon that," he said — while emphasizing his plan to use taxpayer money to pay for the health insurance of low-income immigrants living in the country illegally. But he offered a subtle warning to the party's progressive caucus to not get too far ahead.

“The future happens here first. We are America's coming attraction, as long as we continue to lead the nation, as long as we don't fall prey to situational politics and the memes of the moment and the polarization we see every single day,” he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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