What Gray Davis and Gavin Newsom Have in Common?


By Richard Eber

With the upcoming recall vote of Governor Gavin Newsom soon to become a reality, we can look back to the conditions that existed back in 2003 that led to Gray Davis being kicked to the sidewalk by the electorate in California.

Prior to taking office they both served as Lt. Governors of California.  The pair were the only two individuals to hold this distinction since Goodwin Knight succeeded Earl Warren in 1953 when President Dwight Eisenhower named him to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Once in office Davis and Newsom appeared to have clear sailing as the State had a decent balance sheet from the previous administration. One thing is for certain.   Voters in the Golden State can change their minds about elected officials in hurry.  Davis easily gained a second term in 2002 while Newsom has only been in office since 2019.  This is not the only thing these men have in common.

Gray Davis and Gavin Newsom had problems dealing with public employee Unions.  Both have been considered to be “Homers” for organized labor. Davis was known for his sweetheart deal with prison guards and bestowing additional lifetime benefits to State employees that has led to CalPERS downward financial spiral. Despite being such a patsy, this was not the main reason voters decided actor Arnold Schwarzenegger should replace him.

Gavin Newsom has had even worse difficulties in his dealings with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the California Teachers Association. (CTA) Other than giving handouts to prop up the finances of underfunded CalPERS pension fund, he has done nothing to deal with trying to change the California Rule which prevents previous benefits given public employees from ever being reduced.

Conservative opponents of the Governor have continued to say he has failed to reign in the SIEU and (CTA) because of the monetary and feet on the ground support they have given him in past political campaigns.

This is especially true with California’s foundering public education system. Unlike his predecessor Jerry Brown who supported the existence of Charter Schools, Newsom has joined the CTA in their efforts to stifle the expansion of Charters and to restrict the operations of those currently in existence. These actions have made him a lot of enemies with parents who prefer Charters to ill performing K1-12 institutions.

Dissatisfaction with the operations of public school education (ranked in the bottom 10% in the USA has grown during the Covid -19 epidemic.  With the CTA insisting on remote learning this past year, at risk students have fallen further behind.  This contrast with many other States where children have been able to attend classes on site.

If voters end up recalling Newsom, his reluctance to stand up to the CTA this will likely be a major factor. This brings us to energy policies which have proven to be an Achilles Heel for both Davis and Newsom.

As has been previously documented for Davis:

“On January 17, 2001, the electricity crisis caused Governor Gray Davis to declare a state of emergency. Speculators, led by Enron Corporation, were collectively making large profits while the state teetered on the edge for weeks, and finally suffered rolling blackouts on January 17 & 18. Davis was forced to step in to buy power at highly unfavorable terms on the open market, since the California power companies were technically bankrupt and had no buying power. The resulting massive long term debt obligations added to the state budget crisis and led to widespread grumbling about Davis’s administration.

The fallout from all of this was the recall of Davis.  While Newsom at this point does not have the same problems things can get worse for him on the energy and water front’s this summer. With the Governors:

  • Anti oil fracking pro environmentalist stands he can face a backlash if energy prices continue to escalate
  • His support for the increase in gas taxes in 2020 along with the perceived observations of drivers that roads in the State have not improved can hurt Newsom. Newsom’s support for the ill fated Bullet Train and little used mass transit don’t help matters
  • The Governor’s phasing out of having gas powered vehicles by eliminated by 2035 and States reluctance to add oil refining capacity will poorly reflect upon him if gas prices continue to escalate.
  • If middle class jobs and business continue to flee the state because of energy prices and over regulation, Newsom will likely take the blame for allowing this to happen.
  • Should the drought continue and farmers in Central Valley are partially put out of business in 2021, Newsom’s militant environmental policies will likely face more scrutiny.

Another elephant in the closet for Newsom is no longer having a punching bag in Washington D.C. to blame for anything that ails the State.  With Ex-President Donald Trump hanging out at his country club in Florida, the Governor lacks a bogeyman to account for some his questionable decision making.

If quality jobs in the Golden State continues to sour while the unemployed can’t find work, Newsom might find himself dealing with quality of life issues. Along with this he is vulnerable pertaining to support for undocumented residents, Cap & Trade, poorly performing public schools, the bloated State Budget, and a host of other chronic problems which plague California

Regardless of whether Newsom is responsible for these maladies, frustrated voters might not care to keep him around any longer. Seeing the writing on the wall for the recall, last year Gray Davis  counseled  that Newsom should focus on getting people back to work and school “almost to the exclusion of everything else” to make the recall effort less effective.

There is some evidence that Newsom is taking Davis’s advice. Last week he did not object when Senator Scott Weiner’s bill banning fracking died in committee.  He has also been outspoken in his support for lifting most Covid-19 restrictions by the State by June 15th. In addition, Newsom has been less vocal for his support for The Green New Deal, election reform, Sanctuary Cities and Democratic leaders in Washington D.C. than in the past.

Should Newsom’s constituents continue to struggle, few of them will care about his support for legalizing weed, gay marriage, and Transgender rights.  He also has more than earned the nickname “Red” that was bestowed upon Gray Davis 20 years ago by talks show host Michael Savage. 

All of these “combination of ingredients” (not found in Anacin) might be too much for Gavin Newsom to overcome. His survival may depend on if a viable candidate such as Arnold might emerge to provide a viable choice that  appeals to a frustrated electorate.

Published with Author’s Permission

Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.

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Michael A....
Michael A....
2 months ago

The greater question for me has always been why California voters seem to be stuck on stupid. Why do they even consider someone as obviously flawed as Gavin Newsom? Why do they continue to reelect Diane Feinstein when it became known she had a Chicom spy as a driver for 20+ years? Stupid IS as stupid DOES I guess.