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California Governor Defends Progressive Values, Says They're an 'Antidote' to Populism on the Right
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
June 25, 2024

In Sacramento, Gov. Newsom defends progressive values as an antidote to right-wing populism, drawing parallels to pre-World War II fascism. (AP File)

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SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom used his State of the State address on Tuesday to boost President Joe Biden ahead of Thursday’s pivotal presidential debate, comparing Donald Trump’s version of the Republican Party to the rise of fascism prior to World War II and offering Democrats’ ideals as “an antidote to the poisonous populism of the right.”

Nowhere in Newsom’s speech — which was prerecorded and posted online to his social media channels in a departure from decades of tradition — did he mention Trump or Biden by name. But he used some of Trump’s most incendiary statements to offer a dark contrast of the choice facing Americans in November, comparing it to the eve of World War II when “fascism spread its hate and destruction throughout Europe.”

Newsom’s Critique of Trump’s Rhetoric

“When they speak of immigrants poisoning American blood, and of mass deportations and detention camps, this is the language of destruction — of 1939,” Newsom said.

Trump made those comments about immigrants “poisoning the blood of our country” during a campaign rally in Iowa last year, later saying he did not know that Adolf Hitler had once said something similar. Still, the comments have become a key talking point for the left as they paint Trump’s candidacy as a warning for a dark future.

Newsom’s Defense of California’s Policies

The political tone of Newsom’s speech was not surprising given his role as one of the Biden campaign’s top surrogates, which has made him a target of Republicans who have repeatedly held up California as an example of Democrats’ mismanagement. They have pointed to the state’s $46.8 billion budget deficit, high tax rates, large homeless population and the proliferation of property crimes in its largest cities — acts which have been captured in viral social media clips.

Much of Newsom’s speech was devoted to pushing back against that narrative, referring to “delusional California bashers” whose “success depends on our failure.” He noted California’s violent crime rate is about half of what it was at its peak in 1992. He said property crime in San Francisco has fallen as has the overall crime rate across the bay in Oakland — where Newsom recently deployed 120 California Highway Patrol officers.

“This is because in California, we take public safety seriously. We take it as a problem to solve, not just to flog on cable news,” he said. “While it’s true that California has among the toughest felony theft thresholds in the nation, we will do more to go after professional theft rings more forcefully.”

Addressing Homelessness and Economy

On homelessness, Newsom pointed to the more active role the state has taken under his administration, including spending billions of dollars to create programs that provided 15,300 units of housing and provided shelter for more than 71,000 people. But a state audit released earlier this year chided his administration for not tracking how effective the state’s homelessness spending — more than $24 billion over five years — has been.

Newsom defended his decision to sign a law raising the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 an hour, a raise that businesses have blamed for increasing customer costs. And he boasted about California’s economy that, were it an independent country, would rank as the fifth largest in the world — saying California has added 63,000 new millionaires since 2019.

“Here is a simple question for Republicans: If California is a failed state, why are four of the seven most valuable companies in the world based here?” he said, referring to Apple, Nvidia, and the parent companies of Google and Facebook. “The best minds in the world call California home because they’re liberated from the constraints of conformity and tradition. This is true freedom — to invent and make the world a better place.”

Newsom’s speech comes a few weeks after a statewide survey from the Public Policy Institute of California found 59% of likely voters believed California is headed in the wrong direction while 52% disapprove of the way Newsom is handling his job as governor. The survey was based on responses from 1,098 likely voters with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Republicans criticized Newsom for not giving a public speech, holding their own in-person rebuttal on the steps of the state Capitol about an hour after Newsom’s speech started on social media. James Gallagher, the Republican leader of the state Assembly, called Newsom “defensive” and “unhinged.”

“To sit here and talk about venture capitalists when the majority of Californians are struggling, to me, is tone deaf,” Gallagher said. “It was not a real addressing of the problems that Californians are facing.”

Newsom chose to deliver a speech for the smartphone era, opting to upload a prerecorded video across his social media channels instead of delivering a formal speech before a packed house of state lawmakers.

The Democratic governor, now in his second term, has never been a big fan of formal speeches, given the difficulty his dyslexia gives him while reading from a teleprompter in live time. Last year, Newsom skipped the speech entirely, instead embarking on a statewide tour to announce a series of major policy proposals in a more informal setting that allowed for questions from reporters.

California’s Constitution requires the governor to update the Legislature every year “on the condition of the state.” Prior to World War II, California governors would do this by sending a letter to the Legislature. That changed with Gov. Earl Warren — the future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court — who decided to give a formal speech to the Legislature.

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