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My friend, Gavin Newsom

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I have known our Governor, Gavin Newsom, for 30 years, and am proud to call him my friend. For all that time, I have respected, admired and liked him—never more so than when, in the winter of 2004, as Mayor of San Francisco, he startled the world by marrying gay people in City Hall, one of the bravest acts of political courage in American history.

We met in 1991, when I was a neophyte wine writer at Wine Spectator and Gavin was a tall, thin, earnest young 24-year old with a dream. He’d been as in love with wine as I was, and already was quite knowledgeable about it, so his choice of a career was hardly a surprise: He was working to open his first wine shop, PlumpJack, in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow District, and he asked me to be part of a weekly tasting panel. The idea was for a small group of us (which included his late father, William, then on the California Court of Appeal) to gather every Friday afternoon (I think it was) and taste through the wines distributors had dropped off during the week for sampling. These salesmen very naturally hoped PlumpJack would carry their wares, but Gavin was insistent on one thing. “I want to be able to tell the public,” he said, “that my friends and I have personally tasted every bottle on our shelves, and can recommend each one.” No wine would be sold at PlumpJack that did not meet our very rigorous standards!

This went on for months. Finally, the Big Day came: PlumpJack opened. It was a hit from the start, and a very intense time for young Gavin, who had few employees and was buried in work. From time to time, I’d drop by. His tiny office was up a narrow flight of steps that led to a sort of attic room. It was cramped and stuffy. There I’d find Gavin, at his desk, inundated by paperwork. But he always found time to chat.

Then came a day in 1996 when I read that the city’s Mayor, Willie Brown, had appointed Gavin to San Francisco’s Parking and Traffic Commission. I don’t think I, or anyone who knew Gavin, was surprised that he was entering public service (or politics, to call it by a rougher name). Gavin’s friends understood he had bigger things in mind than wine. From there, Gavin’s trajectory was meteoric: on to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors (where he was the youngest member), and then the Mayoralty itself (2004-2011). After a brief setback during which he failed in his bid to become the Democratic nominee for Governor in the 2010 election, Gavin went on to become Lieutenant-Governor (under Jerry Brown) until his spectacular victory in 2018, when he was elected Governor of California, capturing 62% of the vote over his hapless Republican opponent.

I call him “Gavin” in this post, but ever since he became Mayor, I’ve referred to him, out of respect, by his title, whether it’s in person or through emails. I’ve watched every aspect of Gov. Newsom’s political career: he is what I would call a “moderate-liberal,” business-friendly and socially progressive, not some wild-eyed leftist as his mendacious Republican enemies would have you believe. Gay marriage was radical, I suppose, but Gov. Newsom—who inherited his Irish-American father’s starry-eyed idealism—realized that if gays weren’t permitted to marry,  the American democracy was not working. For this, Mayor Newsom came under savage fire from conservative Christian rightwingers (Jerry Falwell likened same-sex marriage to “a legalization of bestiality”), but in my eyes that merely elevated the Mayor even higher.

Newsom has been a good Governor. Of course, not long after he was sworn in, the COVID pandemic hit. As Governor he was already dealing with huge issues: California’s increasingly worse wildfires and the homelessness crisis. To throw COVID on top of all that seemed beyond anyone’s ability. But Gov. Newsom has governed adroitly, and his famous “wonkiness” has served the state well. Yes, there were ups and downs: the COVID closure rules seemed to change often, and everybody seemed to find something to complain about. But there was a reason scientists called it “the novel coronavirus.” It was new. Nothing like it had ever existed before, except, possibly, in the 1918-1919 flu pandemic (which hit the Bay Area very hard). I looked around at the other States and beyond, to the countries of the world, and saw that every leader everywhere was struggling with what to do and how to get it done. Gov. Newsom managed the crisis successfully; California now has the lowest COVID-19 case rate in the U.S.

Of course, it isn’t surprising that Gov. Newsom’s enemies—and almost every one of them is a rightwing trumper—are now seeking to recall him. Republicans have been unable to win statewide office in California for a long time, which frustrates the hell out of them. They fear Gov. Newsom as the attractive and capable politician that he is: a grave future risk to them and their party. So they’re doing what they do best: trying to take him down with lies and smears.

It won’t work. I have predicted (and I have shared this with him) that he will win the recall by double digits. When he emerges victorious from this pathetic Republican recall at the end of this year, he will be stronger than ever, with a glittering political career before him and the eyes of the nation upon him.

  1. Jack Saunders says:

    No possibility of him being recalled. As you point out, California’s overall Covid trajectory stacks up favorably when compared to other large states and countries. And the economy, both national and state, is heating up smartly. His opponents happen to strongly disagree with policies that turned out to work.ECN3

  2. You’re right, Jack. He’ll be governor until the end of his term and then, if he wants to run again, he’ll be re-elected.

  3. Nancy Weil Brown says:

    I wish I had your confidence that he won’t be recalled. I live in the least diverse, most conservative part of the City of Los Angeles. We have immigrants, first generation Americans, Black, Brown and Asian people here. But we also have a much large number of Trumpers than most other parts of the city. The Republicans/Trump Cult make more noise on the various local FB groups than the more liberal people so it feels a lot less certain down here. It was unfortunate that he made that mistake about going to the French Laundry. You know the other side will never let us forget that. They make it sound like much more than a poor decision and they imply that this is only the tip of the iceberg. If a Republican governor I did not vote for made as few mistakes or missteps as Newsom has, I would not support a recall. I’d work hard to get my candidate elected but I wouldn’t have to resort to the GOP tactics. How scared are they that they must do all kinds of trickery to keep minorities and poor people from voting? How scared are they that they have to mount a recall in the hopes that the special election would give them a Republican governor? I think an elected official has to be almost incompetent or unethical to ever consider a recall. This campaign has been all about politics, and not the part of politics that involves compromises to get stuff done. It’s simply dirty politics.

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