Gavin Newsom is to be sworn in as governor of California on Monday, marking the long-anticipated culmination of a long climb to the top of state politics.
It will be “the first time since 1887 that California has had consecutive Democratic governors,” according to the Associated Press — a fact that may seem unusual, given the default liberalism of California politics.
The state has experienced two political turning points. First was the presidential election of 1992, when California voted for Bill Clinton. It has chosen the Democrat ever since, thanks in part — ironically — to immigration reform signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. That law, also known as Simpson-Mazzoli, granted amnesty to illegal aliens –including many in California — but failed to secure the border, creating incentives for future illegal immigration.
Republican efforts in California and elsewhere to tackle the problem of illegal immigration led to growing alienation between Latino voters and the party that shared many of their social values.
Proposition 187 of 1994, which sought to deny non-emergency social services to illegal aliens in California, was the first of several important referendums to be passed by voters but reversed by the judiciary, with help from Democrat-run state governments that refused to defend them in court. (Another was Proposition 8 of 2008, which established traditional marriage in the state and was overturned in the courts.)
The next turning point was the financial crisis of 2007-8. Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had already moved to the left after losing reform referendums in 2005. He was unequal to the task of managing the fallout from the financial crisis and the deep recession that followed, leaving the state in fiscal crisis and undermining voters’ confidence that Republicans offered a responsible alternative to Democratic profligacy.
The crisis also accelerated the departure of small business owners and homeowners from the state, decimating the GOP’s voter base in California — an exodus that has only continued as Gov. Jerry Brown has raised taxes and imposed new regulations.
Newsom will govern a state that is not only deeply divided between rich and poor, but in which the rich half is barely aware that the rest of the state is so far behind, or that California faces staggering long-term financial problems, thanks to the concentration of self-regarding media and culture industries in wealthy coastal enclaves.
Many observers predict a tougher tenure for Newsom, partly because they predict a dire economic future for the country as a whole — a common theme for mainstream media pundits in recent weeks, driven partly by the gyrations of the stock market but also, undoubtedly, by a desire to see the Trump administration fail, in defiance of the data on job creation and economic growth.
The youthful, well-groomed governor is best known for championing the cause of gay marriage over a decade ago as mayor of San Francisco, but has tackled few major governing challenges since.
Newsom is also a prisoner of his own campaign promises, including a platform promising universal health care and a recent conversion to the cause of high-speed rail.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.