When Gov. Jerry Brown cedes power to Gavin Newsom, it will be the first time since 1887 that California has had consecutive Democratic governors. But California isn’t getting a carbon copy in substance or style.
Newsom becomes governor Monday, concluding the 80-year-old Brown’s four terms leading the nation’s most populous state. The handoff reflects Democrats’ dominance in California politics — the party holds every statewide office and huge majorities in the Legislature. And it is the next act in a history between the Newsom and Brown families that spans eight decades.
The new governor will stay Brown’s course in some areas but is likely to push more ambitious and expensive policies related to health care and education. And he’ll be “a little more of a flashy governor than Brown,” said Eric Schickler, a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Newsom enters office with a strong economy and nearly $30 billion in reserves left from Brown, although a slowing of the national economy could drastically shift the course of Newsom’s governorship.
For now, though, “he comes in in a pretty enviable spot,” said Schickler.
Newsom, 51, is a tailored-suit politician with a mega-watt smile and perfectly coiffed hair. Where Brown kept the media at arm’s length, Newsom courts the spotlight.
The generational change he brings to the governor’s mansion is reflected in the musical headliners for a wildfire victims benefit concert Newsom will host on Sunday — hip-hop artists Pitbull and Common.
Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, already has created a change in Sacramento political traditions with her preference for the title “first partner” rather than “first lady,” which she said is more inclusive. It’s also reflective of her professional experience as an actress and filmmaker focused on gender politics and inequality.
The Newsom and Brown families have been intertwined since the 1940s, when Newsom’s grandfather helped lead Brown’s father’s campaign for San Francisco district attorney. Pat Brown went on to be governor from 1959-1967.
Newsom’s father, William Newsom III, once dated one of Pat Brown’s daughters, and Jerry Brown appointed him to two judgeships. The two remained friends until the elder Newsom’s death in last month.
The long history between the families hasn’t always produced warm feelings between the outgoing and incoming governor.
When Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, wanted to run for governor in 2010 it was Brown’s entrance into the race that foiled his bid, forcing him to settle for lieutenant governor, a job with little power.
During Brown’s first term, the two butted heads when Brown ignored Newsom’s suggestions for reviving the state’s economy following the Great Recession and declined to appoint members to an economic development commission chaired by the lieutenant governor. The two also overlapped in their mayoral tenures, when Newsom led San Francisco and Brown ran nearby Oakland.
“There was a bit of rivalry,” said Jerry Hallisey, a San Francisco lawyer and longtime friend of Brown and Newsom. He described their relationship now as “cordial.”
Hallisey, said he expects Newsom to pull more expertise from the private sector into his administration than Brown did. Newsom launched a winery in 1992 that grew into the PlumpJack Group, a network of wineries and hospitality businesses that made him a millionaire. He’s placing his controlling interests into a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.
Brown has in the past batted away questions about his relationship with Newsom, saying the lieutenant governor has a limited role by design and that he talked to Newsom as much as any governor would his lieutenant. The day after the November election, he said Newsom’s time as mayor gave him executive experience to lead the state, although he’s warned Newsom may have a difficult time controlling Democratic lawmakers’ appetites for more spending.
“He has a lot of skill, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s a smart guy,” Brown said. But, “It’s going to be a challenging four years.”
On his campaign bus in October, Newsom said he’ll always be “the kid” in Brown’s eyes and that their relationship has been rocky in part because “it’s too familiar.”
But, he said, that’s all wrapped in reverence and “deep respect” for Brown.
“It’s built into who I am because it’s part of my 50 years,” Newsom said of the Browns. “My narrative has been their narrative.”
Newsom will work to chart his own course with more expansive policies on health care and education. His Monday inaugural address will offer a first glimpse at his priorities. He’s expected to talk about making California more affordable and ensuring the “California dream” can be reached by everyone.
Three days later, he’ll introduce his first state budget. Among the new initiatives he’ll propose: A nearly $2 billion investment in early childhood education and child care and $40 million more for the state’s community college system.
It’s unclear how much focus he’ll put on government-run health care in his first term. He backed a 2017 bill that ultimately died in the Legislature, but said it remains a priority.