California Today: What to Know About Newsom’s State of the State

Governor gives televised address from Dodger Stadium, speaks about pandemic, vaccines

New York Times California Today Newsletter, by Jill Cowan, March 10, 2021
Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his State of the State address from Dodger Stadium on Tuesday as his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, listened. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

On Tuesday evening, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his third State of the State address, an elaborately produced event in which he portrayed a California emerging from crisis better, stronger and more equal than it was before the coronavirus pandemic.

“In California, we’re not going to come crawling back. We will roar back,” he said, speaking from a stage on the field at Dodger Stadium. “I think we all agree, normal was never good enough.”
Indeed, the pandemic has made clearer than perhaps ever before the longstanding divides in the Golden State.

It has exacerbated inequality between those who can afford to work from home and those who must labor in fields, factories and warehouses. It has ravaged Latino, Black and Asian communities disproportionately.

And the state’s strict, sometimes confusing, lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the virus have provided ample fodder for frustrated conservatives and business owners who are now trying to oust Mr. Newsom from office.

[Read a conversation with Gray Davis, California’s first and only governor to be recalled, about governing in crisis.]

The governor’s prime-time speech from the stadium in Los Angeles — a departure from tradition; the State of the State is usually given midday in Sacramento — was aimed more at rebutting an effort to recall him than a preview of sweeping policy goals.

“We won’t change course just because of a few naysayers and doomsday-ers,” Mr. Newsom said. “So to the California critics, who are promoting partisan power grabs and outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again.”

In the speech, the governor sought to remind Californians that he has been at the helm as the state has been pummeled by calamity after calamity — the kind of compounding disasters unseen in decades.

The large screens next to him displayed pictures of the apocalyptic orange sky over the Bay Area as he spoke about the rising threat of wildfires. He emphasized that California’s leaders would continue to be guided by science, “not politics.”

[Track the vaccine rollout and find information about who’s eligible.]

Dodger Stadium has become a kind of symbolic home for the state’s pandemic response, first as a mass testing site, then as a mass vaccination site. Mr. Newsom said that the rows of empty seats behind him as he spoke were a “silent tribute” to the 54,395 Californians who have died because of Covid-19.

“We won’t be defined by this moment,” he said. “We’ll be defined by what we do because of it.”

The governor in particular highlighted campaigns to vaccinate millions of vulnerable residents and to get students back into classrooms.

Experts have said that Mr. Newsom’s political prospects hinge largely on the state’s ability to spur both of those things.

Proponents of the recall have fiercely criticized the fact that many students have been learning from home for a year.

Kevin Faulconer, the Republican former mayor of San Diego who is campaigning to replace Mr. Newsom, said in a video response to the address that the governor has failed to solve problems and has harmed residents in the process.

“He has failed parents in Los Angeles where powerful unions are choosing to keep classrooms closed,” Mr. Faulconer said.

Allies of Mr. Newsom have said that the recall effort is an expensive waste. But they’ve said that the governor has time on his side, as more and more Californians are inoculated and restrictions are eased.

Later on Tuesday evening, Los Angeles schools and teachers’ unions agreed on a plan to reopen schools next month.

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