California Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver his third State of the State address on Tuesday night, a speech timed to coincide with evening news broadcasts that will show the governor surrounded by 56,000 empty seats at Dodger Stadium, representing roughly all the people who have died from the coronavirus pandemic in the nation’s most populous sate.
California governors usually deliver their annual State of the State addresses in the morning during a joint session of the state Legislature in Sacramento, a scene that gives the speeches a heavy dose of policy and pomp.
This year, Newsom said his speech will highlight the “quiet heroes” of the pandemic while striking a sober tone to be “mindful of the lives that have been lost in this pandemic.”
“It’s a different kind of State of the State,” Newsom said Monday while touring a vaccination site in Earlimart, a small community in Tulare County.
Critical Moment for Newsom
The speech comes at an important moment for Newsom, who faces a likely recall election later this year fueled by widespread anger over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, including the stop-and-start closures for businesses and strict rules on what people can and can’t do in public.
“We’ve got a governor in freefall,” said Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk. “I’m wondering if he’s doing this from Hollywood, because I think he’s got a script that probably doesn’t reflect reality, but I think (the speech) is the kickoff to his campaign to keep his job.”
The speech is also important for Newsom’s allies in the Legislature, who have joined forces with him in recent weeks to approve a $7.6 billion state stimulus package and another $6.6 billion designed to push public school districts to offer in-person learning by the end of March.
“The governor knows results are more important than rhetoric, but the right message can be helpful in bringing us together on the same page,” said Toni Atkins, the top Democrat in the state Senate. “That’s critical as we move closer to getting COVID-19 under control.”
California was the first state in the country to issue a statewide stay-at-home order last March, and many of those restrictions have lingered throughout the pandemic, placing limitations on businesses and public gatherings.
Restrictions Loosened in Nine Additional Counties Tuesday
But as cases and hospitalizations have dropped in recent weeks, more areas of the state are starting to open back up. The state loosened restrictions in nine additional counties on Tuesday.
Business and labor groups will be watching Newsom’s speech closely for clues on how he will approach reopening. A key piece of pending legislation would expand paid sick leave for workers who must miss work because of the coronavirus.
“We really hope he sends a message to essential workers that the state of California has your back,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation.
But the legislation is troubling to John Kabateck, director of the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“The last thing we need are new laws and rules that are going to send small businesses and consumers into a flurry of uncertainty and fear,” he said.
Governor Focusing on Optimism
Last year, Newsom devoted his entire State of the State address to housing and homelessness, highlighting an issue that has plagued California for decades. The pandemic disrupted many of Newsom’s plans, although the state did invest heavily in a program to house the homeless in converted hotel rooms.
Mike Herald, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said he understands Newsom will likely focus much of his speech on reopening the economy and resuming social gatherings. But he said he’s also hoping Newsom will commit to “further address the economic woes that many Californians are suffering through.” Specifically, he wants to see another round of stimulus payments and a pledge to use the latest federal relief money to help pay down unpaid rent.
“We really need to find ways to put cash in people’s pockets because they really need it,” he said.
Newsom did not tip his hand on Monday when speaking with reporters, other than to say he would talk “a little bit” about homelessness. Overall, Newsom said he hopes people come away from the speech “optimistic” about “a future that I have all the confidence in the world is extraordinarily bright, as long as it’s an inclusive future.”