California is a shining example of economic and social progress, a beacon to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world.
Doubt it? It must be true because Gov. Gavin Newsom said it Tuesday in his fourth State of the State address, declaring, “now, in the midst of so much turmoil with stacking stresses and dramatic social and economic change, California is doing what we have done for generations, lighting out the territory ahead of the rest, expanding the horizon of what’s possible.”
Sidestepped Major Challenges
He called it “The California Way” and said it “means rejecting old binaries and finding new solutions to big problems … ”
However, Newsom ignored many “big problems” as he portrayed a state on the cutting edge of virtually everything positive.
By any measure, the state has an immense shortage of housing that has driven costs through the roof and given California the nation’s highest poverty rate. But neither the housing crisis nor the poverty rate crossed his lips.
He also sidestepped another crisis — a drought that threatens to devastate California’s agricultural industry and, in the longer run, clobber the entire economy.
Instead, Newsom portrayed the economy in the rosiest terms, saying, “When it comes to the economy, California is unmatched.
“We dominate in research, innovation, entrepreneurialism, venture capital — and remain the world’s fifth largest economy. Our GDP growth has consistently outpaced not only the rest of the country — but most other large, western democracies. Nearly a million new jobs in the last 12 months. In December alone, 25% of America’s jobs were created right here in California. More new business starts during the worst of the pandemic than Texas and Florida combined.”
Deficient on Education, Energy, Crime
Sounds great, right? But Newsom avoided the fact that California has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 6.5%, nearly three percentage points higher than the national rate and three times as high as some states.
How about education?
“I’m talking about a real transformation of our public education system, like we’re doing right here in California,” Newsom claimed. “By creating choices — real choices — for parents and unprecedented support for their kids.”
What about the devastation that COVID-19 visited upon the state’s nearly six million public school students, and the widening “achievement gap” between poor students and their more advantaged classmates? What about California’s chronically poor performance on nationwide academic tests? Not a word.
Newsom bragged about the state’s leading role in reducing greenhouse gases and reducing the dominance of hydrocarbons in transportation and utilities.
“At a time when we’ve been heating up and burning up, one thing we cannot do is repeat the mistakes of the past,” Newsom said. “Embracing polluters. Drilling even more oil, which only leads to even more extreme weather, more extreme drought, more wildfire.”
However, he said nothing about California’s looming shortage of electrical power, already evident on hot summer days. Nor has he spelled out how the economic impacts of the conversion to an all-electric society will be alleviated.
Newsom did mention crime, at least in passing, but offered faint solace to victims of the state’s rising crime rates, particularly the wave of homicide in the major cities.
“Our approach is to be neither indifferent to the realities of the present day, nor revert to heavy-handed policies that have marked the failures of the past,” Newsom said, citing more money for both law enforcement and “new programs to tackle the root causes of crime, doubling down on proven violence prevention programs.”
Bottom line: As a State of State speech, it was shockingly deficient. It sounded more like a kickoff to his re-election campaign.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.