Gov. Gavin Newsom’s obvious efforts to raise his national profile have taken two forms – touting California as a societal model and criticizing red states such as Florida and Texas for their supposed shortcomings.
Increasingly, Newsom employs a third tactic – shifting blame for California’s less seemly aspects.
That tendency is particularly evident in something that Californians rate as one of their top concerns – its worst-in-the-nation incidence of homelessness, manifested in thousands of squalid encampments in the state’s cities.
While running for governor in 2018, Newsom promised to appoint a cabinet-level official to concentrate on homelessness but later, when reporters pressed him, responded, “You want to know who’s the homeless czar?” Newsom. “I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.”
Despite that self-appointed role, as homelessness continued to grow, officially approaching 200,000 people but probably much higher, Newsom began shunning responsibility.
Last year, he blamed local officials for a lack of effective action, at one point suspending state funds. He later restored the money but continued to castigate them.
“If we can’t clean up the encampments and address what’s happening chronically on our streets, I’m going to be hard-pressed to make a case to the Legislature to provide them one dollar more,” Newsom said as he introduced a new state budget in January.
Another example of Newsom’s fingerpointing occurred last week as a congressional committee dominated by Republicans delved into why states – particularly California – handed out billions of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits to fraudsters.
The state auditor had issued a report citing the Employment Development Department’s “poor planning and ineffective management” for shortcomings in handling unemployment insurance claims. But the current EDD director, Nancy Farias, sent the committee a four-page letter blaming Donald Trump’s administration for as much as $30 billion in fraudulent payments.
“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration expressed no interest in establishing (a) coordinated national response when these (emergency pandemic unemployment) programs were initiated in 2020, leaving states to fend for themselves against a clear pattern of sophisticated, international criminal syndicates at work,” Farias’ letter, which no doubt was approved by the governor’s office, said.
A third example of blameshifting also popped up last week when Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp cited Newsom’s support for lenient prison policies that allowed the alleged killer of Selma policeman Gonzalo Carrasco to be released after serving just six months of a 64-month sentence for a previous crime.
“Today, Governor Gavin Newsom, and every legislator in the state of California who supports this over-reaching phenomenon they try to disguise as legitimate criminal justice reform, has the blood of this officer on their hands,” Smittcamp said.
“The governor and his political allies who continue the quest to close state prisons are increasing the incidents of violence to everyone who lives in, or visits, the state of California,” Smittcamp continued. “No city or county is safe from the wrath of this misguided thinking, and this mismanaged prison system.”
Newsom quickly fired back, referring to the plea bargain that Smittcamp’s office accepted: “She should blame herself. I’ve been listening to this for years from her. She has the prosecutorial discretion. Ask her what she did in terms of prosecuting that case.”
Smittcamp persisted, saying, “Governor Newsom continues to demonstrate his ignorance and lack of understanding of how the criminal justice system works. His arrogant and defensive response is proof positive that he is attempting to deflect responsibility for his failed policies.”
It is outrageous that the alleged killer, a self-proclaimed gang member with an extensive criminal record, was released after just six months. And it does exemplify the uber-lenient penal policies California has adopted in recent years, begun by former Gov. Jerry Brown and continued by Newsom.
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.
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