Newsom’s inauguration was picture perfect. That’s a shame

The second day of Governor Gavin Newsom’s inauguration was as perfect as any politician could wish for.

Holding hands with First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, surrounded by his adorable children, the man with beautiful hair marched across Sacramento’s Tower Bridge on his way to the Capitol. Sunlight filtered through clouds thoughtfully parting for his big day as photographers captured the carefully orchestrated moment commemorating Barack Obama’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama – itself a commemoration of the civil rights march there in 1965 .

Newsom then slipped discreetly into an SUV and skirted the last few walking blocks. He reappeared on an intricately designed circular stage that made the crowd appear huge, American flags draped from every camera angle, as he delivered a speech to kick off his fifth year on the job.

“In our finest hours, California was liberty’s force multiplier, protecting liberty from a rising tide of oppression taking root in state edifices – weakness masquerading as strength. Little men in big offices,” he told the crowd. “More than any other people anywhere, California has bridged the historical gap between liberty for some and liberty for all.”

Governor Gavin Newsom waves from the stage with his family.

Governor Gavin Newsom, with first partner Jennifer Lynn Siebel Newsom and children Dutch, Brooklynn, Hunter and Montana after taking the oath of office in Sacramento.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Oh, if only Newsom would enjoy some of that freedom instead of being constantly bound to his own image.

But our governor seems possessed by his need for control and never lets his guard down even in this hand-picked crowd dubbed the People’s March.

It could have been more aptly named Certain People’s March, a television special.

The media was ordered to huddle at one end of the bridge while Newsom and the crowd gathered on the other side. With dire warnings – including threats that our press passes for future events could be revoked if we disobeyed – we were allowed to snap a few quick pictures as Newsom approached. Then we had to clear the way, not ask any questions and definitely not interfere with the flow of people passing by.

Now you might not care how the press was treated, and that’s fair enough. But it goes to the heart of this need for control and focus on appearances.

Governor Gavin Newsom smiles while speaking at a lectern.

Governor Gavin Newsom delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office for his second term.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

This is how Newsom regularly treats journalists. This is especially true since the pandemic, when he got used to calling press conferences where unwanted reporters could be ignored. Because Newsom rarely has a spontaneous moment, this lack of media access means the public usually only sees what he approves of.

For the good of California and his own political ambitions, his focus this term should be on being a little messier, a little bolder, and a little less concerned about how things are looking.

Because the leaders of the history books, like Newsom’s idol Bobby Kennedy, are the ones who connect with us in sometimes uncomfortable and uncomfortable ways.

Joe Biden’s gaffes may make us cringe, but they also humanize him. Our last two governors, Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, shared little in politics. But both had an authenticity that at least felt real — a life of corgis and cigars and a willingness to commit. Big men in big offices, open to big criticism because trust can’t be staged.

Newsom has every reason to relax this notion. He deserves it.

People standing in a crowd wave small California flags.

Guests wave state flags at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

He hit a recall in the middle of a pandemic when many people were angry and under siege. He’s got a campaign chest so full a railroad baron could blush, and he ran into re-election so easily that most of us barely noticed he was running.

He has made a name for himself as a portrait of the far right, eclipsing Vice President Kamala Harris on that front.

And while California still faces massive problems — homelessness, affordable housing, an addiction crisis, inflation — Newsom has passed important legislation and enacted good policies.

He championed a controversial plan for CARE Court that I hope will help families with loved ones with serious mental illness finally find avenues to meaningful treatment. He fights with the oil companies for profits and pushes for clean energy. He has funded guaranteed income programs, passed legislation to help our poorest children save for college, and expanded access to preschool and health care.

His second term will be about turning those policies into successful programs, no easy task. But 53% of Californians agree with his work, according to a poll last fall.

But despite her universal approval, Newsom hasn’t made the crucial leap from knowledgeable to inspirational for many Californians.

Except Barbara Hawkins.

Since my job was actually to speak to the people at the people’s march and because I’m a small woman who can easily blend into a crowd, I went along despite the threats.

A woman in a coat smiles and applauds.

Barbara Hawkins, 74, an avid supporter of Gov. Gavin Newsom, listens to his inaugural address in Sacramento.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

I met Hawkins, a dapper seventy-year-old who broke her foot last week on her lunch break from working as a facilities manager when she slipped on the sidewalk outside an I Heart teriyaki restaurant. Hawkins hobbled in a black orthopedic boot and walked all the way with the help of a four-pronged cane.

“I assure you I won’t miss this,” she told me as she rested on a staircase at the end of the mile-long walk. “I was determined.”

Hawkins is a serious Newsom Stan — an average citizen who popped up because she sees in him a “respect for people” that aligns with her own. She likes “the way he delivers” on policies like LGBTQ rights and education.

“Even against opponents, he stands and stands,” she told me as we waited for Newsom to speak. “He doesn’t waver like some of these politicians in Washington.”

Although Newsom was clear he is not run for presidentHawkins wishes he would.

“He would get my money and my vote,” she said.

Governor Gavin Newsom and his family walk with a crowd holding hands.

Governor Gavin Newsom attends his inauguration with his family.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

The majority of the people who marched with Newsom on Friday were part of the Democratic machinery. Even worker icon Dolores Huerta was there, in the front row in a red down jacket, although just a few months ago she was in a dejected, drawn-out argument with Newsom, eventually forcing him to relent and sign a farmworkers’ organizing bill. against which he spoke out.

These are the supporters who put politicians in office.

Hawkins is the kind of believer who turns politicians into leaders.

It’s their confidence that fuels the serious swings and their loyalty that makes the misses possible.

Inaugurations are meant for spectacle and praise, so I don’t begrudge Newsom the polish or script of the day. And California has long been a state where television rules politics, in no small part because it’s too big to shake hands with anyone.

But Newsom’s speech on Friday, the most personal he has ever given, showed an awareness that he lacks the kind of emotion Hawkins has in many voters. And it showed a desire to cultivate it.

He delved deeper into a personal, humanizing story than ever before. He spoke about his father, “the judge who was guilty because he left the family,” and his mother, Tessa, “who was busy juggling three jobs.” He brought up his dyslexia, which he’d talked about often, but went deeper into how it led him to have “fake stomachaches and dizziness” to drop out of school.

He revealed a different narrative than the rich boy persona who has been stalking him, anchored in part by his own reticence, and it felt as real as Schwarzenegger’s giant stogies or Brown’s beloved puppies.

The guy with the divorced parents is more interesting and powerful than the guy with the perfect hair.

Let’s hope we see more of him. Newsom’s inauguration was picture perfect. That’s a shame

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