What, exactly, does a lieutenant governor do? It’s tempting to say his job is to “wait” for the governor to take a vacation. But that would be selling the job short.
The lieutenant governor also smiles, at least in the case of Gavin Newsom.
There are some real duties. One is to serve as a member of the Board of Regents for the University of California system and trustee on the California State University board. In those positions, the lieutenant governor can push for lower tuition, better student services, expanded access and priorities such as better medical schools. Newsom has done all that, but he has exactly one vote. And too frequently his has been in the minority.
But just because the job is rarely important, doesn’t mean voters shouldn’t put a little thought into their choice.
Republican candidate Ron Nehring has spoken earnestly about economic development. He also urges the California Republican Party to reach out to Latinos and immigrants, important if the party ever wants to become relevant beyond the Central Valley. But Nehring’s conservative views on abortion, same-sex marriage and gun control don’t mesh with those of most Californians.
One of the things that troubles us about Nehring is that he has never been elected to anything beyond his local school board. Still, we agree with his opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Newsom, meanwhile, is the state’s most prominent supporter of legalization – a position with more than a whiff of pandering.
Like Nehring, Lt. Gov. Newsom has promised to work hard on economic development. That was four years ago. And as Newsom quickly learned, a lieutenant governor has as much clout as the governor grants – and Jerry Brown doesn’t grant much. Newsom traveled to Texas to meet with Gov. Rick Perry about economic development, which helps explain why Brown now makes sure Newsom has little to do. Newsom has also spoken out against some of Brown’s positions – including high-speed rail.
Still, Newsom is no Mike Curb, likely to go rogue the minute Brown flies off to Washington. And that’s the main reason we endorse Newsom. His views are far more similar to Gov. Brown’s, and to those of most Californians, than Nehring’s. If Brown is re-elected (which seems entirely likely) and became incapable of carrying out his duties, Newsom would be unlikely to invoke dramatic shifts in policy or direction.
Newsom is ambitious, and that’s OK – as long as his main ambition is to see the entire state succeed.
If he wins re-election, we hope Newsom comes to view his office as more than a stepping stone. We would like to see him come to the Valley, get to know Californians who can’t afford $100 haircuts, whose hands get dirty the old-fashioned way, who need a job. If he raises his voice more frequently in support of those Californians, he might be seen as something more than a fellow who has learned to smile while just biding his time.