Year in review: Gavin Newsom goes international

In summary

In 2023, Gavin Newsom positioned himself more than ever as a national — and even international — political figure.

Safely ensconced in his second and final term as California governor, Gavin Newsom shifted his focus beyond the state this year, positioning himself more than ever as a national — and even international — political figure.

Newsom gleefully embraced the role of Democratic attack dog, regularly peppering his public remarks with criticisms of conservative efforts to roll back civil rights. Offering his governance as a liberal bulwark against the “rights regression” — though he rejected several high-profile efforts to expand new protections to marginalized communities in California — Newsom took his show on the road: to boost Democrats in red states on a spring tour, to the spin room of a GOP presidential primary debate in September and to debate Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on national television in November.

His policy agenda could seem carefully calibrated to appeal to progressive voters in a future presidential campaign that Newsom continues to insist he has no interest in pursuing. Over the summer, the governor launched a crusade to amend gun control into the U.S. Constitution, despite the vanishingly small odds of success and opposition from even some Democratic allies.

While he does not always go as far as environmentalists want, Newsom’s support for legislation taking on the oil industry and developing more renewable energy has refashioned him as a climate champion. He further bolstered his credentials this fall, as the only U.S. representative to address a United Nations climate summit in September and during a weeklong tour of China in October promoting cooperation on tackling climate change.

And Newsom continues to take steps to shore up his biggest political liability: California’s serious homelessness crisis. As his new behavioral health court program finally rolled out in recent months, the governor pushed another major overhaul through the Legislature. It aims to make it easier to force people with severe mental illnesses — who comprise a small but highly visible fraction of the state’s homeless population — off the streets and into treatment.

Major issues for 2024: The governor’s political capital will be put to the test early next year as he seeks to persuade voters to pass a ballot measure during the March 5 primary. It would fund more behavioral health treatment beds and supportive housing for homeless people, including by redirecting money from a mental health services tax on millionaires. Newsom could also face challenges from California’s sluggish economy. With tax revenues coming in lower than anticipated, the state budget deficit is projected to only grow next year, stalling the governor’s priorities and forcing him to make difficult decisions about program cuts.

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