SAMOHI — He’s been making the rounds in cities across the central and northern part of the state, talking about healthcare, education and other issues expected to play a key role in the 2010 election.
On Tuesday, San Francisco mayor and possible gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom came into the backyard of Los Angeles mayor and potential contender Antonio Villaraigosa, pacing in the middle of Santa Monica High School’s gymnasium before an audience of several hundred people, answering questions about prison reform, the economy and gay marriage.
Santa Monica was the latest campaign stop for the 41-year-old business owner who has been speaking in communities across the state in about a dozen town hall meetings, planning to stop in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara later this week.
Currently in the exploratory phase, Newsom told a group of reporters before the event, called “Los Angeles Area Conversation About California’s Future” that he would make a decision about the campaign in the next two months but is leaning towards jumping in the race.
His potential competition includes former eBay chief Meg Whitman, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, and Attorney General Jerry Brown.
When questioned by a reporter about the connections the native San Franciscan has to Los Angeles, Newsom replied that he has been to Southern California about 700 or 800 times and pointed out that his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is also from the area.
“The issues transcend geography, north south, the central part of the state or coastal communities,” he said.
He was later introduced to the audience by Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver, who is also mulling a run for attorney general.
Donning a scarf from the (RED) campaign and jokingly thanking Newsom for allowing him to promote the nonprofit organization he co-founded, Shriver spoke of how many of the state’s issues are also local to Santa Monica, issues that include homelessness, affordable housing, environmentalism and the economy.
“Santa Monicans are really happy to have you here and Santa Monica is a very political community,” Shriver said.
Newsom identified the three key issues in his campaign as healthcare, education, and the environment, pointing to his record in San Francisco where plastic bags have been banned, and medical services and preschools have been universalized.
Following his election, Newsom formed a task force to tackle the issue of universal healthcare. Today about 65 percent of people previously uninsured in San Francisco have access, he said.
“I don’t think it can be done, I know it can be done,” Newsom said about expanding universal health in the state.
He stressed the importance of education in a state that consistently ranks among the bottom in the country for per pupil funding, an issue likely to resonate in a city where the school district is currently battling funding cuts from Sacramento.
“To turn this state around, we have to reconcile this education issue,” he said.
The state deficit inevitably came up when a woman in the audience asked the gubernatorial hopeful about the California law that requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to pass the budget and how he would respond if the “Republicans hold the budget hostage.”
California is one of three in the country that require a two-thirds majority, Newsom said, describing himself as an advocate for the “50 percent plus one” model.
“This is getting absurd,” he said. “I can’t see a legitimate argument of the status quo, the tyranny of the minority.”
The audience included students from nearby universities and community colleges, including one who asked Newsom about the increase in tuition over the past several year at the public institutions for higher education, to which he responded that he would not raise fees and would fight to rollback hikes.
Then there was the issue of gay marriage.
Newsom gained some notoriety in 2004 when he began allowing gay and lesbian couples in San Francisco to apply for marriage licenses despite the passage of a proposition in 2000 that prevented the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. He garnered some more attention last year when the mayor was featured in a anti-gay marriage ad that featured a speech in which Newsom said, “It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not.”
He continues to be vocal in his support for gay marriage, arguing that much like in the Brown v. Board of Education, “separate is not equal.” In 1967, African-American and Caucasians were not allowed to marry in 16 states, Newsom said, adding that approximately 70 percent of Americans during that year opposed interracial marriage.
Newsom said that one of the reasons why he is a Democrat is because he will fight for what is right, even if it’s against majority opinion.
“Guys like me come and go but principles transcend,” he said.
His speech made an impression on some.
“He seems to want to push the envelop on progressive issues and doesn’t seem afraid to talk about issues that most politicians are careful about,” said Stacy Cohen, a Los Angeles resident.