Newsom. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

ADAM BEAM, Associated Press

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will give his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, a statewide platform to share his increasingly optimistic message for the nation’s most populous state in a year he will face voters for reelection.

After two years of mask mandates, lockdowns and wildfires, Newsom has been setting a sunny, upbeat tone in recent weeks as he prepares for what looks to be a relatively easy campaign.

Just six months ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to remove Newsom from office. And since then, Larry Elder — his most well-known and well-funded Republican rival — has bowed out of the November election.

Since then, Newsom has doubled down on his pandemic policies, announcing the state will require coronavirus vaccines for schoolchildren while mandating booster shots for health care workers.

“It’s been an extraordinary, extraordinary few years,” Newsom said Saturday during a speech to the state Democratic Endorsing Convention. “I’m telling you, I mean this with the core of my bones, the best is yet to come.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have been highlighting California’s super-sized problems ahead of the fall elections. Crime has increased in the state’s major cities, while California’s homeless population remains a visible indictment of the state’s leaders.

Over the weekend, the statewide average gas price surpassed $5 per gallon for the highest average ever, part of a plethora of rising prices because of inflation. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, said she supports a ban on Russian oil imports in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — a move that would further reduce supply.
“This is a crisis of Democrats’ own making,” Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher said. “If Democrats really care about bringing down the cost of living for working Californians, they will join our effort to suspend the gas tax and bring costs down by fifty cents a gallon overnight.”

Newsom, for his part, has proposed pausing a slight increase in the state gas tax scheduled to take effect this summer. But Democratic leaders in the state Legislature have balked at that proposal, arguing it would make it harder to maintain the state’s roads while only providing a barely noticeable relief at the pump.

Newsom has not offered any hints about what he will emphasize in his speech, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Two years ago, on the eve of the pandemic, Newsom broke with tradition by devoting his entire speech to one issue: homelessness. Last year, Newsom spoke to a mostly empty Dodger Stadium at a time when he faced an uncertain recall election.

But this year, Newsom can deliver a speech from a position of strength after having mostly shored up his political vulnerabilities. Still, he faces some unrest within his party as progressive activists are angry at Newsom for not trying to pass a universal health care system like he promised during his first campaign for governor in 2018.

Saturday, Newsom noted he still supports a universal health care system — “Don’t think we’re going to abandon that,” he said — while emphasizing his plan to use taxpayer money to pay for the health insurance of low-income immigrants living in the country illegally. But he offered a subtle warning to the party’s progressive caucus to not get too far ahead.

“The future happens here first. We are America’s coming attraction, as long as we continue to lead the nation, as long as we don’t fall prey to situational politics and the memes of the moment and the polarization we see every single day,” he said.