California Gov. Gavin Newsom may be fresh off a campaign victory, but on Friday he talked like a politician ready for a fight as he held up his state as a beacon of freedom amid what he called a “rising tide of oppression" in Republican-led states.
“The battle lines, they're drawn. I'll say it: Once again, it is time for choosing," Newsom declared during an inaugural address in front of the state Capitol to kick off his second and final term leading the nation's largest Democratic stronghold.
Though he didn't name names, Newsom's targets were obvious as he decried “small men in big offices."
He chose Jan. 6 for his inaugural ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and he's spent the past year decrying Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas. At one point, he called out politicians who “demonize Mickey Mouse," a reference to Florida's ongoing battles with Disney.
“The ugliness that overflowed on Jan. 6, 2021, we know this, was in fact decades in the making — fomented by people who have a very different vision of America’s future,” Newsom said.
Newsom's remarks, reminiscent at times of a campaign stump speech, came after he led a march alongside his wife and four children through downtown Sacramento to the Capitol. The sun was finally out after days of relentless winds and rain pounding much of the state, with more storms set to arrive in the coming days.
As he pitched California as the nation's leading defender of freedom, Newsom touched only briefly on the state's struggles, including an unabated homelessness crisis, and offered few policy specifics for his second term.
California Republicans were quick to point out the state's challenges, including high energy and gas prices and the state's projected $25 billion budget deficit for the coming year.
Republican Brian Jones, the minority leader in the state Senate, said issues like the high cost of living and homelessness in California are pushing some to move to the Republican-led states Newsom often alludes to.
“People are fleeing the state because of the policies of his administration and the majority Democrats that are supporting his policies,” said Jones, who represents parts of San Diego County.
“Republicans in California are not going to be debating, discussing and fighting rhetorical challenges nationwide,” he added. “We’re going to be focusing on the challenges that everyday Californians are facing right now.”
Newsom easily won his second term, less than 15 months after beating back a Republican-led recall effort.
He began his first term in 2019 with Trump as a clear foil in Washington. With Biden now in the White House, Newsom has shifted his fire toward fellow governors, particularly DeSantis.
He continued to draw that contrast Friday, decrying states that “make it harder to vote and easier to buy illegal guns," and that “silence speech, fire teachers, kidnap migrants, subjugate women."
Both Newsom and DeSantis are widely seen as future presidential contenders, though perhaps not against each other. Newsom has committed to supporting Biden if the president seeks a second term, as he currently plans to do. DeSantis, meanwhile, has not ruled out a 2024 run — even as Trump seeks a return to the White House.
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