Newsom Uses Annual State Address to Confront Republicans Across the Nation


Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, whose liberal state has been hammered by Republicans for months as a hellscape of homelessness, crime and high taxes, used his annual State of the State address on Tuesday to slam “conservatives and delusional California bashers” and defend “the California way of life.”

Rather than appear before a joint session of the State Legislature, Mr. Newsom prerecorded his speech and posted it on social media, directing his message at least as much to a national audience as to Californians. It came two days before former President Donald Trump and President Biden were scheduled to debate in Atlanta, where Mr. Newsom was expected to appear in the so-called spin room as a feisty surrogate.

In his remarks, which hinted at arguments Mr. Biden is likely to touch upon on Thursday, Mr. Newsom presented the Democratic policies that are California’s hallmark as an “antidote to the poisonous populism of the right.”

Mr. Newsom, 56, has been among the president’s most visible supporters, and has long contended that Democrats have underestimated the hostility of the MAGA Republican movement. He has been viewed as a future presidential candidate and has seemed to relish challenging conservatives head on.

“They want to impeach the very things that have made us successful, as a tactic to turn America toward a darker future,” Mr. Newsom said, comparing the current political climate to the spread of fascism in the 1930s.

“We are presented with a choice between a society that embraces our values and a world darkened by division and discrimination. The economic prosperity, health, safety and freedom that we enjoy are under assault.”

Governors in California and elsewhere typically deliver a State of the State speech early in the year to set the agenda and highlight statewide accomplishments. In the past, the California address was regularly delivered to the Legislature in person at the State Capitol, around the same time as the president’s State of the Union address.

But Mr. Newsom’s political team has long taken the view that all political conversations are national, particularly in California, the nation’s most populous state. And as Democrats have increasingly dominated the State Legislature and worked more cooperatively with the governor, critics have dismissed the State of the State as superfluous and outdated.

In the past several years, Mr. Newsom has shunned tradition by delivering State of the State speeches from the road, from state environmental offices and even from Dodger Stadium, surrounded by empty seats, during the pandemic. This year, the governor postponed the speech, his office said, because he was waiting for more clarity around how the state would solve its budget shortfall and the fate of a bond measure to help people who are mentally ill and homeless.

By the time his recorded remarks were posted on Tuesday, the state budget had already been passed and more than half of the state’s legislative cycle was over. Republican state lawmakers charged that the taped speech was emblematic of Mr. Newsom’s dismissiveness toward them.

“Another cowardly and classic move by Newsom delivering a prerecorded State of the State the same week as the presidential debate,” State Senator Brian Dahle, a Northern California Republican, posted on X.

The governor’s office noted that before Earl Warren’s tenure as governor in the 1940s and early 1950s, the State of the State was largely delivered in an annual written report.

In fact, the medium that Mr. Newsom used seemed to underscore a broader message.

“Weird little speech, huh?” said Dan Schnur, a political analyst who teaches at the University of Southern California, Pepperdine University and the University of California, Berkeley. “He’s clearly much more interested in talking to a national audience than to California voters.”

Mr. Schnur noted that the remarks were of a piece with political ads Mr. Newsom has run over the past several years in Republican-led states such as Florida and Texas, and with comments Mr. Newsom has made in past interviews with the Fox News host Sean Hannity. By using a pre-recorded video, Mr. Newsom was able to accentuate his speech with visuals, such as footage of a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., as he suggested that “division and discrimination” were being sown by his opponents.

Late last year, after mutual baiting, Mr. Newsom and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida debated on Fox News. Mr. Newsom countered critiques of his state with a furious barrage of statistics about California successes, while Mr. DeSantis memorably brandished a map of San Francisco dotted with the coordinates of public defecation that had been reported by residents.

On Tuesday, Mr. Newsom pointed to California’s defense of abortion rights and civil rights for L.G.B.T.Q. people, the state’s humanitarian assistance to migrants and his multi-billion-dollar campaign to address homelessness. Low-income Texans pay a higher share of their family income in taxes than low-income Californians, he noted, and California leads the nation in business starts and economic output.

Mr. Newsom also used Republican-led states as a comparison point on violent crime.

“Eight of the 10 most violent murder states in America are red states,” Mr. Newsom said. “Cities like Jacksonville and Memphis have significantly higher homicide rates than San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

But over the course of more than 28 minutes, there was, pointedly, no mention of Mr. Trump.

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