A Conversation with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome
SVL: What you know today, what would the Gavin Newsom of today like to say to the young Gavin Newsom?
GN: I would tell myself that success is not a place or a destination; it’s a direction. There is no “having made it.” As Winston Churchill said the secret to success is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Oh, and I would definitely tell myself to use less hair gel.
SVL: Who have been your role models and who has inspired you in politics and life itself?
GN: Sargent Shriver, Bobby Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi, Vaclav Havel and Richard Branson to name a few. My wife and three children also inspire me every day.
SVL: What prepared you for this path in politics and when did you discover this idea
of being Mayor of San Francisco and Lieutenant Governor of California?The Lt. Governor is with Gina McCarthy, the head of the EPA, as she takes a look at San Francisco’s grease recycling program.
GN: For a life in politics you have to be passionate, care about issues and most importantly people. My background in business, particularly in restaurants, certainly did not hurt. The spark to get involved in local government came from the frustration of navigating San Francisco’s bureaucracy when I opened my first business, Plumpjack.
SVL: What did you enjoy most about being Mayor of San Francisco?
GN: Cities are laboratories of innovation. A city shows the cause and effect, the good decisions and bad decisions in real-time and with immediate feedback. As mayor you have the ability to customize policy to address the needs of a diverse citizenry. You can have a two-way conversation with citizens that result in “bottom up” solutions without having to wait for the state or federal government.
SVL: What do you enjoy most about being Lieutenant Governor of California?
GN: Just as cities are a laboratory for innovation, the state is a laboratory for democracy. To be a part of the most diverse state in the world, with the most diverse democracy, is an honor. Because of California’s size, diversity and economic power, we are the perfect place for scaling innovative ideas that can then become a model for the nation. Few places can boast the kind of dynamism and influence we enjoy here in the Golden State.
SVL: San Francisco went through a great renaissance with you as Mayor. Looking back, what are some of the proudest moments or accomplishments you saw during your term as Mayor?
GN: I am proud of many things we did in San Francisco. From implementing the first city wide universal health care plan in the nation, to getting 12,000 people off the streets and addressing the pressing issue of homelessness and poverty. We also raised the bar on environmental stewardship and helped pave the way for this new tech-boom. Beyond anything else, I am most proud of representing citizens who not only tolerate diversity but also celebrate diversity. San Francisco is a city that celebrates its interesting differences but, at the end of the day, also unites around our common humanity - the fundamental idea that we are all in this together. It was this spirit that led to San Francisco opening up City Hall to same sex couples in 2004.
SVL: As Lieutenant Governor of California, you are as close to this Governor as anyone ... and the same is true with the relationships with other Governorships and politicians throughout the country. What have you learned from these relationships and this extraordinary experience?
GN: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some extremely gifted politicians from WillieBrown to our current Gov. Jerry Brown, both of whom are two unique and distinct personalities. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with former President Bill Clinton and when I was Mayor of San Francisco, I worked with mayors John Hickenlooper in Colorado and Martin O’Malley in Maryland, who’ve both gone on to be Governors of their states, and I am now honored to call them friends. The one thing I’ve been able to learn from all of these individuals is that the best politics is a better idea and that ideas matter.
SVL: What in these past four years as Lieutenant Governor are some of the greatest, proudest accomplishments?
GN: I’m proud of the economic development plan my office put out in 2011 and the resulting statewide economic summit, both of which articulate a vision for success in building the “Next Economy” in California. Additionally, last year I released a report on college education, Boosting California’s Postsecondary Education Performance, which has started a conversation around the changing needs in higher education. Additionally, I am an active member of the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees, I have voted against tuition increases in order to keep higher education affordable and accessible. I am also proud of the work we do on the State Land’s Commission, particularly around making this important state agency more open, transparent and collaborative.
SVL: Presently, and looking ahead, what are some of the biggest challenges or concerns we’re facing, needing our attention? GN: The rapidly recognizable and growing divide of income inequality and social mobility in our state and nation is of great concern. It’s real. Alan Krueger referred to it as the “Great Gatsby Curve.” As everyone knows, we live in two different worlds in the same state - a coastal California and an inland California - we must reconcile this growing economic divide. As I tell my business colleagues, businesses can’t thrive in a world that’s failing and all of us are better off when everyone is better off.
SVL: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see happen these next four years? GN: I would like to see a 21st Century governing model based on openness, transparency and collaboration, a system that is designed for participation, two-way conversations and active engagement with citizens. I’d like to see a system that treats citizens as partners, not as subjects. Rather than doing things to you, we do things with you. An effective, flexible and accountable system of government where the short term interests of Sacramento do not get in the way of the long term interests of California.
SVL: Are you encouraged with politics in Sacramento? In Washington D.C.?
GN: If you are referring to our nation’s capital where ideas go to die, then absolutely not. I’ve always believed that if you don’t like the way things are going when you’re standing up, then stand on your head and go local. Remarkable things are happening at the local level. While Sacramento has had its struggles, in the past few years we’ve been able to turn things around. At the end of the day, however, I look for inspiration at the local levels. It’s bottom up, not top down; regions rising together.
SVL: What advice do you give to aspiring students, and young professionals, wanting to get ahead, wanting to make a difference?
GN: I would tell young professionals to learn from, don’t follow others. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Be open to argument and interested in evidence and not to be ideological. I would say that everyone’s expression is unique - no one else has it. Be sure to maintain your authenticity and stand on principal.
SVL: Who are some leaders we should be watching for who are doing great things?
GN: Mayor Greg Fisher of Louisville, Kentucky, is doing some extraordinary things with citizen engagement; having just met Malala Yousafzai, who is changing the world for women and girls, there is no question her influence is growing every day. One thing is clear, leadership can be found anywhere – in our schools, our churches, our community centers, not just in our state capitals or legislative chambers.
SVL: What is your definition of leadership?
GN: There is no better definition then the quote by John Quincy Adams, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Leaders are not born or “made,” they decide in a moment that now is the time to be and do more.
SVL: Are you an avid sports fan? Who do you root for? As Lieutenant Governor, who can you root for?
GN: I grew up a Bay Area sports fan watching the Warriors, 49ers, Raiders, A’s and Giants. I spent countless nights falling asleep to Giants.
SVL: If you were to have a dinner party and could invite anyone (living or not), who would you like to invite and what would you want to ask them or talk about?
GN: I would have Vaclav Havel, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Mother Teresa over and we’d talk about leadership. I envision the topic for the evening focusing on this question: “Which is more effective and long lasting, the application of one’s ‘moral authority’ or ‘formal authority’?”