Analysis
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

(LifeSiteNews) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s national Campaign for Democracy aims, in its own words, “to go on OFFENSE against Republicans who work overtime to take away rights and dismantle our democracy.” He seeded the war chest of the new political action committee with $10 million of his own state campaign funds and recently visited the GOP-led states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Mississippi to mobilize support.

The Threats page of the PAC’s website calls Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “a cowardly bully who has gained political power by scapegoating minorities,” while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “is waging a full-scale assault on personal freedoms and rights in Texas.”

Newsom may have congressional seat envy. California lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to its declining population in the 2020 census, whereas Texas gained two seats and Florida gained one. Longtime residents of the San Francisco area, the wealthy parents of Newsom’s wife moved to Naples, Florida, in 2020 and have made political donations to DeSantis.

Businesses are also fleeing the state, partly due to high taxes and ever-increasing regulations. The conservative California Policy Center maintains a “Book of Exoduses” listing companies that have relocated their American headquarters to more hospitable destinations. Major corporate names that have thrown in the towel include Bechtel, Dole, Kelly-Moore, Kubota, Mitsubishi, Nestle, Oracle, Pabst, Tesla, Toyota, and the Raiders professional football team.

The Campaign for Democracy’s mission “is to confront and defeat unAmerican authoritarianism,” according to its website. “Across the country, extremist Republicans are systematically attacking the very foundations of a free society — bullying and criminalizing the most vulnerable, denying women equality and reproductive healthcare, attacking communities of color, dehumanizing immigrants seeking the American Dream, banning books and restricting speech, and undermining the most basic tenet of our democracy, the right to vote.”

Claims the site’s California Leadership page: “Red state politicians sell regression as progress and oppression as freedom. These demagogues promote grievance and victimhood, in an attempt to erase so much of the progress our country has made. But California offers an alternative path.”

However, conservative states will not be clamoring for Newsom’s elixir. Dubbing his recent road trip to the red states the Failures Tour, the California Republican Party countered that “the only things he can credibly teach them are how to have the nation’s highest gas prices, accrue a $30 billion deficit, close schools [during the pandemic] longer than any other state, welcome half of the nation’s unsheltered population, and motivate hundreds of thousands of residents to move away.”

via California Republican Party

Painting Republicans as the party of “grievance and victimhood” inverts reality, while the narrative of disappearing freedoms refers to newly manufactured rights rather than democratic liberties as traditionally understood. Examples include the “rights” of biological males to use female restrooms and play women’s sports, and of minors to get abortions or “change” their gender without parental notification or consent.

The claim that red states are banning books similarly mischaracterizes the right of parents to protect their children in public schools from history textbooks promoting identity politics, as well as from pornographic, sexually deviant literature.

READ: California finally drops state-enforced COVID mandates for healthcare workers

California restricts the freedom of speech of crisis pregnancy centers and the freedom of assembly near abortion clinics of pro-life advocates. “Conversion therapy” to help minors struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction has been banned there for a decade. Once models of free speech, the state’s woke universities now enforce the liberal dogmas of race theory and gender theory, silencing dissent as they push the envelope on political correctness and cancel culture.

Freedom of religion was extinguished during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial complete closure of churches was especially hard on Catholics and other Christians who place central focus on liturgy and sacraments. Public health authorities eventually permitted outdoor religious services, followed by indoor services at reduced seating capacity — but no physical contact and no singing.

California rolled out the nation’s earliest and strictest stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns for COVID, while aggressively enforcing mask mandates and pushing vaccines. The state’s already failing public schools delayed reopening due to resistance from the California Teachers Association, which wields heavy influence over the state Democratic Party (and opposes charter schools). Newsom’s plan to require COVID vaccination for the 6.7 million students in grades K-12 was dropped only in February.

The portrayal of California’s obvious decline as a success story is also audaciously misleading. Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature and can pass laws without any support from Republicans, who have not won a statewide race since 2006, when the politically moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected as governor. One-party rule has not served Californians well.

READ: California church ordered to pay $1.2 million for refusing to comply with COVID mask mandates

California is “headed to oblivion,” Victor Davis Hanson told an Epoch Times interviewer last year. “We took paradise, and we turned it into hell,” said Davis, a historian with the Hoover Institution and lifelong resident of the state. Exhibit A is San Francisco, a failed city that differs only in degree from Los Angeles and the state’s other metropolises.

Newsom, 55, was born in San Francisco and served as its mayor for seven years before becoming California’s lieutenant governor for two terms and being elected governor in 2018. Although raised Catholic, Newsom became known nationally in 2004 when, as San Francisco mayor, he directed staff to issue licenses for same-sex “marriages.” The unions were not legal at the time, and the licenses were later voided by the California Supreme Court.

The once-idyllic City by the Bay is today a dystopian hellscape, a byword for homelessness even in a state where the humanitarian catastrophe is widespread. Permanent encampments have produced a resurgence of medieval health conditions and comparisons with third-world politics. The SnapCrap app was developed to alert the city’s sanitation crews to the location of human feces requiring removal.

San Francisco’s surging homicide rate and rampant property crime have been exacerbated by the state’s zero-bail policies and moves to close prisons and grant early release to violent felons. Illegal drug use has been largely tolerated since the 1960s, but the sale of fentanyl in open-air markets and its public consumption has apparently gone too far. Last month Newsom directed the California Highway Patrol and the state’s National Guard to help combat the city’s deadly fentanyl crisis, though the crackdown “will not seek to criminalize those struggling with substance use.”

Shoplifting has been effectively decriminalized in San Francisco and across California. It is not uncommon to see shoplifters wheeling carts full of merchandise, often including alcohol, out of pharmacies and supermarkets unopposed. Store managers instruct staff not to intervene for reasons of safety and liability, knowing that prosecutors are unlikely to file charges even if police show up to make an arrest. National chains such as Walgreens, CVS, and Whole Foods Market have shuttered their San Francisco locations because they can’t turn a profit under such lawless conditions.

Holes in the door show where a women’s restroom sign was removed. (Photo by William Underwood.)

Partial decriminalization of prostitution has turned the state into a “predator’s paradise,” according to author Abigail Shrier. Exchanging sex for money is still against the law, but since January it has been legal to loiter with the intent to engage in prostitution. Sex trafficking and child prostitution have increased because police can no longer question women and juveniles forced into the activity, making it much harder to build cases against traffickers or help their victims.

More misguided policy is on the way. The California Family Council, a Christian advocacy group, tracks bills in the state legislature and mobilizes voters to contact lawmakers. Measures now being considered would further restrict the activities of pro-life pregnancy care centers, force foster parents to agree with LGBTQ ideology, and pressure judges to remove children from parents who will not affirm their transgender identity.

The Menstrual Equity for All Act would require public schools to stock free menstrual products in at least one men’s restroom. A Republican-sponsored bill to require school staff to notify a parent when a child identifies as their non-biological gender was killed without a committee hearing. The chairperson, a Democrat as with all legislative committees in Sacramento, explained that debating the bill “would potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth.”

“Can California Be Golden Again?” asked the City Journal public policy magazine in a 2023 special issue. “The Great Abdication,” an article by a Manhattan Institute researcher, argues that the state’s “public officials now favor the lawless and deviant over the law-abiding and hardworking.”

An article called “America’s Shadow Self” concludes: “Ruinous policies have transformed California from a symbol of progress to a cautionary tale for the nation.” Gavin Newsom won’t be using those talking points during his next trip to a red state.

William Underwood, Ph.D., is a writer whose family has lived in California since 1979.

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