Fact-Checking Gavin Newsom's State of the State Address

Standing on the field at Dodger Stadium, California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered the 2021 State of the State speech. Like most political speeches, it was long on rhetoric, and either ignored completely or glossed over challenging issues. Fortunately for Californians, who are weary of his long, coronavirus press conferences, the speech lasted less than 30 minutes. In that time, though, he was able to fit in a few whoppers and ignore at least two of the biggest failures of the first half of his term: the state’s inability to keep the power on during heat waves or wind storms, and the disastrous condition of the state’s Employment Development Department, which administers unemployment benefits.

Newsom started out with some rah-rah words for Californians and insisting that just as the state led on “gay rights, gun safety, and criminal justice reform,” it was now leading on combating COVID. Describing some of the most anti-Second Amendment laws in the country as leading on gun safety is certainly one way to put it, and describing out-of-control crime as criminal justice reform is bold, but both descriptions are in line with the governor’s insistence that California is leading on combating COVID.

Curiously, one of the first “accomplishments” related to Wuhan flu response Newsom listed was his highly-criticized mask deal.

While others competed to buy personal protective equipment at exorbitant prices—we quickly built our own pipeline, supplying critical gear to millions of essential workers.

That pipeline included a no-bid, $1 billion contract with Chinese company BYD for KN95 masks (not N95) Newsom announced on MSNBC on April 7, much to the surprise of the state’s legislators (who had not approved or even heard of the deal), even though there were manufacturers in California Newsom could have contracted with. It wasn’t until June 8 that the masks received NIOSH certification, and the $3.30/unit price Newsom had negotiated was much higher than the $0.79/unit price Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti paid domestic producer Honeywell in March.

We developed the most comprehensive COVID testing program in the country—including a first-in-the-nation state-run testing lab.

We enlisted additional health care workers to expand capacity. We readied our ICUs…

From the peak in early January, we’ve gone from reporting 53,000 COVID cases per day to 2,600. The positivity rate is down from 14 percent to just 2.1 percent today. Hospitalizations are down more than 80 percent since their peak. ICUs are down 77 percent.

Is a state-run testing lab really a great thing? When cases started to surge in November, sometimes it took a week to receive results (from personal experience); in that time, numerous people could have been infected.

Newsom might have enlisted additional health care workers to expand capacity and “readied” ICUs at the beginning of the pandemic, but neither were available when the delayed surge hit in November and December. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of 2018 California ranked 48th in the number of ICU beds per capita, and nothing was done to increase the number of beds available long-term. In the early days of the pandemic there was a field hospital available, and the USNS Mercy docked at San Pedro, but both of those resources were long gone by the time they were needed.

The number of cases reported per day has nothing to do with Gavin Newsom’s leadership or lack thereof. It’s the natural flow of the infectious disease, and would have peaked earlier without his interventions. It can be argued that if Newsom hadn’t kept the lockdowns going throughout 2020, ICU usage would have been more level throughout the summer and fall, and the dangerous spike in December wouldn’t have occurred.

All of which is why California’s death rate has remained one of the lowest per capita in the nation: 134 deaths per 100,000, compared to 158 nationally, 153 in Texas and 247 in New York.

According to CDC data, California has 137 deaths per 100,000, compared to 158 nationally. The state’s ranking of 29th out of the 50 states can’t credibly be viewed as “one of the lowest per capita in the nation.”

Now on to vaccine distribution. Newsom claims:

Today, we have the most robust vaccination program in America. California now ranks sixth in the world for vaccine distribution, ahead of countries like Israel, Russia, Germany and France.

I’m not sure where he got those metrics ranking California against other countries, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time looking. But I’m pretty sure he used them because the state’s ranking compared to other states is piss-poor. According to NPR, 18.5 percent of Californians had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of March 9. The state ranks 26th in the nation in terms of percentage of residents who’d received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state has distributed only 78 percent of the doses allocated and ranks 34th in the nation on that metric.

And tonight, I’m proud to report that California has administered nearly 11 million doses. That’s three million more than any other state.

Eleven million doses is impressive, but it’s still 18.5 percent of the state’s population, and considering that California has 10 million more people than Texas, the next most populous state, and 18 million more than Florida, the third most populous state, having vaccinated three million more people than any other state isn’t a huge accomplishment.

First, we will make sure every Californian who needs a vaccine can get one. In our state, your access to the vaccine must not depend on who you know. We prioritize those who are at the greatest risk and with greatest exposure to the virus. We don’t just talk about vaccine equity—we designed our entire system around it.

But that system has failed. As the LA Times reported, access codes meant for “residents of underserved Black and Latino areas” were used by “white” people who were “not essential workers” and didn’t live in those ZIP codes. Newsom himself said that when he visited a vaccination center in Boyle Heights, a rough neighborhood just outside downtown Los Angeles, it “pretty clear” that “not everyone was from that community,” whatever that means.

And just today, a vaccine clinic in Pasadena had to be canceled because nearly two-thirds of the 1,500 available slots – which were reserved for people 65 and older and essential workers living in Pasadena – had been “booked by people who worked in the news media and in Hollywood, including at production companies, streaming TV services, news outlets and on the sets of soap operas.”

Ah, yes. Many of the same people who were probably seal-clapping through Newsom’s speech.

The entire next section of Newsom’s speech has to do with income inequality, joblessness, education losses and disparities, and challenges with people making rent. While California’s economy was challenging for working class families even before coronavirus hit, Newsom’s unscientific and unpredictable response to the pandemic created even greater problems.

Now he’s proposing “solutions” to these issues he created, and wanting a gold star for it. So it’s difficult to fact-check this section for two reasons. First, these are proposals that are subject to the whims of the California Legislature and their bosses, the unions, and could change significantly before being signed into law. Second, why should Newsom get any credit for fixing a problem he created (assuming the problem is actually fixed)?

And on at least one environmental issue, wildfires, Newsom is finally allowing some of the measures rational people have long argued are necessary to both prevent and lessen the intensity/destructiveness of wildfires.

This year, we are budgeting more than $1 billion for fire prevention, including fuel breaks, forest health, and home hardening.

We forged a historic partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to radically ramp up forest management efforts.

We are reducing barriers on hundreds of fuel reduction projects and prescribed burns. We added 30 new fire crews and pre-positioning assets, new C-130s, Blackhawk helicopters, and radar technology.

Hmm, nothing about working with the state’s power providers to increase capacity to prevent rolling blackouts or when the thermometer inevitably hits the triple digits next summer. Nothing about working with those same providers to loosen environmental barriers to allow them to modernize their equipment post-haste, so communities aren’t hit with days-long power outages when the Santa Ana winds blow. In my community, some neighborhoods have had more than 20 days without power since November. Seriously. Twenty days. Three or four days in a row at times, including on Thanksgiving Day.

But instead of focusing on fixing this here-and-now issue, Newsom crows about his executive order “requiring all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035.”

After noting that 24 of 58 counties (which only represent 20% of the state’s population) have moved out of the most restrictive lockdown tier, Newsom touts the “financial relief” the state is just now going to provide to its residents.

As we safely re-open, we are also providing financial relief. A few weeks ago, we took action to bring immediate stimulus to millions of Californians.

We just directed $7.6 billion back to hard-working Californians and small businesses hit hardest by COVID. We didn’t wait for Washington, we acted with urgency.

On this topic, too, Newsom ignores two massive, extremely public, failures: the fact that more than 100,000 Californians had to wait until January to receive pandemic unemployment benefits from the EDD and some still haven’t received benefits, and the fact that the department sent “billions of dollars in unemployment funds to prison and jail inmates in one of the biggest fraud schemes in the state’s history.” If and when those failures are addressed, no doubt Newsom will expect a gold star for that, too.

The special mix of audacity, human capital, and creativity found only in California means there’s literally no better place to do business.

California is where garages are the launch pads for world-changing industries and anyone with the telltale tenacity of a small business owner can create their own California Dream. But only if we nurture them.

That’s why we’re providing the largest small business grant fund in the nation. $2.6 billion in grants of up to $25,000 for small businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic.

At one time, world-changing industries were launched from California’s garages, but that was decades ago. At one time, Californians like Walt Disney, who had a special mix of audacity and creativity, could conceive an entire world in their imagination – and then bring it to fruition. The California that produced Walt Disney barely exists in 2021, and the dreams of small business owners are anything but nurtured by Newsom’s monstrous machine.

Thousands of business owners who’ve chosen to – reluctantly – leave the state in the past two years would disagree with Newsom that “there’s literally no better place to do business.” To simply open a business, one must navigate a burdensome and expensive bureaucracy, and LLC’s and corporations are subject to a $800 a year minimum fee, right out of the gate. Then, one must have the proper licenses and permits, and depending upon where the business is located, the owner could be subject to state, county, city, and even special district licenses. It would take an entire series of articles to document all of the ways California is not business-friendly, but all one has to do is look at the statistics and listen to the business leaders who left the state.

On the education issue, again Newsom is excited to announce potential solutions to problems he created. There is no reason California’s schools couldn’t have returned to at least a hybrid learning model back in late August/early September.

There’s nothing more foundational to an equitable society than getting our kids safely back into classrooms. Remote learning has exacerbated the gaps we have worked so hard to close.

Our kids are missing too many rites of passage: field trips, proms, graduation….

Look, Jen and I live this as parents of four young children. Helping them cope with the fatigue of “Zoom school.” The loneliness of missing their friends. Frustrated by emotions they don’t yet fully understand.

Sheesh. Where to start with this one? Until a few weeks ago, Newsom was completely uncaring in his comments about returning to school. Everything was about listening to the science. Missing from his comments were any kind of empathy for the emotional toll the lockdowns have taken on the state’s children.

He notes the “rites of passage” kids are missing and say that he and his wife “live this as parents of four young children”? First, kids are missing more than “rites of passage.” Do any of Newsom’s kids have physical, emotional, or learning disabilities? Do they have IEP’s or 504 Plans or require special accommodations? I could be wrong, but I don’t think they do. Children with special needs have been greatly harmed. Some students with ongoing mental health issues aren’t even here anymore to celebrate a return to school, because they took their own lives. Here’s what happened with some other students who simply “missed some rites of passage.”

Interestingly, after a group this coach belongs to, Let Them Play CA, filed suit against Newsom over the ongoing restrictions on youth sports, “The Science” magically allowed Newsom to ease those restrictions. It’s magical!

And, Newsom’s kids have been in school for this entire school year. Physically in school. Private school.

Homelessness has been a major problem in California for at least the last five years, but has grown exponentially during the lockdowns. Newsom claims:

Project Roomkey, launched in April, has provided over 35,000 homeless Californians with safe shelter from COVID.

And Homekey, launched in July, created more than 6,000 new permanent housing units during the pandemic, buying hotels and motels and converting them at a third of the cost of traditional supportive housing.

We did this cheaper and faster than homeless housing has ever been built in California history, literally rewriting the book on how to tackle homelessness.

Libby Denkman, a reporter with California’s KPCC, added the rest of the story to Newsom’s claims.

“In Los Angeles County, local officials pledged to get 15,000 people off the street using Project Roomkey hotel rooms.

“At its peak, however, the program had about 4,300 people indoors in L.A. County at one time, and it was criticized for a lack of next-steps to find more permanent housing. The hotel purchase program, Homekey, isn’t ramping up fast enough to serve most people leaving Roomkey hotel rooms — and often moving back onto the street.”

And in San Francisco, Project Roomkey has been an unmitigated disaster. So even if these programs have been implemented “cheaper and faster” than before, if the projects still fail, does it really matter?

Newsom couldn’t resist hurling insults at the more than 2 million Californians who have signed a petition seeking his recall:

The state of our state remains determined. I remain determined!

We won’t change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers.

So to the California critics, who are promoting partisan power grabs and outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California great, we say this: we will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again.

Recall proponents will be happy to hear that, after a year, Newsom won’t be distracted from doing his job. But it might be too late.

Watch his entire speech here: