Gavin Newsom says he's taking a road trip through red states to fight the policies and 'anger machine' of DeSantis and other GOP governors

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom is traveling to red states to tout the progressive agenda.

  • In an interview with Insider in Florida, he reserved his harshest criticism for DeSantis.

  • "They're rewarded for bad behavior, and I find it repugnant," Newsom said.

PALM BEACH, Florida — Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California already had a plan in the works to go on offense against Republican governors.

He'd grown increasingly alarmed by efforts in GOP-led states to ban abortion, constrain LGBTQ rights, control what schools teach, and make it easier to get guns, he told Insider in an interview.

But it was in the wake of yet another US mass shooting, Newsom said, that he couldn't take it any longer.

He called up the White House and the Democratic National Committee to alert them that the date for launching a new political group he'd told them about was now imminent. On March 30, he publicly rolled out the Campaign for Democracy, a political action committee that'll take his progressive message to red states.

While Newsom's effort is broadly focused on calling out GOP state policies, in his interview with Insider he reserved his harshest criticism for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who's widely expected to launch a bid for president in May or June, once the state's lawmaking session is over.

At the time of Newsom's interview with Insider, held Saturday, the Florida legislature had passed a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed firearm in public without a permit, and without training or a background check. By Monday, DeSantis signed the bill into law. It was just one week after the mass shooting at a Tennessee Christian school.

Newsom, who has signed a slew of firearms regulations into law in California, called GOP-backed looser gun laws "insanity" and pointed to data showing stricter gun laws result in fewer gun deaths.

He grew visibly emotional on the topic, calling Florida and California's approach to gun laws "light and darkness in terms of the 180-degree difference."

"Knowing what you're doing is going to harm people and put their lives at risk and still doing it — that says everything about the character, not just this elected official, and those that are complicit in the legislature here, but of our nation that we allow this," Newsom said. "It's our decisions that have allowed this; we are our behaviors."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, speaks during a press conference on September 28, 2022 in San Francisco, California.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, speaks during a press conference on September 28, 2022 in San Francisco, California.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republicans have an 'obsession with vulnerable communities,' Newsom said

Newsom's latest political effort is bankrolled by $10 million the governor had left over from his 2022 reelection campaign after he cruised to victory. Like DeSantis, Newsom will be term-limited out in 2026.

And like DeSantis, his name is often raised in the mix of people who could someday run for president. Newsom reiterated to Insider that he was supporting President Joe Biden for reelection and praised his "record of substantive accomplishments."

Still, the Campaign for Democracy could help boost Newsom's brand as a national leader and perhaps help to mount a presidential campaign in the future, or in case Biden opts not to run for some reason. Biden has said he intends to run for reelection, but hasn't made it official yet.

Newsom shared his policy perspectives with Insider in a meeting room at the oceanfront Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, where the Democratic Governors Association was having a conference. Newsom is the group's policy chair and was headed next on Campaign for Democracy-focused stops in red-state Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Newsom said he formed his group in response not just to DeSantis, but to GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Tate Reeves of Mississippi, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas. He singled out the first bill Huckabee Sanders signed into law when she took office, which bans the gender-neutral term "Latinx" from state documents.

The term comes from academia and isn't commonly used by Hispanic voters, but Democrats including Newsom say they see a broader undercurrent at play.

"It's folly — except it's real, it's happening," Newsom said. "There's this deep zest for demonization, of othering, and belittling. One thing they all have in common is an obsession with vulnerable communities, and exploiting vulnerable communities, and exploiting grievance. And they have an anger machine that amplifies it, and they're rewarded for bad behavior, and I find it repugnant."

Newsom has grown increasingly vocal against Republican states. Last year he ran an ad in Florida warning that "Freedom is under attack in your state." He encouraged Floridians to relocate to California in a direct messaging foil to DeSantis boasting about "the free state of Florida."

Newsom reiterated to Insider that he'd decided to run the ads after the DeSantis administration told the Special Olympics it would fine their organization $27.5 million if it didn't drop a COVID-vaccine mandate. DeSantis argued such mandates worked to "marginalize disfavored people."

It was part of a broader trend for DeSantis, who reopened Florida businesses and schools much earlier than other states during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid backlash and contrary to federal health guidelines, he also banned vaccine and mask mandates.

Those weren't the only actions that burnished DeSantis as a GOP darling with national name recognition. He restricted how teachers instruct about race, gender identity, and sexuality in public schools; pushed to ban transgender healthcare for minors; and limited corporations' sustainable investing.

Newsom said that he thought when people really looked at DeSantis, "it's not all it was hyped up to be," calling the DeSantis fights "remarkably un-substantive" and "un-American." He accused DeSantis of an "obsession with just demeaning minorities and women."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference on February 01, 2023 in Sacramento, California.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference on February 01, 2023 in Sacramento, California.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Newsom slams DeSantis for 'weakness'

Yet while DeSantis' policies have been controversial with Democrats, the Florida governor decidedly won reelection in November by a record 19 points. The win included a 14-point margin among Hispanic voters and a 7-point margin among women voters.

Republicans also have said that California isn't a model to emulate because of its housing prices, though California recently put a plan into effect to reduce the unhoused population. "There's a reason why Gavin Newsom never focuses on the problems he's caused in his own state," Huckabee Sanders' communications director Alexa Henning told Insider. "California residents are experiencing sky-high rent, but Governor Sanders is living rent-free in his head."

Asked to respond to Newsom's remarks, DeSantis' office pointed to a U-Haul study that showed California had the highest number of people moving out of state during 2022. Florida was the second most-moved to state, behind Texas, the study found. DeSantis has previously gloated that California is "hemorrhaging population."

But Newsom argued that the topic of state migration was more complicated. He raised a Moody's Analytics and Equifax study that showed for every six Californians who left for Florida, five moved in the other direction. The Los Angeles Times also reported that out-migration to other states was relatively small as a percentage of California's total population, and that people who move to California tend to be younger.

Another contributing factor, Newsom said, was that foreign immigration into California had been at low levels in part due to Trump's restrictive immigration policies.

Continuing his criticism of DeSantis, Newsom rebuked him for flying unsuspecting migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and for creating an elections police force. He said the actions were "performative" but also "very destructive."

"He's been selling strength, and yet you see it over and over again: weakness," Newsom said. The Florida governor recently has seen a drop in national polling in a hypothetical 2024 GOP presidential primary contest, while Trump has seen gains.

Newsom also bemoaned Florida's 15-week abortion law, which doesn't have exceptions for pregnancies that come as a result of rape or incest. A bill is making its way through the Florida legislature to ban abortion even further, limiting to just six weeks into a pregnancy.

Such policies are not "pro-life" or the definition of "freedom," Newsom said. He accused Republicans of believing "life is disposable when it comes to advancing a political career."

"I worry that it's building momentum in other states," Newsom said, "and that's why I think it's important to focus here, not just on what's going on in 2024 in the White House."

Read the original article on Business Insider