Gavin Christopher Newsom

40th Governor, Democrat

Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 6, 2023

Time has done its usual trick on me.

It says it has been four years since I stood in the shadow of this Capitol and delivered my first inaugural address.

Four years, disaster and plague, they bend the clock in strange ways.

It feels like both a flash, and an eternity.

In the longest hours of my first term, trying to plot a course through pandemic, wildfire, mass shootings, and social unrest … I found myself looking backward, as much as I was looking forward.

I recalled the late-1970s, when I was 10 or 11 years old, a child of divorce and dyslexia, trying to find my bearings.

I was a kid, traveling back and forth across the Golden Gate Bridge, between the two very different lives of my mother and father.

I couldn’t read, and was looking for any way to ditch classes. I’d fake stomach aches and dizziness. I’d bite down on the thermometer in the nurse’s office trying to make the temperature rise past 100.

My mom, busy juggling three jobs, had no patience for a truant.

My father, the judge, guilty because he had left us, was an easier touch.

I remember one time during the middle of school, when he picked me up in his Volkswagen bug, and took me to San Francisco’s Chinatown.

On its face, this was a mission for food.

But I didn’t understand back then, it was also HIS mission, to give me a slice of San Francisco, our place, and the story of California.

We crossed one of the many demarcations in the city, and suddenly we had entered another realm.

Through the gate at the intersection of Bush and Grant, my eyes and nose took it all in.

Pagoda-style storefronts. Red lanterns hanging from above. Giant statues of Buddha in the windows. Roasted duck. Fresh baked cookies.

My father wasn’t content with just showing me the unfamiliar. He wanted me to see past the façade, to the people themselves.

The humble entrepreneurs and immigrant parents, building better lives for their kids. To the journey that had brought them to enrich our city – and our state.

This was the same California that drew my great, great grandparents from County Cork in Ireland to start a new life during the first years of California’s statehood.

William Newsom the first, became a beat cop in San Francisco. And the Newsoms began to plant roots as working-class Irish, in a land where anything was possible.

The journey from policeman to politician took 150 years.

My wife Jennifer, the First Partner, is the second in her family to be born in the Golden State.

My children – Montana, Hunter, Brooklyn, and Dutch – now 5th generation Californians.

And all of you here today. No two California origin stories are the same, but we share aspirations, and ambitions.

These ties bind us, sometimes unknowingly, to our state’s past – and to each other.

I remember hot summer days with my dad, riding a raft down wild stretches of the American River. Those cold waters were the same ones where James Marshall found gold nuggets that would sell the California Dream to the world, and alter the course of American history.

But I’m mindful that there’s another side to that story, not the fairytale.

California’s statehood, after all, was also sealed with a brutal genocide against native people.

Reconciling that complexity has always guided my own understanding of myself, and of the state that I love so deeply.

The shameful chapters of our history do not lessen my love for my home state. They make it more complicated, yes, deeper, richer, and serve as a reminder that we can always become better.

The California that beckoned my forebears 170 years ago had a population of 93,000. Today, we’re nearly 40 million strong, each with our own California story.

I hear the echoes of my own family’s story in those who are still coming to California to pursue their dreams, drawn by the myth and magic of this place.

I hear the echoes in the stories of migrants that cross our southern border seeking something better.

In people who come from every continent on earth to flee political persecution, or from other states to educate themselves in our world-class universities, to start businesses that support their families, or change the world.

Whether your family came here for work, or for safety, California offered freedom to access it, not contingent on you looking a certain way, talking a certain way, thinking a certain way.

And that’s what makes California special – it’s in our genes. We’re a state of dreamers and doers. Bound by our live-and-let-live embrace of personal freedom.

But like I’ve said, we’ve made mistakes … Lord knows we’ve made our share.

Let’s not forget, the Chinatown I visited as a boy is a remnant of the bigotry of agitator Denis Kearney, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1880s.

Tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were interned right here during World War II.

In the post-war era, as California’s suburbs grew, the racist practice of exclusionary zoning took hold, denying Black, Asian, Armenian and Latino residents the right to live on the good side of town and build wealth.

This planted the seeds of the housing and homeless crisis we face today.

Even California indulged homophobic hate at the ballot box, with the Briggs Initiative – the 1970s version of “Don’t Say Gay.”

And of course, the 1990s brought a wave of anti-immigrant xenophobia, manifesting in Proposition 187.

These are dark moments in California’s journey. But in the end, we confronted our errors with humility and conviction, paving the way for rights and freedom to prevail.

Every day, California commits itself to the process of getting it right for the next generation.

In nearly 30 years in politics, I have had the opportunity to see this process firsthand, learning as we go, and etching these learnings on the consciousness of a country that perhaps hasn’t yet caught up.

When we started issuing same-sex marriage licenses in San Francisco in 2004, it felt as if history moved at light-speed, in the right direction, decades of advocacy culminating in that beautiful Winter of Love.

But that victory, to expand rights and freedom to marry, was snatched away by a backlash that resulted in Proposition 8.

Eventually, after many setbacks, and many steps forward, just a few weeks ago, President Biden signed legislation enshrining the freedom to marry.

That has been the story of progress throughout our history.

It is not always easy, and not always linear.

But in the end, the verdict is clear – expanding rights is always the right thing to do.

And yet, there are still forces in America that want to take the nation backward.

We saw that two years ago, on this day, when the unthinkable happened at a place most Americans assumed was invincible.

An insurrectionist mob ransacking a sacred pillar of our democracy, violently clashing with sworn officers upholding the rule of law.

Just like the brave men and women whose heroism we inscribe, here on our own Peace Officers’ Memorial.

Since that terrible day, we’ve wrestled with what those events say about us as a country.

The ugliness that overflowed on January 6th, 2021, was in fact decades in the making. Fomented by people who have a very different vision of America’s future.

Red state politicians, and the media empire behind them, selling regression as progress, oppression as freedom.

And as we know too well, there is nothing original about their demagoguery.

All across the nation, anxiety about social change has awakened long-dormant authoritarian impulses.

Calling into question what America is to become, freer and fairer … or reverting to a darker past.

Instead of finding solutions, these politicians void of any new ideas, pursuing power at any cost, prey upon our fears and paranoias.

“The struggle to be who we ought to be,” as a nation is difficult and demanding.

And that’s why we should be clear-eyed about their aims.

They’re promoting grievance and victimhood, in an attempt to erase so much of the progress you and I have witnessed in our lifetimes.

They make it harder to vote and easier to buy illegal guns.

They silence speech, fire teachers, kidnap migrants, subjugate women, attack the Special Olympics, and even demonize Mickey Mouse.

All camouflaged under a hijacking of the word “freedom.”

But what they really want is more control – intrusive government, command over your most intimate decisions – when to have a family, how you raise your kids, how you love.

While they cry freedom, they dictate the choices people are allowed to make. Fanning the flames of these exhausting culture wars. Banning abortion, banning books, banning free speech in the classroom, and in the boardroom.

They sell fear and panic when it comes to crime and immigration.

But they sell calm and indifference when the threat is greenhouse gases destroying our planet, or big oil raking in windfall profits at your expense.

But California offers reason for hope.

“There is no soil better adapted” to liberty and opportunity – the sense of possibility, than here in our home state.

Now, the fourth largest economy in the world.

The most venture capital and startups in America.

Leading the world in the transition to a low-carbon, green growth future.

An advanced industrial economy in biotherapeutics, genomics. Aerospace and battery storage.

High-speed internet connecting the Central Valley to the Central Coast.

Rebuilding roads from Yreka to San Ysidro.

Providing clean water from Colusa to Coachella.

A new Cal Poly in Humboldt, conveying more scientists, engineers, researchers, Nobel laureates than any other state.

Debt free college for hundreds of thousands of students…

And the largest state volunteer corps in America.

I am mindful, though, that California, like the nation, is two rivers at once, a mix of light and shadows.

So as we go forward, we must continue our quest for an honest accounting of where we’ve fallen short: on affordability, on housing, on homelessness.

In our pursuit of belonging, and equal justice, California must be the enduring proof of concept.

We must reconcile our shortcomings. Bring everyone along in our prosperity.

After all, a healthy democracy must be inclusive.

Government by the people and for the people, requires people willing to fight to protect and advance it.

Just like Californians did last year, when we overwhelmingly voted to enshrine reproductive rights into our State Constitution.

We chose choice.

In our finest hours, California has been freedom’s force multiplier. Protecting liberty from a rising tide of oppression taking root in statehouses.

Weakness, masquerading as strength. Small men in big offices.

More than any people, in any place, California has bridged the historic expanse between freedom for some, and freedom for all.

We open our arms not clench our fists. We turn our gaze upward, not inward.

Freedom is our essence, our brand name – the abiding idea that right here, anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything.

We’ve overcome the destructive impulses of extremism, racism, and nativism.

And shown the rest of America it’s not only achievable – it’s undeniable.

Going forward, California will continue to lead out loud, by advancing a far-reaching freedom agenda.

A full-throated answer to those demagogues of division, determined to regress and oppress.

Freedom for teachers to teach, free of litmus tests about their political party, or the person they love.

Freedom to access health care for all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.

Freedom from Big Pharma’s grip, competing head-on by manufacturing our own life-saving drugs.

Freedom to vote without intimidation, with results decided by the people, not the politicians.

The battle lines are drawn. And yes, once again, it’s time for choosing.

Let’s not forget that policies that started here that were once considered nothing more than romantic possibilities have now become commonplace across the other 49 states.

California “lights out the territory for the rest.”

That’s what we do best. Giving shape to the future – molding the character of the nation.

Just like those rivers that sculpted so many of California’s deepest valleys.

The places of my childhood memories. Those rafting and camping trips with my dad. Falling in love with California. Over and over again.

My father died shortly after I was elected governor in 2018. He never got to see his son assume the office.

Nor did my mother Tessa, who died just before I became Mayor of San Francisco.

Their dreams, their spirit, their love of California, is with me every day.

Just as they were last year, when I found myself with the leaders of California’s most populous tribe, the Yurok. Floating down another great river, the Klamath, in a traditional dugout canoe.

We stopped for dinner on the riverbank and prepared salmon smoked on redwood, over a traditional firepit.

The bark infused flavor into the fish, imparting a taste familiar to the Yurok people stretching back to their earliest ancestors.

Just a few weeks ago, I returned to the Klamath and met with Yurok, Karuk, and Klamath tribal leaders.

This time, to celebrate the removal of four dams … America’s largest dam removal project in history.

Setting the river free once more, restoring natural salmon runs and in so doing, righting a historical wrong.

Because this is what California does. And it’s what I’ve dedicated my life to.

Standing up for ideals, striking out against injustice.

After all, history reminds us that each of us will be judged … and ultimately judge ourselves, to the extent we contribute, as Bobby Kennedy said, to the life of our cities, our state, our nation, and the world we are trying to build.

That brings me back to time.

Time is undefeated, it is relentless.

So in our fleeting moment, we must fight against our worst impulses, and find our better angels.

Because at the end of the day, our lives are just too short, our wisdom too limited, to win fleeting victories at other people’s expense.

We must all triumph together.

Thank you.