Gavin Newsom Takes Over as California Governor and Pledges Fight for Equality

Gavin Newsom was sworn in as California’s 40th governor on Monday.

SACRAMENTO — Gavin Newsom was sworn in Monday as the 40th governor of California, ending the era of Jerry Brown with a broad promise of a more aggressive government that would turn its attention to the sharp economic disparities that have plagued this state.

Mr. Newsom stepped into the national spotlight as he took the oath just before noon from Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state’s chief justice. He pledged that California, the nation’s most populous state, would act as a barrier to policies being pushed by Republicans in Washington that he described as a threat to the state’s — and the nation’s — well-being.

“People’s lives, freedom, security, the water we drink, the air we breathe — they all hang in the balance,” Mr. Newsom told thousands of people sitting in tents that had been set up after the state capital was whipped by drenching rain and high winds. “The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”

Mr. Newsom did not mention President Trump by name in his 25-minute speech, but said that California would “offer an alternative to the corruption and incompetence in the White House.”

The new governor spoke, often vaguely, of the problems his state faced even during a time of prosperity. He pledged to start a “Marshall Plan” to combat the state’s housing and homelessness epidemic; to implement some sort of single-payer health care system; and to resolve issues of economic and educational inequality. He said these “serious challenges” had often been “deferred for too long.”

“Even in a booming economy, there is a disquieting sense that things are not as predictable as they once were,” he said. “That we must now run faster just to stay in place. Stagnant wages. Costs that keep rising — rent, utilities, visiting the doctor — the basics are increasingly out of reach. We face a gulf between the rich and everyone else — and it’s not just inequality of wealth, it’s inequality of opportunity.

“These aren’t merely policy problems,” he said. “They are moral imperatives. So long as they persist, we are all diminished.”

Mr. Newsom signaled the tone of his new administration moments after the ceremony concluded, as his office announced that he would sign an executive order to change how prescription drugs are purchased, consolidating Medi-Cal drug purchases and negotiations under the Department of Health Care Services. The administration said the intended goal was to give the state more bargaining power on behalf of Medi-Cal users.

The new governor also said he would propose in his new budget, due out later this week, mandating that all Californians obtain health care insurance, in direct response to the Republican tax bill last year that removed the mandate from the Affordable Care Act. Such a mandate in California would require approval of the Legislature, which is far from assured.

His office also announced that he would create a surgeon general position for the state by executive order. His aides said the governor’s first budget would seek to expand Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented youths up to age 26.

Mr. Newsom, 51, had been the state’s lieutenant governor — largely a ceremonial position — for eight years under Mr. Brown. Before that, he served as mayor of San Francisco, where he positioned himself, for the most part, on the liberal side of the spectrum. He was an early promoter of same-sex marriage and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

On Monday, he used his speech to laud Mr. Brown’s tenure; the mention of his predecessor’s name drew a standing ovation. But Mr. Newsom left little doubt that he had a broader view of government than the moderate Mr. Brown. The departing governor inherited a $28 billion deficit and left Mr. Newsom a $14 billion surplus; he also created an $18 billion so-called rainy day fund to help the state get through what is widely viewed as an inevitable coming recession.

Mr. Brown’s insistence on holding onto state revenues was a source of continued friction with Democratic allies in the Legislature, who wanted to use the money to restore spending cuts that had been in place during the Great Recession.

Mr. Newsom’s agenda is likely to be costly, and thus likely to face obstacles as the new governor prepares to offer a new budget. Mr. Brown, among others, has warned that California is heading into a recession, and there are concerns in the business community and among some moderate Democrats that the former San Francisco mayor might take a decidedly different approach to spending than Mr. Brown.

Anthony Rendon, the Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, said in an interview Monday morning that while he supported some of Mr. Newsom’s initiatives, he had strong reservations about raising taxes to pay for them, as Mr. Newsom’s aides have suggested.

“I’m not sure that folks are necessarily ready to run out and raise taxes again, particularly when we have an $18 billion budget reserve and things are going well,” he said. “So I’m not sure folks are all that excited about it.”

Mr. Rendon signaled his thoughts on how the political environment would change with a new governor in town, saying the $14 billion surplus that Mr. Brown had squirreled away should be spent “particularly on programs that make a difference in the long term.”

Mr. Newsom’s inauguration stood in sharp contrast to Mr. Brown’s inauguration. The state is in far better shape than it was at the time. Mr. Newsom’s speech was longer — Mr. Brown always made a point of keeping his inaugural speeches short.

The room on Monday was more energetic and spirited, powered along by a gospel choir that started the proceedings. And the crowd burst into laughter as Mr. Newsom’s youngest son, Dutch, 2, bounded onto the stage and leapt into his father’s arms.

It was a reminder of how life was going to change in Sacramento after the tenure of Mr. Brown, 80, who got married in 2005 and never had any children. Now, four children — Brooklyn, Hunter, Montana, and the now-famous Dutch — will have their run of the stairways and chambers in the governor’s mansion, the home in which Mr. Brown spent time when his own father, Pat, was governor.

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