A rapt, packed room applauded California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom during his appearance at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 20.  Other politicians might have struggled to fill half the room.

Though he’s from a family with influential contacts, Newsom acheived his celebrity first because of his work as an entrepreneur, then as a politician.  Although his good looks garnered him attention, his policies and stances brought him admiration.  Newsom had already been on many a To-Watch list prior to his issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples in 2004 despite what state law had to say about it.

Newsom said he wasn’t asked about gay marriage on the campaign trail but felt a need to do something about it, just a month into his mayoralty.

He described how he requested the clerk’s office open early on February 12, 2004, after his greenlighting of gay marriage.  At 9:01AM he pronounced Dorothy Louise Taliaferro “Del” Martin and married.  Other couples asked, “What about us?”  In all, San Francisco issued 4,036 licenses to gay couples from 48 states and seven countries.

Despite being a lightning rod of the gay marriage issue, Newsom said he had to rely on Nancy Pelosi to get him a ticket to the current Supreme Court proceedings.  The former Speaker of the House’s brother-in-law was married to Newsom’s aunt.

Some of the unprinted details Newsom provided:

  • Judge Clarence Thomas stared at the ceiling during most of the court session with a disgusted expression.
  • Scalia was “his usual self.”
  • Newsom was less confident about the outcome by the end of the day than when he first walked into the court, after the lawyers were asking questions he didn’t count on.

Newsom quoted Martin Luther King in explaining why he took a stand: “It was the right time to do the right thing.”

Newsom was there to promote his book “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.”  In responding to a question about why he didn’t write a memoir, he said that most people would have reacted to a political memoir with, “big deal.”

His book details a reinvention of political thinking not only from politicians but citizens as well.  Advocating an “active not inert” citizenship, Newsom said the public must challenge politicians to enter the digital age, hold true to transparency, and forego treating citizens like subjects.

One of his contentions is that the public rewards bad behavior in office more than risk taking.  Newsom relayed that as SF mayor, he kept a packed day bag in the mayor’s office, waiting for some fateful phone call.  It never came.

The Lt. Governor also favored the crowd with a humorous impression of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The tech-savvy Newsom is keenly aware of the populist sentiment sweeping the nation side-by-side with the digital age, and is upfront about his personal failings to live up to his own standards.  Newsom certainly has garnered press for his celebrity divorce, his talk show, his affair with the wife of his campaign manager, and his political missteps, including what amounted to a seven-point-five hour state-of-the-city address on YouTube.

While those incidents may have grabbed attention, Newsom’s hope is that his attentiveness to the people who elected him brings him serious appreciation.

 

–Ken Choy

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