Gavin Newsom’s Trojan Horse

gavin newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
September 20, 2022

Gavin Newsom, the California governor who is ostensibly focused on his reelection this fall, is also the Democrat most obviously positioning himself to run for president in 2024 or 2028, whenever Joe Biden steps aside. Indeed, Newsom’s ambitions have become practically impossible to ignore over the last several months, telegraphed via a barrage of shit-kicking policy moves and unnecessary political stunts that have enlarged his national profile—from running ads in Texas and Florida attacking G.O.P. governors to erecting billboards in red states promoting California’s abortion services to narcing on Ron DeSantis for shipping migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. “All I can say is, I think his hair gel is interfering with his brain function,” DeSantis shot back. Newsom, who insists he has “sub-zero” interest in running for president, responded by challenging him to a primetime, televised debate. 

But the Newsom maneuvering that has Silicon Valley insiders buzzing these days is the position he has taken to align himself with some of the state’s biggest tech donors against a nominally pro-climate, anti-billionaire tax being promoted by one of the state’s biggest tech companies. Not only is the Democratic governor attaching his brand to the state’s moderate business community, but Newsom has also made himself the star of the deepening internecine spat, in which Silicon Valley has gone to war with itself over a ballot measure that would jack up taxes on wealthy Californians to further subsidize the electric vehicle industry.  

On one side of the divide is the ride-sharing company Lyft, which has invested a substantial $25 million into supporting the November ballot initiative. Proposition 30, which would hit anyone making more than $2 million a year, has some token support from liberal machers like Ron Conway and Tom Steyer, but Lyft effectively sponsored the measure, and it is Logan Green, the company’s affable, very un-Travis Kalanick-like founder-C.E.O., who has been wrangling support for the measure behind the scenes, I’m told—petitioning other tech companies and high-net-worth types to join in, making fundraising calls, bugging other tech leaders to sign on, and hosting policy briefings. Still, 97 percent of the money raised by the “Yes” team so far comes from Lyft, which says it’s backing the measure primarily to incentivize E.V. usage. Newsom contends that Green’s real goal is to trick taxpayers into covering Lyft’s costs to meet the state’s new E.V. mandate.