Like his predecessor Jerry Brown, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is trapped between his base and reality as he considers vetoing legislation requiring Trump's tax returns before he'll be allowed on the ballot in 2020, a bill that Newsom fear will only piss off Republicans and get nuked by SCOTUS.
Gavin Newsom has spent the first six months of his governorship positioning himself as the West Coast anti-Trump while taking pains to distinguish himself from his legendary predecessor, Jerry Brown.
Those two strands intersect in a piece of legislation sitting on Newsom's desk that would compel President Donald Trump and other presidential candidates to release their tax returns if they want to appear on California ballots.
Although going after Trump is typically political gold for Newsom, the bill — which Brown vetoed in 2017 — poses a tricky balancing act for the rookie governor: Signing it would shore up Newsom’s base and boost his national profile within the Democratic Party, with other Democratic-led states following his lead. But doing so may rile up dormant California Republicans, and fray Sacramento’s relationship with the Trump administration, which Newsom has tried to keep functional despite bitter disputes over everything from immigration to auto emissions policy.
And while Brown was no fan of Trump, the former governor contended that compelling the release of tax returns could be unconstitutional, and cautioned that signing the bill would launch a political standoff into unknown territory, like requiring candidates’ birth certificates, health records or report cards.
“It’s really going to gin up the Trump base, which could affect congressional candidates and legislative candidates [in California],” said Dana Williamson, a former political adviser to Brown. “From a purely political standpoint, the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.”
Newsom rose to the governorship after spending two terms as California’s lieutenant governor — a position that’s elected independent of the governor, not appointed. While his office was mere feet from Brown’s, the wily veteran Brown and the ascendant young Newsom had a famously chilly relationship.
Newsom has until Tuesday to decide.
He is still weighing his next step, saying this week that he was “deeply analyzing” the bill. Speaking on the sidelines of a National Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake City, Newsom said the measure’s constitutionality was “an open-ended question.”
“Some may see it as symbolic. I think it now appears to be much more substantive,” Newsom told POLITICO. The legislation is focused on primaries, so, he said, “at the end of the day, the president will end up on the November ballot regardless, and the likelihood of the taxes being released is questionable.”
The fact is Trump can make millions of Californians suffer if he wants to, and Newsom passing this bill will only assure that Trump retaliates with real lives on the line who will be affected. It's one thing to stand up to a bully and punch him in the mouth. It's another entirely to telegraph a swing that will never land, so the bully can get in a free hit or three.
Besides, SCOTUS will have the bill struck down before California's primary season, I guarantee. This game is rigged, and Newsom is correct in choosing not to play.