Editorial: California Gov. Gavin Newsom trounced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on his own turf

McClatchy California Editorial Boards, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Op Eds

Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas it was not.

Thursday night’s debate between two of America’s best-known governors — Democrat Gavin Newsom of California and Florida Republican Ron DeSantis — was intended to be a prime-time look at the sharp red-blue political divide in this nation.

But host Sean Hannity and Fox News executives set up the questions for issues that painted California, and by extension Newsom, in the worst way.

Given that he had to play defense throughout, Newsom carried himself well, calling out hypocrisy and inaction by DeSantis and Republicans.

He rightfully pointed out California’s economic “domination” nationally, as the state has the world’s fifth largest economy.

On DeSantis’ frequent claims that Florida is a state of personal freedom, Newsom countered that DeSantis signed a bill this year banning abortion in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy. It is one of the most restrictive laws in the nation. Where is freedom for the women in your state, Newsom asked DeSantis.

On border security, DeSantis criticized President Biden’s policies as leading to rampant illegal immigration. Newsom pointed out how Biden has proposed a $14 billion plan that includes hiring 2,300 more border agents. Republicans in Congress are not acting on it. GOP leaders like DeSantis, Newsom said, “want to demagogue this issue, they don’t want to solve this issue.

“You hear nothing from Ron DeSantis and nothing from the Republican party.”

When DeSantis claimed Californians are fleeing the state and moving to Florida because of crime, Newsom cited DeSantis for signing a law that lets residents carry concealed firearms without first getting government approval. That means felons don’t undergo background checks for gun purchases, Newsom said.

On immigration, Newsom has increased protections for undocumented people, and California was the first state to provide health benefits to those without documentation. DeSantis chartered flights to ferry undocumented people from Florida to sanctuary cities, including Sacramento.

Newsom blasted DeSantis for such an effort. “That kind of gameship, using human beings as pawns, I think is disqualifying,” he said.


He leveled his sharpest criticism of DeSantis’ efforts to remove any teaching about LGBTQ+ people in society from Florida’s education.

Newsom backs a state law that requires schoolchildren receive instruction that explains the role and contributions of LGBTQ+ Americans, and he signed legislation that allows fines for any districts banning state-approved textbooks for how they portray LGBTQ+ people.

DeSantis approved a law that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade. He also promotes a version of American history that de-emphasizes how past injustices, such as slavery, have impacts still experienced today. A favorite slogan of DeSantis is that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

Newsom said Florida has banned 1,406 books, including ones by such mainstream authors as Toni Morrison. “You are using education as a sword for your cultural purge,” Newsom said to DeSantis. “I don’t like the way you demean people. I find it fundamentally offensive.”

Newsom willing to debate again

The governors continually talked over each other, making it difficult to follow answers. When viewers could hear the governors’ responses, they did offer widely contrasting views of how government should work in the U.S.

DeSantis, 45, is running now for the 2024 Republican nomination and the chance to become the 47th president. The 56-year-old Newsom may seek the Democratic nomination if he runs for president in 2028. Debates can create lasting impressions for voters. Whether Thursday’s made-for-Fox News event does so for either man remains to be seen. But in a setting designed to make him look bad, Newsom more than held his own and clearly stung DeSantis when he reminded him that he is hopelessly trailing former President Donald Trump in the polls.

“Why don’t you give (former South Carolina governor) Nikki Haley a chance and drop out,” Newsom said dryly to DeSantis, whose facial expression showed he was clearly wounded by Newsom’s remark. Soon thereafter, Newsom was praising DeSantis and his family. The Florida governor did not return the compliments.

Hannity offered both governors the chance to do another debate, and Newsom readily agreed. His willingness is a necessary step toward piercing the one-sided stream of information that Fox News viewers get every day. On DeSantis’ home turf, Newsom routed him even though the deck was stacked against him.

When Newsom said DeSantis will be dropping out of the GOP presidential race to endorse Trump, it sounded about right.

©2023 The Sacramento Bee. Visit at sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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