How I Will Become Governor
My interview with the Washington Post
The Washington Post has published an interview between me and politics reporter David Weigel, who publishes a blog called The Trailer.
The introduction is by Weigel.
by David Weigel
After California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) easily defeated a recall attempt last year, the state's best-known Republicans decided not to challenge him for a second term. Former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, who placed fourth on the recall ballot, ruled out another campaign. But when he was running, Faulconer held an endorsement event with Michael Shellenberger, an author who wasn't even a Republican, and had run for governor as a Democrat in 2018, getting less than 1 percent of the vote.
Shellenberger saw a different electoral landscape this year, and voters who might be open to the argument he made in his book San Fransicko — that well-intentioned progressive government had wrecked the state. With no party infrastructure, and no fundraising network, he's tried to turn the attention he was already getting as a frustrated ex-liberal, like interviews with Joe Rogan, into promotions for his campaign.
Shellenberger answered questions from The Trailer via email, and this is a lightly edited version of the conversation.
The Trailer: How do you win this race? What's your strategy for getting past the June primary and into the November runoff, and once there, your strategy for winning it?
Michael Shellenberger: A lot of people understandably think Gavin Newsom is unbeatable, but they’re wrong: He’s hugely vulnerable on homelessness. Sixty-six percent of voters say he’s doing a poor or very poor job on the issue, which is the top issue in the state. I will win by inspiring voters around my humanistic vision of solving the crisis by creating a cost-effective statewide psychiatric and addiction care system, a Shelter First, Housing Earned policy, and enforcing laws equally. Our polling shows that we draw equal support from Democrats, independents and Republicans alike, and so when I win, I’ll have a governing majority.
TT: Why, given that frustration with how the state is going, did Newsom defeat the recall so handily?
MS: Newsom defeated the recall because he didn’t face an opponent with a vision for solving the state’s biggest problems. I have that vision, not just on solving homelessness, but also on dramatically improving California’s schools through greater parental choice, and creating abundant energy, housing and water. So many of our problems are a result of artificial scarcity and the lack of vision and leadership to overcome it.
TT: Why did you run as a Democrat in 2018, and why are you running as an independent No Party Preference (NPP) candidate now?
MS: I was a lifelong Democrat until April of last year. I changed my party affiliation to independent because I was upset by the role my party had played in creating the homelessness crisis. It’s understandable that a lot of people think that if you’re not a Democrat then you must be a Republican, since it has seemed like those are the only two options, but there’s a third option, which is the vision I’m offering. We need tough love. We need carrots and sticks.
I voted for Joe Biden, but am very unhappy with his failure to lead the country. He promised to be a moderate president but instead sought a radical agenda that was out-of-step with what voters wanted. He could have won historic climate and energy legislation had he not put all of his eggs in the renewables basket. He should have included natural gas, which has helped cut U.S. emissions 22 percent between 2005 and 2020, and nuclear, a controversial technology but one that produces no air pollution or carbon emissions and is recognized by experts as necessary to decarbonize our economy. Biden could have created a broad coalition by endorsing some uses of natural gas and nuclear. He didn’t, and thus the bill failed.
TT: I've heard a lot about a State of Emergency on homelessness recently, especially from candidates for Los Angeles mayor who are promising to declare one. Can you lay out how it would work?
MS: It will be necessary to use them to shut down the open air drug scenes we mislabel “homeless encampments” and get people the shelter and medical care we need. Our efforts to create universal shelter, and medical treatment, will be the embryo of Cal-Psych, the statewide psychiatric and addiction care system we need, given the understandable failure of the counties to deal with the psychiatric and addiction disaster we call homelessness.
It may be that we will need to change the constitution in order to create Cal-Psych, in which case I will return to voters in 2024 with one or more ballot initiatives. But there is a lot we can do in the first two years through the highly selective use of emergency orders and legislation that we put in place working closely with the legislature.
TT: You've been critical of the plans Gov. Newsom announced to combat homelessness, as I understand it, because he's pledging more money without a unified statewide plan to tackle it. So what's wrong with his strategy?
MS: Newsom has spent the last 20 years advocating and implementing policies that made the open drug scenes, homelessness and crime crisis worse. Nobody has been a bigger champion of “Housing First” than Newsom, and yet it was obvious that simply giving away free apartment units to whoever demanded one was never going to work. Newsom pioneered the strategy of defunding shelters out of the notion that we could just put everybody into apartment units instead.
I will take responsibility for the crisis. I will create the statewide psychiatric and addiction care system we need. I will put in place a Shelter First, Housing Earned policy. It is our humanitarian duty, and legal obligation, as upheld by the Supreme Court, to provide clean, safe and basic shelter for all who need it. Housing must be earned through sobriety or other goals toward recovery and independence.
And I will make sure laws are being enforced equally and fairly, including laws against public camping, public drug use and public defecation, since law enforcement is necessary to have a functioning civilization, as well as to provide help to the people who need it. California already has drug courts and mental health courts but Newsom wants to create yet another mental health care system. We might need it or we might not, but it’s impossible to know so long as we don’t have a functioning mental health care system.
TT: How would the “citizens jury” on energy, one of your campaign planks, work? Who can become a member? How big is it? Is it advisory or would it have power to act?
MS: I was inspired by the citizens jury model I saw in South Korea. It’s not a substitute for the legislative process, which must also occur, but a way of broadening the conversation and turning down the temperature. Rising polarization and social media have made all sides too certain about their views and too dogmatic. A citizens jury would impanel several hundred representative citizens randomly selected to deliberate publicly on the big issues up and down the state over a period of a year, hearing from experts on all sides. It would then make recommendations.
Nobody is obligated to follow their recommendations, but I as governor, and I believe the legislature, as well as the news media, would all take them very seriously, since they could be the basis for a new consensus approach to the things that the legislature has struggled to gain consensus on like education, housing, energy, water and homelessness.
TT: Did you vote to legalize marijuana in California? How has the overall trend toward decriminalization and harm reduction — for other, more dangerous drugs — affected the state?
MS: I voted first to medicalize and then decriminalize, and support the decriminalization of marijuana and other psychedelics, but not hard drugs, for medical and spiritual use. I support the reform of Proposition 47, which decriminalized hard drugs and the shoplifting of items valued under $950. That proposition undermined the ability of law enforcement to shut down open drug scenes and get addicts the care they need.
We need to regulate alcohol and marijuana alike in ways that prioritize public health over private profit. Increasing the availability, lowering the cost and promoting the use of drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, increases their use, and so restrictions on alcohol and marijuana sales and promotion make good sense. There is always the risk that if you make marijuana too expensive, through taxes or regulation, you’ll increase black market demand, and thus aid the hard drug trade, so we need to find the right balance. But I strongly favor restrictions on marijuana marketing, particularly marketing aimed at young people, such as flavored vapes and edibles. We should consider limits on potency.
And we should consider the positive role that pro-social stigma can play. We made huge progress as a society in reducing tobacco consumption by stigmatizing cigarette smoking but are now doing something closer to the opposite with marijuana, psychedelics and even harder drugs, with many people attempting to destigmatize their use. It’s harm reduction run wild. Common sense is in order. The complexity of the issue makes drug regulation a good topic for a citizen’s jury process.
TT: What's your four-year, first term time frame for expanding nuclear power in California? Do you support the current 2024 timeline for a fracking ban, or would you change that/scrap it?
MS: Newsom waived air pollution regulations so that California could use more diesel, our dirtiest way to make electricity, to prevent blackouts. Despite the grave danger of more blackouts, Newsom is moving forward with his utterly insane plan to shut down our largest nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon. I will reverse that decision and keep Diablo Canyon operating. If I'm elected, I believe I will have a mandate to keep Diablo Canyon operating, but will need to build a wider and stronger societal consensus for energy going forward. This will be [the] place for a citizens jury.
For the last 60 years, environmental groups have sought to restrict energy, housing and water supplies as a way to reduce population growth in the state. I can understand their motivations. The result of those pro-scarcity policies is that we have protected a huge amount of land that might not have been protected otherwise. Every day I feel gratitude for the open space parkland protected near my house, where I can take long hikes and see relatively few people. But the cost of these pro-scarcity policies is also very high.
TT: When you talked to Joe Rogan recently, you condemned the “radical woke ideology funded by George Soros and the ACLU over decades.” What do you mean? Newsom started his career with the “Care Not Cash” campaign to reduce San Francisco's benefits to the homeless, so where does he fit in here?
Wokeism is as serious of an attack on liberal democracy as radical conservatism. We must defend our liberal democratic system from both extremes. We must defend the inherent dignity of all individuals, regardless of race, sex or class. Nobody is essentially a victim or oppressor. I am deeply disturbed by how radical some on the Left and Right have become. Newsom has long claimed to have stood up to the radical Left on homelessness when in truth he made a deal. The deal was called “Care Not Cash” and it cut welfare benefits for a small group who received unconditional Housing First housing. But a large group of individuals still receive large cash welfare benefits, and food stamps, if they claim to be volunteering for a nonprofit.
Newsom’s focus is to become president, which is why he won’t stand up to the ACLU and George Soros, who donated $1 million to the campaign to defeat the proposed recall of Newsom last year. He feels he needs them to win over Democratic primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. I don’t think Newsom is the same as the doctrinaire anarchists posing as homeless advocates in places like L.A. On the contrary, I think he’s really cynical, and doesn’t care that much about the impact of his policies, so long as they help him to grab the next brass ring.