Gavin Newsom is addicted to politics.
As an “addict,” he wants to score the next big high.
Considering he’s governor of California that as a standalone nation would be the world’s sixth largest economy, there’s only one trip that’s more powerful – the presidency of the United States.
It explains why he disappointed the vast majority of Democrats in the California Legislature recently by vetoing a bill allowing San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles to set up free opioid injection sites.
Clearly, that wouldn’t play will for Newson in Peoria.
Nor would it in swing states that are critical for a winning path to the White House.
But to be clear, Newsom did not abandon his fellow political travelers who occupy or have passed through mayoral posts in California’s big cities such as he did during his tenure running San Francisco.
Newsom, in his veto message, conceded such free injection sites could be helpful.
But then he slipped into political pandering mode in a bid to placate voters on both sides of the issue.
“The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill authorizes – facilities which could exist well into the later part of this decade – could induce a world of unintended consequences,” Newsom stated. “If done without a strong plan they could work against this purpose . . . Worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take.”
Newson added the caveat that he’d directed his Secretary of Health and Human Services to consult with city and county leaders to explore best practices and standards for such free injection sites. Once that is done, he’d reconsider the concept.
Where does one begin?
Is the governor implying the bill that his fellow Democrats passed is so reckless that is lacks standards nor requires best practices to take place in such legal drug dens?
Or is he simply stalling what the Democratic majority in Sacramento wants until such time he’s safely occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20, 2025?
And in doing the later, is it being done at the expense of hundreds or perhaps thousands of Californians that may die in the next two years because Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will not have free government sanctioned injection sites?
One does not need to be for – or against – free injection sites to question what Newsom did last week.
This is the governor who famously likes to say “he follows the science.”
Here’s a bit of data to ponder.
Almost 2.5 times as many San Francisco residents died from accidental drug overdoses in 2020 – 700 people – than did from COVID.
Yet Newsom had no problem shutting down the California economy by following data and science to avoid COVID deaths.
His argument against the bill sounds suspiciously like the ones advanced by those arguing against the COVID lockdowns.
You remember the argument. If you lock down the economy it will have unintended consequences such as a rise in death from other diseases and causes. The latest numbers from places ranging from New York to England seem to support that argument in terms of increased mortality last year in a slew of other diseases.
Let’s not forget the 10,000 Californians who died over a 12-month period ending in April 2021 from overdoses based on Centers for Disease Control statistics.
Granted, that’s not anywhere near the 24,526 Californians that died from COVID in 2021. But that’s still 10,000 preventable deaths.
That said, experts believe both overdose and COVID death numbers could have been less if there had been more government intervention.
The experts say we need free injection centers.
The Democratic majority in the legislature says we need free injection centers.
Newsom said we don’t – for now at least.
And for “now” is defined at any point leading up to Election Day on Nov, 5, 2024.
So, what governor did we see during the veto?
Was it the leader of California or a politician?
It is easy to be dismissive of free injection sites or to attack those against them as being narrow minded.
It’s cynical to toy with people who are against such centers and play with the lives of those that might benefit from them just to score more votes.
It is a fair shot for four reasons:
• Newsom made it clear he wasn’t against free injection sites, just at this point of time in his political career.
• The is nothing in the bill authored by state Senator Scott Wiener, D-SF, that is radical or would short-circuit safe practices and standards.
• Given the reputation and track record of the three cities when it comes to public health issues as illustrated by COVID-19, it is highly doubtful the three cities wouldn’t keep a tight lid on the injection sites.
• Newsom focused his veto message on the number of sites and not the sites themselves.
Half the country — including swing voters and likely a good number of moderates — view the Golden State as a drug haven with needles littering sidewalks and parks.
There have been countless studies and research that support the idea of free injection sites to reduce overdoses.
Two such centers opened in New York City in December. Since then, health officials have indicated they’ve intervened successfully in more than 150 overdoses.
It is clear Newsom is playing political poker and isn’t about to tip the cards he holds less he scare off voters from placing their bets on him.
It is also worth noting federal law does not allow free supervised injection sites.
Keep in mind Newsom could have played the federal card in his veto message but that would have only served to irk his supporters and detractors at the same time on a wide array of issues from abortions to marijuana use.
Do not mistake Newsom’s veto as an outgrowth of his need to govern California.
It is about politics, pure and simple.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.