LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Governor Gavin Newsom delivered his State of the State address Tuesday evening at Dodger Stadium, which serves as a mass vaccination site operated by the city of Los Angeles.
Contrasting from previous years, Newsom’s speech was light on policy announcements and heavy on efforts being made in the state to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The stadium’s 56,000 seats are roughly equivalent to the number of Californians who have died during the pandemic, 54,395 as of Tuesday.
“People are alive today because of the public health decisions we made — lives saved because of your sacrifice,” Newsom said Tuesday night in his third State of the State address. “Even so, I acknowledge that it’s made life hard, it’s made life unpredictable, and you’re exhausted by all of it.”
California governors normally make these annual speeches before a joint session of the Legislature in Sacramento and are interrupted frequently by cheers and applause from members of their party.
But this year, with the coronavirus receding but still dangerous, Newsom delivered the speech from an empty Dodger Stadium. He stood behind a solitary lectern rising from a carpeted black podium in deep center field. There were no cheers to interrupt him, only the sound of a helicopter thumping overhead.
He issued a warning to Republicans working to give voters a chance to remove him later this year, vowing that “the state of our state remains determined” and “I remain determined.”
“To the California critics out there who are promoting partisan political power grabs with outdated prejudices, rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again,” he said.
Newsom was the first governor to impose a statewide stay-at-home order last year, a move that was praised by many public health experts. While New York and other states saw cases surge last spring, California fared far better.
However, by the end of the year California was the epicenter for the virus, though recent weeks have seen cases and hospitalizations plummet and more of the state reopen businesses and resume youth sports and other activities.
The strict rules limiting which businesses could open led to the state losing 1.6 million jobs last year. The resulting crush of claims for unemployment benefits overwhelmed Newsom’s administration, contributing to more than $11 billion in fraud, including an estimated $810 million in benefits paid in the names of prison inmates.
That scandal is referenced often by Newsom’s critics but the most damaging blow to him during the pandemic came when he attended a private dinner with lobbyists at a fancy restaurant and was photographed without a mask. The gathering didn’t technically violate the state’s rules at the time but was contrary to his constant message for state residents to stay home and wear face coverings around others.
Newsom apologized after the outing was reported in the media. He made no direct reference to the incident Tuesday but acknowledged: “I have made mistakes. But we own them, learn from them, and we never stop trying.”
Newsom highlighted what he and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature have done to address the economic fallout. That includes signing a $7.6 billion stimulus package that will send $600 payments to many low-to moderate-income Californians on top of the $1,400 relief checks Congress is poised to approve.
He also highlighted a recent $6.6 billion spending package aimed at enticing public school districts to get students back into classrooms by month’s end. But districts must meet strict requirements to get their full share of the spending, and it’s unclear how many will be able to do that by March 31.
Newsom painted a rosy picture of the state’s future, saying the state’s vaccine program is “allowing you to visit your parents again, go to your daughter’s basketball game, show up for shift work without fearing an infection.” He pledged to “make sure every Californian who needs a vaccine can get one,” while prioritizing those at the greatest risk for exposure.