A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
California’s Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has been on the cutting edge of technology and social issues. The former mayor of San Francisco on making government better in the digital age.
- Gavin Newsom California Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “CITIZENVILLE: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government” by Gavin Newsom with Lisa Dickey. Reprinted by arrangement of Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) 2013 by Gavin Newsom.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Gavin Newsom is the 49th lieutenant governor of California. Before that he served two terms as mayor of San Francisco. As the youngest mayor elected in more than 100 years, he rolled out some bold tech-based reforms. Now he's written a book about how ordinary citizens can use digital tools to transform American democracy.
MS. DIANE REHMThe title of his book is "Citizenville." Lt. Gov. Newsom joins me in the studio. I hope you'll call us or email us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.
LT. GOV. GAVIN NEWSOMGood morning. Thanks for having me on.
REHMGood to have you here. Before we begin talking about your book, "Citizenville," we just heard that there is going to be a filibuster of the Hagel nomination to be secretary of defense. I'm wondering what your reaction is.
NEWSOMYeah, I just think it underscores the fact that our political system, particularly in Washington, D.C., is broken, that this process, which has historically gone reasonably well and smoothly as Sen. Reid noted yesterday around the issue of filibuster, this doesn't happen, is just another indication of these two warring factions.
NEWSOMThis idea that we have leaders that are leading has been substituted with the fact we have politicians quarreling. And they're using the nomination clearly as a way of leveraging things that are outside, frankly, the purview of the qualifications of this nominee to serve in this incredibly important position at a remarkably important time in our nation's history. And I just think it's a shame.
REHMHow do you think it's going to make us look to the world?
NEWSOMWell stated. I mean, the question alone is suggestive, terribly. I mean, you go all around the world, and people look for American stewardship on this planet. They look for our leadership, and they look for our competency. For all of our great struggles, America still stands out in people's minds as an ideal.
NEWSOMBut clearly we put sands in the gears of our capacity to convey a rational discussion about the fate and future not only of our country, but the fate and future of the world we're collectively trying to build. And so I just think it's just another pox on our house. And it's, of course, indication of more things to come out of this Congress over the next few years in the second term of Obama.
REHMTalk about what it's like for you working with Gov. Jerry Brown.
NEWSOMWell, he's a political genius, and I don't use that word lightly. This is the third term that Gov. Brown has served as governor of California -- every expectation he'll run again. He has been doing an excellent job at the most important issue in California. That's the issue of solvency. You know, for the last decade or so, we have barely had a year of an operating balanced budget, let alone an operating surplus.
NEWSOMJust put this in perspective. In January 2011, when he took the oath of office, we were projected to have four years of an average of $21 billion of budget deficits. He just submitted a balanced budget with the expectation in the next four years having operating surpluses.
REHMHow'd he do it?
NEWSOMMade tough cuts. I mean, at the end of the day, no one could deny that the Democratic-led legislature and the Democratic governor made some of the most difficult budget cuts they've ever made in arguably California's history.
NEWSOMWell, you name it. I mean, welfare cuts were significant. Cuts to senior services were significant. Food programs, opportunities for our kids and our youth, homeless services -- across the board, nothing was spared. Let me underscore this by noting one exceptional example, $2 billion of cuts to higher education, the University of California, which I serve as a trustee, California State University system and our community college system. And that's one of the most excellent systems of higher education anywhere in the world.
REHMSo the reaction to those cuts cannot have been easy to swallow.
NEWSOMI've served now two years on the UC Regents. I think only two or three meetings were not shut down by protests and disruption, understandably people furious. You know, in the last five years in California -- 2007 to 2011 to be precise -- we doubled tuition at UC and CSU, tripled it since 2001. We've now gone to $46 a unit to get into community college. It was free not that long ago. So talk about a conveyor belt. Well, in this case, it's a conveyor belt for talent.
NEWSOMAnd talk about putting sands in the gear. That's what we've been doing. But to the governor's credit and the voters -- this is the second part of my answer -- we went in front of the voters this year and said, look, these cuts, enough. We can't keep doing this. We're destroying the ability for California to compete and to grow again.
NEWSOMAnd we said that we were not going to, ourselves, enact any tax increases, but we want the voters to decide. And they in their wisdom supported Proposition 30 in a tax measure that stopped the cuts to higher education, stopped any additional cuts and actually stabilized the budget, in a way, as I suggest, will project balance and surplus so we can start investing in our growth engines again.
REHMBy raising taxes?
NEWSOMBy raising taxes. So when we talk about a balanced approach, we mean it. And this is what's missing in the national debate in Washington, D.C. The president is right. He continues to argue for a rational approach, a balanced approach. He's not denying the need to cut services. But he is denying the need to cut services to a degree that we fall on our knees, and it takes us more years to recover and get back on top. Americans' exceptionalism, if you accept the notion, is not an entitlement.
NEWSOMIt's not handed to you as an honorary degree. You have to earn it every single year. It's like a batting average in baseball. You've got to get up to the plate, and you've got to make a case for it. And that means you've got to invest in those engines of growth -- education, infrastructure, robust research and development and issues of open immigration -- so if you're not conveying talent, you can get first round draft choices and the best and the brightest around the rest of the world to come to America.
REHMOK. So you're going to operate with a surplus. The question is, what happened to the people who got cuts in welfare, who got cuts in tuition who could no longer afford to go to school? Are there now more people on the street, what?
NEWSOMYeah, all of the above. And it's put a lot of pressure -- you know, I come from local government. I served on a county board of supervisors in San Francisco, two-term mayor of San Francisco. And so as a mayor of a city and a county, I intimately understand what happens here. Pressure of cuts from the federal government, those cuts pushed to the states block grants. This grant idea, which is nothing more than here's a fixed amount of money, forget cost of living, forget demographic changes. That fixed amount of money will remain constant.
NEWSOMSo it's a way of reducing the balance sheet at a federal level, putting more stress on the state level. What happens then? The state passes down those obligations to the counties and in turn the cities. California has 58 counties, 476 cities. So the cuts that have been acted at the state level have had a significant ripple effect at the local level that has manifested in more pressure and more burden on local government officials. And that's very difficult.
REHMSo what's happened to San Francisco, for example?
NEWSOMInterestingly, it is a pocket of prosperity that distinguishes itself from the rest of the state. And I find it wonderful in this respect. And let me give you specifics. You know, I am really enjoying this debate around the minimum wage proposal the president made. You know, San Francisco's minimum wage -- and this may shock people -- it's the highest in the United States of America.
NEWSOMI'm very proud of this. When I was mayor, we enacted an indexed minimum wage. Today it's $10.55. San Francisco is the only city in America that has universal health care. We did this years ago. We are the only city with paid sick leave. We're a city that has one of the most robust living wages. We have a very strong partnership with our labor family, not just the public sector, but the private sector.
NEWSOMAnd we are one of the most vibrant local economies in all of California. We are the birthplace of life science biotech, nano technology. The city has taken off, proving the point that you can grow jobs and advance these principles and values the Republicans, with respect, arguing against the minimum wage and universal preschool, which, by the way, San Francisco has, are wrong to suggest otherwise.
REHM$10.55, I can just hear howls from those who believe that even going to $9 for minimum wage would push small businesses off the plank.
NEWSOMWell, let me give you my perspective -- not as a former mayor, not as a lieutenant governor -- as a business person. I currently own and operate 17 businesses in California. I have seven in San Francisco. I have close to 1,000 employees. It's been the cause of my life, a small business man and an entrepreneur. In every one of these instances, my businesses were impacted by these rules and regulations emanating out of city hall when I was mayor and supervisor and the work being done at the state.
NEWSOMAnd in every single case we adapted, we adjusted, and we thrived because of one reason, it benefited our employees. And when you stabilize a workforce, that workforce is more productive, is more capable of producing better services, and, in turn, they have more resources, more money in their pocket to reinvest in the community in a cycle of prosperity that raises all boats. The arguments in the contrary are, from my perspective, wrong.
REHMWhat kinds of businesses do you own?
NEWSOMI started right out of school with a small wine store. My father loved wine. It was a way of connecting. Classic divorced family, loved my father, saw him every few weeks, and he loved wine. I thought I'd learn more about it, so I can connect with him and so grew up with passion for wine and right out of college opened a small wine store, then opened a small restaurant, and from there we have seven, eight restaurants and three wineries now up in Napa Valley and two hotels and…
REHMHow do you watch over them and be lieutenant governor?
NEWSOMI had the genius idea of taking my sister, who was working in New York, and stealing her from a well-known branded company and putting her to work. And now she's running the whole thing better than I ever could.
REHMGavin Newsom, he's lieutenant governor of California, former two-term mayor of San Francisco. When we come back, we will talk about his new book, "Citizenville: How To Take The Town Square Digital And Reinvent Government." Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you just tuned in, Gavin Newsom is here with me. You recognize him, I'm sure. He's the lieutenant governor of California, working with Jerry Brown, very, very proud of the accomplishments of his government. But here's a criticism from Brian. He says, "Your guest says the world looks at America as an ideal. I would suggest he read the European press. Why do our politicians live in a dream world?"
NEWSOMI appreciate that. And I do. I've been so blessed to travel extensively around the world, and part of my ritual is the Economist magazine and Financial Times. And I'm a steward of the BBC and, of course, was working -- not of course, but some may know this, a few folks, that I was at Current TV for the last year with a small little show, and Al Jazeera, of course, the new buyer and actually watch Al Jazeera English and try to get a different perspective. So I appreciate that. I still hold hope for the ideals of this country.
NEWSOMAnd I still think people, despite their condemnation, their stress and frustration with America, and lack of leadership on issues, particularly related to climate change and addressing our own internal struggles with income inequality and addressing the issues of civil rights as it relates for women and for the gay and lesbian bisexual community, that we have a long way to go. So I don't deny the principle in point that was being made by Brian. But I still hold great hope to this sense of idealism of what America ultimately represents.
REHMI think people would be interested to know that you are dyslexic, and you write about the problems that that caused you in school. At the same time, you say, dyslexia is a gift.
NEWSOMYeah. It's been the best thing to ever happen to my life because my mother was the best thing that happened to my life. She made me appreciate that I had a gift, not a disability. She reframed the struggle. You know, I don't want to be hyperbolic, but I literally could not read. I couldn't speak. I had to go to speech therapy. I still remember just those sounds in the speech therapy classes.
NEWSOMI didn't not only read. But I couldn't write, couldn't spell, and so I struggled through this for most of my years in school, through college. But my mother kept making the case that you're overcompensating in other ways. You're developing disciplines to see the world anew and forming different connections. So you don't have to be like your sister in this case, as book smart or as capable in sort of the traditional terms of academic achievement.
NEWSOMBut you'll find more creative ways to excel. And in many ways, it's the reason the businesses went from one small wine store to now 17 businesses. It's the reason, in many ways, I think, my political life has evolved, that I've been able to form different connections. It's the reason I -- frankly, I make the case in the book. You know, I got involved in the issue of marriage equality in 2004 when Democrats were just finishing debating domestic partnerships.
NEWSOMCivil unions were not even on the table of debate. It was, in fact, Howard Dean was the only one that had the audacity and the courage to be out on civil unions. And people thought, my gosh, Howard Dean is as far off the spectrum on the progressive left side. And then we leap-frogged, and I said, you know what, I'd give it a moment in time. This was the principle my mom always asserted. You give it a moment in time. Stand up on your principles.
NEWSOMNo matter what happens, you'll never regret doing what you think is right as long as you're open to argument, she said, and interested in evidence. Don't be an ideologue -- nothing worse on either side of the aisle. And so, I said, you know what, those words rung true to me. She had just passed away. And I said, you know, let's do something bold, and let's change the debate and the trajectory of this issue in 2004. And we married same-sex couples. And so it's those principles. And I think dyslexia, in many ways, was an advantage.
REHMInteresting. People thought that would be the end of your career.
NEWSOMMy father certainly did. He called me saying...
REHMDid he really?
NEWSOMWell, he -- old Irish Catholic. It was difficult. You know, I grew up in the church and went to Catholic schools, and, you know, the nuns -- I would say the priests raised me. But it was the nuns. God bless the nuns. Never forget the nuns. I told the new pope, don't forget the nuns. Respect the nuns. And so, you know, he came from the school. I'm all for right.
NEWSOMHe was an activist judge on the California Court of Appeals before they termed the phrase activist judge. Big environmentalist, so he was always bold and brazen. But he said, can't I -- all for gay rights, can't you call it something else? I'll never forget.
NEWSOMI'm like, come on, dad, you can't run the 90-yeard dash on equality. Separate is not equal. And I said of all people, Judge Newsom, you know better than that. So good people disagreed, and I'm with you. I thought I'd be recalled. I think Gov. Schwarzenegger, at the time, thought I should be arrested. I think he went on "Meet the Press" and said there were riots outside of city hall. It's chaos. And, you know, some had started a recall campaign, and many had asserted that I should be arrested. So I didn't know that I'd last. So I'm sort of past my sell-by date. I'm blessed right now. I'm still around.
REHMSpeaking of being blessed, what's your reaction to the pope's resignation?
NEWSOMWell, interesting. You know, in 2004, Archbishop Levada was in San Francisco when Pope Benedict became pope. Cardinal Levada was taken out of San Francisco and elevated to the position of Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, basically the right-hand enforcer of the Doctrine of Faith for the pope.
NEWSOMAnd so I've always felt a connection because of my rocky relationship with then-Archbishop Levada, who certainly didn't see eye to eye on the same-sex marriage or the fact we got the California Stem Cell Institute to locate in our city, something I was advocating for at the same time he was serving. So it's been difficult. But he resigned, Levada, a few months ago. And so I don't why. I'm not asserting any inside knowledge. I was the only one around my family that wasn't as shocked. I don't know why. So it's sad in so many ways. And it's glorious in other ways.
NEWSOMWhat an ultimate expression of humility and taking that power that's bestowed upon him and stepping aside and doing it with such grace. So I may not have seen eye to eye on so many things with the church. My gosh, you know, I have a difficult time getting communion everywhere I go because some have their sights on me 'cause of my political beliefs. But, boy, do I respect the capacity of the church to do extraordinary things and change the trajectory of our world. And so I'm looking forward to the 28th and what these elders have in mind.
REHMAre you concerned about what the explosion of charges, allegations about sexual abuse by priests?
NEWSOMSickens me, sickens me. It sickened my father. He's given up on the church as a consequence.
NEWSOMYeah. No, he had enough -- my mother as well. Very difficult for my father, but he would not have been as kind or has dodged the question you asked a moment ago as I was about the pope. He's been very critical, not just privately but publicly. And that's a scar. You look at the evidence. It's overwhelming, and the experiences of so many, it's devastating. And it's something that still needs to be worked through.
REHMI want to ask about something else that apparently may need to have some work on. That's the L.A. Police Department. Tell me your take on the Dorner incident.
NEWSOMWell, it struck a cord. I was with the California Highway Patrol when we heard of the first shooting incident with Dorner and in Northern California and the impact that had on one of the officers because this was a member of their own family. This was an ex-L.A. police officer, LAPD officer. And this was an officer that just targeted a retiree's daughter, killed them.
NEWSOMAnd this changed the trajectory of my feelings about this because I have my own set of eyes, and I looked at this through the lens of another law enforcement agent whose family now felt vulnerable and the family of his colleagues, former colleagues in law enforcement. So this -- one should not underestimate the impact this had up and down the state of California and notably in the Southern California area. That said, it opened up some wounds, didn't it?
NEWSOMThe scars of the past, the images we have so indelible in our minds of Rodney King, the issues of racism, that's still our challenge in law enforcement agencies all across America, towns large and small, but in dominant ways, in some of the larger urban areas. You've had a series of, I think, excellent police chiefs that have gone to great lengths to try to, as I say, weed out the dullards and to establish a new framework of disciple and capacity and understanding. But those issues are still raw, and obviously that wound was exposed yet again.
NEWSOMAnd Dorner became, for a moment there, somewhat of a folk hero for some, which is a remarkable thing considering he's taken four lives and took 50 families out of their home and their daily existence under police protection because of their fear for their own lives. The question, though, remains, what happened a few days ago? Why was there a fire? What was the cause of the decision making? And what indeed was the final act of Mr. Dorner? And so that investigation continues, and I think it will expose even more issues potentially.
REHMHave we had as yet a final identification?
NEWSOMThey -- as of a few hours ago, no, but I'm told it's imminent. I mean, it's -- in fact, as we speak, perhaps they have. But that's why the 50 families are still under police protection until that is indeed secure.
REHMLt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is with me. He is lieutenant governor of California, and his new book is titled, "Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government." OK, now explain the title of your book.
NEWSOMWell, I've been thinking a lot about citizenship. I've been thinking a lot about leadership. I've been thinking a lot about people in formal authority versus people that have moral authority. I've been thinking about Vaclav Havel who I've long admired, Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mandela. My father used to tell me wonderful things about all four. And as a consequence, I developed quite an affinity.
NEWSOMBut one of the things that struck me was his commentary that, do you know what they all had in common, he would ask, at the peak of their influence Gandhi, King, Havel and Mandela? I said, well, they -- you know, no, no, jail time. I said, my gosh, that's true. You look at the peak of all their influence when they exercised their moral not formal authority, their ability to change people's lives and the trajectory of their countrymen and the rest of our world.
NEWSOMIn many ways, you think about Mandela as president and Havel as president. They may have lost a bit of their influence in their formal roles. So it's got me thinking, you know, do you have to be someone to do something? What is the role of leadership, elected office, versus a role of citizenship?
NEWSOMAnd the notion that people have the capacity now with particularly the tools of technology to self-organize and to envelope strategies and principles through their own values exercise to not only participate in the life of their city, their state and nation, but the world and the one we're trying to build. And so that's the idea of "Citizenville," a rift a bit on Farmville, the game company out of San Francisco that people play virtually and spend great deal of time on. How can we meet people where they are with these tools of technology and once again engage in active citizenship?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. When you were mayor of San Francisco, what were some of the ways you tried to innovate through technology?
NEWSOMWell, the most important principle is openness. Second most important is use transparency. And what that inures to is trust. You know, we have a trust gap in government today. You see the latest polling on Congress and elected officials across this country. It's deplorable. It's self-evident to folks. We saw this debate play out, didn't we, last week in the drone issues, where our own president who criticized rightly as senator the lack of transparency as it relates to the Bush administration's use of torture and enhanced interrogation techniques, as they're called.
NEWSOMAnd he was hiding behind some of those same principles as it relates to the capacity for an American citizen to be killed before due process as it relates to drones. And it struck me that this is difficult even for enlightened leaders like President Obama. But it's a fundamental of the world now we are living in. We're living in a glass house, a glass neighborhood. The issue of privacy is being challenged in every way.
NEWSOMWikiLeaks brought to the fore this notion of what Stewart Brand used to speak of. And that is information wants to be free, and eventually it will be, that there really are no secrets. Ultimately, they will be exposed through the exercise of diligence. And so how does one conduct and govern in that environment? And so I struggled with these things as mayor, but with the benefit of being in a city where Twitter was found, where Zinga, as I noted, was found, where the Cloud was not just something in the sky but was being developed by a company called Salesforce.
NEWSOMAnd I started to get to know these folks, and I played around with the technology and these principles. And we had some early success. And so I wanted to explore not only our struggles with this and my own, as it relates to being more transparent mayor, but also what other cities were doing. And that's what began this journey.
REHMWhat do you mean to be a more transparent mayor?
NEWSOMWell, transparent in every respect. You know, in traditional government terms -- and you know this intimately -- the press operates as the arbiter that ultimately makes appropriate determinations of what should be exposed and not through investigative reporting, freedom of information, et cetera. Government officials have a default of secrecy because we know, when members of the media ask for information about our schedules or overtime reports, that invariably, it's tomorrow's headline and not a particularly favorable headline.
NEWSOMSo we give the basic minimum. And as a consequence, we have, I think, not done ourselves a service. And so I struggle with that when the press said, well, let's see your schedule for the last three months. And I said, well, I'm happy to put everything online. Then my team comes back, well, not your fundraisers, not every meeting 'cause some people, you know, labor leaders didn't want folks to know they were meeting with you because you were not supposed to be meeting with them until after the business leaders wanted to meet with you -- these kinds of things.
NEWSOMAnd so we all struggle with this. And my point is, you know, I was wrong to fight against that. I am wrong to the extent as lieutenant governor I could and should be doing more. And government officials are as well. The default needs to be openness. We need to be more transparent. We're public servants. And that's what I ultimately am arguing for.
REHMGavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California, former two-term mayor of San Francisco. His new book, just out, is titled, "Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government." Short break. When we come back, we'll take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Time to go straight to the phones first to Chris in Montebello, Ala. Good morning to you.
CHRISHi, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call today.
CHRISI've really thoroughly enjoyed today's radio program and, I think, mainly because I run a nonprofit organization that's focused on civic and community engagement. And I've really enjoyed a lot of the thoughts that have been contributed by your guest.
CHRISAnd I had a question related to public forums because I think one thing that's really been a struggle for us is thinking about incorporating social media and some of the new advancements in terms of digital connectedness into public forums and bringing citizens and civic leaders together to discuss public issues in a community and try to work together and hear different perspectives.
CHRISBut I wonder what your guest's perspective on how we use social media and some of the social connectedness aspects of it to bring people together and try to overcome certain geographic barriers, so people can get a chance to communicate with one another and try to solve social issues in their community.
NEWSOMI love the question on so many levels 'cause this was -- back to the earlier segment, we talked about my issue of being mayor. You know, I did these town halls, and I started realizing, as important as they were, a limited group of people had the time to be there.
NEWSOMAnd when they were there, their voices got drowned out so often by the loudest voices. And people, you can see them physically -- the physiology change -- they recoil. The louder folks were -- the more they became, well...
REHMWell, fear. Fear.
NEWSOMFear, yeah, and less participatory. And so I kept struggling. How do I open these town halls up? How do I create a framework where not just the loudest voices get most of the dominant attention and response? And we played around with technology. I -- early in 2005 I had a large town hall, and we randomly sampled people as if it was polling firm.
NEWSOMAnd you invited folks from a random sample on a Saturday, so more people could participate. And we gave them three hours. And we did tables of tens. And we had subject matters which we deliberated in a very safe space. And then, instead of people jumping up and expressing themselves, we had handheld devices where people can vote. And so everyone participated.
NEWSOMEveryone felt it was a safe place. It was an organization called America Speaks at the time. There are a lot of other organizations that now allow similar use of technology. We also now, in terms of the social media attributes, this new systems of engagement, there are probably a half dozen exceptional online tools now that, in essence, do the same thing. Quora.com does this remarkably well. It's a board where people -- communities can self-organize.
NEWSOMThey debate issues in a very thoughtful and deliberative way. Facts are presented in an objective manner. And the community votes in terms of their prioritizations. In many ways, it's an old model that comes from 2,400 years ago in ancient Greece and Athens where people were randomly brought together and had a deliberative and safe environment to discuss the issues of the day.
REHMBut aren't you leaving out a certain segment of the population who don't have access to that kind of technology?
NEWSOMA huge issue. And what's interesting now is, you know, five years I tried to have free Wi-Fi in San Francisco. We started with our public housing, and it became a big issue for us. And I was consumed by the issue of the digital divide, particularly in a socioeconomic way and the digital divide as it relates to the time of life that folks, like my father, no interest. He loves to this day his typewriter. My -- if I ever took that typewriter away...
REHMYeah, I know well. I know it well.
NEWSOMSo, you know, it's the last thing he wants is a Facebook page, though he's learning to play around with his two grandkids with Facebook. So we wanted -- it's a hybrid. You can't replace that tradition. And I don't want to. I don't want an online government. I want an offline-online government. I want people to meet up. I want communities to be formed.
NEWSOMI want active participation in not just elections. Aren't we good, Diane, at using the tools of technology to ask you for money, to get you to organize a volunteer effort on our behalf and to show up for election day? But, boy, when the election's over, we turn your voice off, and it's a broadcast model for four more years until we try to turn those voices back on.
NEWSOMThat's what's got to change.
REHMChris, good luck to you. Let's go to Mieko in Dallas, Texas. Good morning.
MIEKOHi. Thank you for taking my call.
MIEKOI have a question for Mr. Newsom. I was particularly intrigued when you talked about your dyslexia condition. I am a speech language pathologist in the Dallas area, and I have several -- I work with several students with dyslexia. And what I commonly see in these kids -- and they're young, you know, preteen and 9, 10 years old.
MIEKOAnd they all share the same traits. They suffer from poor academic performance and most -- more times than not, they have low self esteem. I really want to know what you did specifically to overcome dyslexia and to get to where you are in life in the leadership position. And what can I tell these kids?
NEWSOMI love the question. And it's, you know, an emotional topic for me because I just have so many vivid and indelible memories of struggling through this and watching my mother struggle through it, which perhaps is the most difficult pain of all. And so, on behalf of all the parents out there with loved ones that are suffering through this, the difficulty for them, I think, perhaps, is so often not given justice.
NEWSOMThat said, you know, it was the capacity for people that cared about you to create that pattern interrupt, as we say in psychology, to say, you know what, it's OK if you can't, you know, you can't draw perfectly. There's sort of -- there's something wonderful and unique about your expression. No one else has it. And let it go. So the whole idea is to allow people to be fully expressive, to find their attributes and their traits where they are exceptional.
NEWSOMThey don't have to be like everybody else. Learn from others, but you don't have to follow others. And this notion of self-esteem is the most profound and important 'cause you just don't think you're worthy. You think you're dumb, the word dumb. You just don't think you're capable. And for folks to find that attribute, that unique thing inside you, that is exceptional, that is different and to cultivate that and build on that, is the key.
NEWSOMAnd that's what my mother did, and that's what my grandmother did and other folks did in my school that ultimately got me to start feeling like, you know what, I am worthy. I may not be like everybody else, but that's a good thing, not a bad thing.
REHMSo good parenting, good grand-parenting, but what about the development of the reading and speaking skills?
NEWSOMYou know, it took me -- the idea that I would sit there introducing Gov. Brown in a state of the state or I would have my own TV show where I have to read a script on a teleprompter or give a state of the city, you -- truly, if you saw me in Mr. Morris's class not so many years ago, it was inconceivable, the trajectory. And it's just through trial and error. You know, I have -- just to underscore this principle I talk a little bit about in the book, I admire initiative.
NEWSOMI admire people that are willing to lean in to the world they're living in, to their business, whatever it is. And so we have a failure award in my business. I'm convinced there's certainly no reason I would have ever considered that unless I was very good at it. So I -- every month in my business, again, close to 1,000 people, the one that screws up the most gets a bonus. Every month, we reward the biggest mistake.
REHMGive me an example of a screw-up.
NEWSOMSo we have a hotel. In the summer there's lots of mosquitoes. The doors are open because the air-conditioning doesn't work so well. So my night clerk -- you know, those poor folks that are there at 11:00 in the evening and are there all evening.
REHMAll the way through.
NEWSOMAnd, you know, so it's a pretty quiet time. So this gentleman had a lot of time to think. And he was worried about the mosquitoes because there were these ponds outside the hotel. And so he, on his own, before he got to work, came up with a brilliant idea to get a bunch of catfish. So he went to a nearby store in Lake Tahoe, Calif. and got a bunch of catfish and put them in the ponds thinking that the catfish would eat the larvae of the mosquitoes.
NEWSOMBrilliant idea, until the next morning. I get a call from our engineer, Ludo, (sp?) who's been with us 25 years, completely panicked. He says he's never seen anything like it. Throughout the hotel -- the night clerk had left. Throughout the hotel were the carcasses of these poor catfish that were devoured by raccoons in this feeding frenzy and literally had run through the open doors of the hotel with these fish dangling pieces and body parts everywhere.
REHMOh my goodness.
NEWSOMAnd I thought, what a magnificent screw-up.
NEWSOMThis guy got $800 bonus for a terrible idea.
NEWSOMThat was a brilliant idea in terms of its intent. We all learned a lesson.
REHMHere's an email from Jan who says, "How do you feel about Gov. Rick Perry traveling to California trying to talk companies into relocating to Texas? And what are you going to do about it?" She says, "I live in the hill country northwest of San Antonio, but I'm not a fan of Rick Perry or his politics."
NEWSOMI -- well, I love San Antonio, Austin area. Texas is a wonderful state. And so what I won't do is take the cheap shots that Perry has so often about our state, California. I just want to remind people, you know, California has more scientists, more engineers, more researchers, more Nobel laureates, more venture capital, more patents emanating on it than any other state in our nation, $1.9 trillion-a-year economy, six of the top universities on the planet, one of the most diverse states in the world's most diverse democracy.
NEWSOMAnd I happen to think, at our best, people look to us to see that it's possible to live together, advance together and prosper together across every conceivable difference, a state that truly doesn't just tolerate its diversity but oftentimes is noted for celebrating it. So I love my state. Human capital, people are the great differentiator in our state and is the case in many states across our country.
NEWSOMSo when Perry comes in and disparages the state, when he attacks our values, when he attacks our principles, and when he takes cheap shots about the fact that we want to celebrate the unions of two people that love each other, that believe in faith and devotion and constancy, that want to live their lives out loud because they happen to be gay or lesbian, when he takes those shots in an effort to try to recruit businesses, I take that a little more personally perhaps than most.
REHMIsn't he also talking about California's taxes?
NEWSOMAnd on that point he's right and wrong. Remember, California has -- and it's true -- high income taxes, corporate taxes, capital gains taxes and sales taxes. In many ways we're not competitive in those areas. But what we do have that Rick Perry seems often to forget or neglect is among the lowest property taxes. Prop. 13 in many ways has been one of the great burdens on our state. But compared to Texas, the property taxes are over two times higher. So this simple notion that it's a much cheaper state can be challenged.
NEWSOMThat said, he is -- and I will give him credit -- leaning in and being aggressive. He's a brilliant marketer. He came out, had some fun. He got the governor to respond to him, which is exactly what he wanted. He got a lot of free publicity, and there is a lesson there that we need to take seriously, that California needs to get back in the game itself. And I'm looking forward to going out to Texas and making a case to Texas businesses to make their way to California.
REHMAll right. Watch out. Here we come. Let's go to Salt Lake City, Utah. Good morning, Donna.
DONNAGood morning. How are you this morning?
REHMGood, thanks. Go right ahead, please.
DONNAI'm just curious about the split speed limit for trucks and cars and basically wondering what the determining factor was to make that happen and what his personal opinion on that is. What -- that's it. That's my question.
NEWSOMWell, you know, I don't know -- you know, this is interesting, and I should -- I don't know enough about what went into the decision making. But I feel good about the ultimate determination 'cause I'm submitting myself to the experts and those that feel it was the right thing to do. So count me as reasonably naive about what went into that but open to the evidence of whether or not it's effective.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a Tweet: "Would Lt. Gov. Newsom support construction of a nationwide public broadband infrastructure?"
NEWSOMOh, my gosh, yes, yes, yes. We are 26th in the world in broadband download speeds. I happened to go to South Korea recently, flew out, by the way, of the Incheon Airport in South Korea. It's one of those few airports in the world you truly hope your plane is delayed. It is an airport with -- I don't golf, but it has two golf courses -- a museum, a theater, hotels, spas, shopping center.
REHMAll right there at the airport. Wow.
NEWSOMAll in this -- it's magnificent. I flew to a California airport that I will not name, and it was literally like flying from the Jetsons in South Korea to the Flintstones, California. Our infrastructure in the broadest sense is deplorable. And on our best, we were in the future business in this country in the '50s and '60s in our roads and bridges, our broadband access. We were number one not that many years ago in broadband speeds.
NEWSOMBut we've slipped, and we're seeing the same kind of precipitous decline across all infrastructure. And so it was a wonderful thing to hear the president in his first term prioritize broadband access to rural areas. But we still have a lot of responsibility within our urban centers as well. This must be a priority for America.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Susan: "The lieutenant governor mentioned how the poor students, et cetera, were hurt by cuts. What, if anything, in cuts or revenue producers affected the wealthy?" California has plenty of them.
NEWSOMWell, the -- yeah, we do, a disproportionate number, and they were directly impacted by this tax increase. And it was a tax increase that hit the wealthiest 1 percent.
REHMSo what are they...
NEWSOMThe threshold -- we had a top tax rate of 9.3 percent before the election in November. There was a premium millionaire's tax of 1 percent. So the highest wage earner over a million dollars in California was paying a 10.3 percent state tax. After Prop. 30 passed, they will pay 13.3 percent. So we, indeed, addressed that question directly. We submitted that to the voters, and they embraced it.
NEWSOMNow, some high profile and very wealthy people, including golfer Phil Mickelson, said he was considering moving out of the state because of that tax issue. I think there are some that probably will, but I don't think there are many that will. This was a temporary tax over the next five years. And, indeed, it is designed to be temporary. This is not something the legislature intends to extend.
NEWSOMThis was for the voters to make that determination. That said, it was necessary to keep the UC system and the CSU system from an additional half a billion dollars in cuts. And to avoid devastating -- I think we are hyperbolic in politics. Everyone might agree we use words like devastating all the time, but $6 billion of additional cuts to K-12 education legitimately would have been devastating.
NEWSOMThose were staved off because we asked those that have done better than ever to do a tiny bit more, a couple percentage points, to make sure that many can do a little bit better. And I don't think that's wrong, and I think there's some nobility in that. And I know a lot of wealthy people that -- I mean this -- are truly happy we did that.
REHMLast question lots of folks are asking, are you thinking of running for president?
NEWSOMFrankly, I'm just the lieutenant governor. Those lieutenant governors -- no one knows, they've never heard of.
NEWSOMBut I love public service, and I love the capacity to deliver, I think, a new, more robust framework of citizen engagement, and technology can do wonders. But traditional values also and traditional strategies also must need to be advanced.
REHMGavin Newsom, he is lieutenant governor of California. His new book is titled, "Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government." So glad to talk with you.
NEWSOMHonor to be here. Thank you so much.
REHMThank you. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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