Introducing PolitiFact California’s ‘Newsom-Meter’, tracking the campaign promises of Gavin Newsom

PolitiFact California’s ‘Newsom-Meter’ will track 12 of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s top campaign promises over the next four years.
PolitiFact California’s ‘Newsom-Meter’ will track 12 of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s top campaign promises over the next four years.

During his run for governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom promised to rapidly expand California’s housing supply, saying he’d "lead the effort to develop 3.5 million new housing units" by 2025 to address the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Newsom, who will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 7, also pledged to ensure health care access for everyone in the state regardless of income or immigration status, guaranteed two free years of community college and said he will create universal preschool and launch college savings accounts for every incoming kindergartener.

PolitiFact California has been following Newsom’s pledges made to voters in speeches, interviews and on his campaign website. Today, we launch our ‘Newsom-Meter’, which will track the progress of 12 of Newsom’s most significant campaign promises over the next four years.  

The Newsom-Meter will measure whether Newsom is able to accomplish what he told voters and ultimately rate each promise as ‘Kept’, ‘Broken’ or ‘Compromise.’ It's the same process PolitiFact used with the Obameter to hold President Obama accountable and is currently used with the Trump-O-Meter to track President Trump’s commitments.

How the Newsom-Meter works

We’ll publish updates on Newsom’s progress, or lack thereof, on each pledge. We will rate outcomes, not intentions or proposed solutions, the same standard used for PolitiFact’s other promise meters.

Notably, a promise is not a position statement. We will define it as a prospective statement of an action or result that is verifiable. All of the promises will list the source.

The Newsom-Meter has six levels:

Not Yet Rated — Every promise begins at this level and retains this rating until we see evidence of progress — or evidence that it has stalled.

In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.

Stalled — There is no movement on the promise, perhaps because of limitations on money, opposition from lawmakers or a shift in priorities.

Compromise — Promises earn this rating when they accomplish substantially less than the official’s original statement but when there is still a significant accomplishment that is consistent with the goal.

Promise Kept — Promises earn this rating when the original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled.

Promise Broken – The promise has not been fulfilled. This could occur because of inaction by the executive or lack of support from the legislative branch or other group that was critical to its success. A Promise Broken rating does not necessarily mean that the executive failed to advocate for the policy.

The ratings can change whenever the circumstances change. It's possible that the status could initially go to In the Works, but then move back to Stalled if it’s decided the proposal has hit a lull.

PolitiFact has been tracking the promises of presidents, governors and mayors for more than a decade, and no one has achieved everything.

Nearly one-in-four of Obama's campaign promises, for instance, ended up broken. In some cases, new events necessitated a change in priority. In others, Congress got in the way.

Democrat Gavin Newsom hugs his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, as he celebrates at an election night party after defeating Republican John Cox to become governor of California on Nov. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. Associated Press file photo

Newsom’s ‘audacious’ promises

Political observers consider many of Newsom’s pledges, especially on housing, health care and education, to be bold and likely unreachable. Newsom has said that doesn’t bother him.

"I’d rather be accused of (having) those audacious stretch goals than be accused of timidity," Newsom told CALmatters in October 2018. "Because I just don’t think the world demands timidity."

He’s also pushed back against the idea that he’s "promised" some of these outcomes, such as the 3.5 million new housing units by 2025. That’s despite the fact that they’re listed on his campaign website as items that "As Governor, Gavin will" accomplish.

The screenshot above from Newsom’s campaign website lists some of his housing promises.

"Oh, I never promised. I said it's my goal," Newsom told Capital Public Radio, also in October. "And goals are nothing more than dreams with deadlines. And I also expressed very clearly and candidly that it's an audacious goal, and it's a goal that's never been achieved in California's history, in terms of what is required of that goal — and that is a substantial increase in housing production. Not doubling, but closer to quadrupling our annual housing production."

Single payer

Dan Schnur, a longtime Republican political strategist, contends Newsom won’t achieve his most ambitious commitment: single payer health care, which would require a costly and dramatic overhaul of how healthcare is administered in California.  

Newsom has stated his strong support for single payer. But he’s also cautioned it won’t happen anytime soon given that it would require federal approval from President Trump, who doesn’t support it.

"It is not an act that would occur by the signature of the next governor," Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle in October. "There’s a lot of mythology about that."

Yet his campaign website reads: "For Gavin, the phrase ‘health care is a human right’ is more than a political cliché. It’s a sacred promise we must keep, which is why he'll ensure California leads the way on a plan to guarantee quality healthcare for everyone financed through a single-payer model like Medicare."

"Candidate Newsom made it clear early (in 2018) that he felt the best way to achieve universal coverage was through a single payer system," said Schnur, a former spokesman for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who now teaches political communications at the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley. "Newsom has begun using words like ultimately and ideally when he talks about single payer coverage, which indicates that its not something that’s going to happen anytime soon."

We will track two promises on this topic. Both Newsom’s pledge to create universal access to health care for all Californians and to single payer plan to serve as the way to pay for it.

"They’re two very different concepts," said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant who advised Newsom’s top Democratic opponent, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, during the gubernatorial primary. "Politically, I think it’s very viable as a political construct to say, ‘I’m gonna work on universal health care as a way to ultimately get to single payer. That allows him to kind of keep the promise because he’s moving in that area but also say, ‘Hey that’s something we can’t afford with all the other priorities we’re working on at this time.’"

Asked about Newsom’s promise to create millions of new homes, Madrid responded: "Is it achievable? It’s certainly possible. It is. But highly unlikely."

Up to the voters to judge

Newsom will ultimately be judged by voters in four years on whether he got close enough or tried hard enough to fulfill his promises.

Voters might not remember every promise made, but they will investigate his progress as time passes, said Wesley Hussey, associate professor of political science at Sacramento State University.

"I think voters do care about the promises candidates make. But they need someone to remind them of what the promises are," Hussey said. "That’s a great role the media can play."

Here are the 12 promises we’ll track and their source:

HOUSING

1) Rapidly expand housing

"Lead the effort to develop 3.5 million new housing units we need by 2025."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

2) Boost affordable housing credit

"Increase affordable housing tax credit from $85 million to $500 million, phased in over a few years," to spur new housing development.

-- Gavin Newsom interview with Capital Public Radio on Oct. 5, 2018 and Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

3) Streamline housing regulations

"Support regulatory streamlining to make it easier for the private sector to produce these housing units."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

HOMELESSNESS

4) Appoint State Homelessness Secretary

"Appoint a State Homelessness Secretary to oversee an Interagency Council on Homelessness – because we need statewide leadership laser-focused on this problem."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

5) Expand homeless services

"Expand social services, healthcare (including mental health), bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing" for the homeless.

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

EDUCATION

6) Provide access to universal preschool

"To ensure California’s children have the skills they need to succeed in kindergarten, he will provide access to universal preschool."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

7) Launch savings accounts for kindergarteners

"As Governor, he will launch college savings accounts for every incoming kindergartener."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

8) Guarantee free community college

"Guarantee two free years of community college tuition." -- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website, LA Times article

HEALTHCARE

9) Create universal healthcare access

"As Governor, he will ensure California residents have universal access to healthcare, regardless of their ability to pay, pre-existing conditions, or immigration status."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

10) Create single-payer healthcare plan

"Ensure California leads the way on a plan to guarantee quality healthcare for everyone financed through a single-payer model like Medicare."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

ENVIRONMENT

11) Increase public land access

"I’ll ensure our state lands are even more accessible for all Californians."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 campaign video

12) Protect offshore oil drilling

"I’ll protect California’s shorelines against expanded offshore oil drilling."

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 campaign video

As we watch these pledges, we’ll continue to fact-check Newsom and other California politicians on our Truth-O-Meter. We'd like to hear your feedback and ideas for fact checks. Email us at [email protected], or contact us on Twitter or Facebook.