Newsom: From Guv's Knee to Guv's Chair?

San Francisco mayor sat on lap of Democratic rival Jerry Brown.

January 19, 2009, 6:13 PM

Feb. 21, 2009 -- When California chooses a successor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger next year, the Democratic primary is expected to feature one candidate who was still in knee-pants in 1975 when his top rival was already serving his first term as governor.

"It's true. I sat in Jerry Brown's lap," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told ABC News when asked about the anecdote his advisers are peddling.

Candidates typically shy away from discussing biographical details that could be used to underscore their relative youth. But in the wake of President Barack Obama's win over two more-seasoned rivals, Newsom's team is embracing the story, believing that it will help the 41-year-old mayor tap into a hunger for generational change in a race against the better-known Brown, a three-time presidential candidate, who is 70 years old.

"We're going to be talking a lot about the future," said Newsom whose father, a former state appellate court judge, was well-acquainted with Brown in the 1970s. "Those who think they have this locked up are underestimating the capacity of the voters to have a real choice."

To drive home his appeal to younger voters, Newsom launched a "30,000 in 30 Days" drive on Facebook, the social-networking site, and he recently used Twitter to announce that his wife is expecting a baby in September.

San Francisco's mayor is best known nationally for defying state law in 2004 and permitting clerks to issue licenses to gays and lesbians who wanted to marry.

His action triggered a long legal battle that resulted in the state's Supreme Court ruling that gays and lesbians have a right to marry under California's constitution.

A few months later, the state voted by a 51 to 49 percent margin to return to the "one man, one woman" definition of marriage that Brown signed into law as governor.

Since his eight years as governor from 1975 to 1982, Brown has reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage, and in December he took the unusual step for a sitting attorney general of filing a legal brief asking the state's Supreme Court to toss away Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot measure.

California's high court is expected to hear oral arguments in that case at the beginning of March. If the court rules against advocates of same-sex marriage, Newsom expects the gay and lesbian community to press their case in a 2010 ballot measure.

Asked if he would push for same-sex marriage at the ballot box in 2010 if the Supreme Court leaves Proposition 8 in place, Newsom said, "It's never the wrong time to do the right thing."

While he is best known as a gay rights advocate, Newsom is planning to emphasize San Francisco's record on health care, which he touts as a model for the state.

The initiative, known as Healthy San Francisco, is the first effort by a locality to guarantee care to all of its uninsured. It is not insurance, but a reform of San Francisco's heath-care safety net that enables residents to access primary and preventive care.

"There's no reason why this couldn't be scaled and replicated in every county," said Newsom.

When it comes to the state's budget, which ran a $41 billion deficit this year, Newsom said California needs fundamental reform.

The two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget and raise taxes "should be lowered," he said.

Newsom emphasized, however, that simply changing the two-thirds vote requirement would not go far enough in tackling the root of the state's fiscal woes.

During his interview with ABC News, he said that a state constitutional convention may be necessary so that California can also address the mandatory spending and tax limitation provisions that have been written into the constitution by previous ballot measures.

Newsom did not stipulate whether the new legislative threshold to pass a budget or raise taxes should be 51, 55 or 60 percent, saying that to prescribe the outcome before a convention began would prevent it from achieving the type of broad-based support it would need to succeed.

"If you can change the constitution to take away rights from one group of people with 51 percent of the vote," said Newsom, referring to Proposition 8. "It shouldn't take a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass a budget."

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