Gov. Gavin Newsom is angry.
“I’m done being taken for granted,” the California governor said in a recent interview. “It’s time to get on offense.”
Newsom had sat down with me back in March as part of a 45-minute interview to discuss the “California effect” for my article in the upcoming California issue of The New York Times Magazine. It’s a phrase that academics use to describe the state’s longstanding ability to drive national policy through the force of what’s now the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Now Newsom, a Democrat, is trying to create a whole new kind of California effect, one that goes far beyond environmental and consumer protection measures. He wants to leverage the state’s market power to discourage corporations from acceding to policies in Republican states that he disagrees with.
He makes examples when it suits — as Walgreens learned when California said it would cancel a contract with the pharmacy chain in reaction to the company’s decision not to sell the abortion pill mifepristone in several states.
In our latest interview, Newsom said that a tweet he posted on March 6 saying the state was “done” with Walgreens had actually been prompted by an unrelated issue. But he was unapologetic about wielding California’s market power as a weapon in the nation’s culture wars.
“I hope they realize the decisions they’re making in these other states directly are going to start impacting them in states like California, in ways they haven’t in the past,” he said in a warning to corporate executives. “I want them to know that. I want every single one of them to know that.”
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Conor Dougherty: I want to talk about this unique power California has, which is that its economy is so big it can effectively regulate the nation, at least in certain areas, based on its market size. Cars are the classic example, where California’s tailpipe emission laws have made it a de facto regulator of the auto industry. I’m curious how you think about this lever, where it comes from, how you use it?
Gavin Newsom: I think, foundationally, it’s moral authority.
CD: Sure, but Wyoming might believe they have moral authority. The problem is, 600,000-ish residents isn’t enough scale.
GN: It’s the combination of both. We have no direct legal rights that we can assert in other states. But it’s the very nature and scale of the state, larger than 21 states combined, together with unique capacity to lead, particularly in environmental space and the power of emulation.
CD: How much do you think to yourself, “How can I influence the entire nation?”
GN: More now than I’ve ever. I have deep anxiety about the moment we’re living in. To see the attacks on the L.G.B.T.Q. community, see success with the “Don’t Say Gay” bills; to see [Republicans] roll over corporate leaders again and again and again; to see them banning books, banning speech, intimidating not just teachers but librarians; to see what’s happening with gun safety — you’ve got every governor tripping over each other to outdo one another, taking this playbook. That’s why I think about it.
CD: The now-infamous Walgreens tweet, where you threatened to pull state contracts from the company after it said that it would not sell abortion drugs in certain states, felt like a new direction, where you’re saying you want to use California’s market power to wade into the culture wars.
GN: I think you’re right to observe that. But don’t forget what we did with the right to private action, the quote-unquote “bounties” with guns. That was the first foray, in terms of shifting our approach to how we engage. That was when I thought: “All right, am I going to put out tweets and press releases? Am I just going to express my outrage by having a glass of wine watching Rachel Maddow every night? Or are we going to start using the power of the fifth- or fourth-largest economy to exercise ourselves more muscularly?”
I felt Walgreens needed to be called out. These guys are placating the right all across this country.
CD: When you say “these guys,” you mean the corporations?
GN: All these corporations, they’re silent. They’re complicit in all this. They were all preaching something very differently just a few years ago. And they’re completely silent now.
CD: Do you see the California economy and its huge market power as a weapon?
GN: I think it’s an antidote. In the spirit of Reagan, it’s a time for choosing. I’m serious about that. Which side are you on? You cannot have it both ways. And you know what, it’s a pretty challenging dynamic. I’m very empathetic to corporate America right now. This is tough stuff. But then, just stop saying you care about your work force. Stop lying to folks.
You saw what the College Board did on Black studies? They rolled over. You want to know why I did that to Walgreens? That was my blood boiling after the A.P. on Black studies, where the College Board completely capitulated.
CD: You’re basically saying Walgreens became retribution for something the College Board did?
GN: I just meant this has to stop, and it needs to be called out. And I was calling it out with the College Board, but I didn’t have any leverage. We were going to use our market power. Absolutely. It can’t just be used on one side.
And here’s the thing: This is not my natural state. This is not where I wish it would be. And the reality is, a rights regression and rollback is happening. And I can’t sit back passively and dream of regretting. I’ve got three and a half years, and I’m not going to look back and regret that I did not meet this moment.
CD: What would you say to people who say that what the governor is doing here is wrong? That part of living in a pluralistic society is being OK with states doing things you don’t like, and that trying to use the economy to influence it is inappropriate?
GN: I don’t think it’s inappropriate. These governors have the right to do what they’re doing. They’re exercising their right. We’re exercising ours. It’s not very complicated.
Conor Dougherty is an economics reporter for The New York Times, based in Los Angeles.
We’re approaching the midpoint of 2023. What are the best things that have happened to you so far this year? What have been your wins? Your unexpected joys, big or small?
Tell me at CAToday@nytimes.com. Please include your full name and the city where you live.
And before you go, some good news
A tourist spotted a gigantic fossilized tooth on a beach near Santa Cruz over Memorial Day weekend and posted a photo of it on social media.
Wayne Thompson, the paleontology collections adviser at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, recognized that the tooth belonged to an ancient mastodon, a creature that became extinct 10,000 years ago, CBS News reports.
“This is (a) … molar tooth of the Pacific mastodon, Mammut pacificus, and an extremely important find,” Thompson responded to the tourist’s post. “Give me a call when you get a chance.”
Thompson went to the beach himself to try to find the fossil, but it had vanished. It wasn’t until the next day that a local jogger came across the tooth again on the same beach. He called the museum to report his discovery.
“I was so excited to get that call,” Liz Broughton, a visitor experience manager at the museum, said in a statement.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Johnna Margalotti contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.