I’m out of town, but I sighed when I read The Union’s weekend editorial back home: “Our View: Gov. Gavin Newsom misfires on death penalty issue.” It began: “If Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is like a car, the cylinders aren’t firing right.”
I was reminded of the phrase: “Leadership is an action, not a position” — or in The Union’s case, being a follower instead of a leader despite its position as our community’s leading newspaper. (Small towns are a hoot!)
By contrast, Newsom has taken action, as leaders do. And it’s not the first time either. Just ask the clerks and justices at the U.S Supreme Court, among others.
As San Francisco’s mayor, “Newsom unleashed a political and legal tempest (in 2004) when he ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” as CNN.com reminds us. Added the L.A. Times: “The move drew rebukes from social conservatives and prominent Democrats, including gay rights icons and Newsom’s political mentors.”
As it turned out, Newsom became a national leader on the issue: The U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide in 2015 — 11 years after Newsom jumped into the debate. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the Times: “History has proven that Gavin Newsom made the right decision, a very bold decision, which paved the way for marriage equality.”
Now Newsom is seeking to be a leader on the death penalty issue, issuing an executive order imposing a blanket moratorium on the execution of California death row inmates, at least while he is governor. And it is not just about “creating rules of his own,” as The Union claims.
As a recent New Yorker article noted: “In truth, the boldness of Newsom’s reprieve may be a little overstated. California as a whole has voted against repealing the death penalty, most recently in 2016, when it favored a ballot measure to expedite the process, yet voting patterns show that metropolitan Californians, the core of the state’s blue electorate, decisively oppose it.
“Meanwhile, in the past two decades, support for capital punishment in murder convictions has collapsed nationwide, especially among Democrats, in line with broader trends. The Pope forbade the practice categorically last year. The European Union won’t admit death-penalty states—opposition was the first human-rights standard that its council adopted—and it prohibits the trade with other nations of goods involved in capital punishment. (The list includes guillotines, whips, ‘shields with metal spikes,’ and, more problematically for the United States, lethal-injection drugs.)”
To be sure, this is a complex issue, but there’s a lesson in leadership here.
The Union could take a cue from Newsom when it comes to leading, not following, when it comes to growing its own business as a local media leader (at least given its “position.”)
The winds of political change are blowing through The Union’s circulation area — we are “purple”or “blue” politically, no longer “red.” This is not the staid “Ingram/Moorhead era” at The Union; it is 2019. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and other demographic shifts are rippling across America.
As for the media business, digital media and social media are booming, while print newspaper readership is flatlining.
The Union needs to come up with a bold game plan of its own — just like Newsom. Perhaps it could learn from him.