The race for governor of California — between Gavin Newsom, the Democratic lieutenant governor, and John Cox, a Republican business executive — is one of the least competitive contests in the nation. This is a Democratic state, and polls show Mr. Newsom with a substantial lead.
But the fact that there is little suspense about the outcome does not mean this is not an important contest that deserves examination. Jerry Brown, who has been governor for eight years, is stepping down just at a moment when California is facing challenges that would test the most experienced chief executive.
Despite Newsom’s likely victory, there are critical challenges that awaits the next governor: an economy that may be heading for a downturn, and a state that is in many ways not prepared for it. On one hand, the California economy is roaring along. It is the fifth largest in the world, making it a driving force in the national economy. Unemployment is at a record low. It has the most billionaires in the country. When Brown took office, he faced a $26 billion deficit; the state now has a surplus of close to $16 billion.
But most economists — as well as Brown and Newsom — warn a recession is in the state’s near future. And economic downturns in California are notoriously damaging because of the state’s reliance on high-income taxpayers for revenue. A recession would force the next governor and Legislature to consider deep cuts in spending.
And the next governor is going to face big financial demands as well — starting with a housing and homelessness crisis. The affordable housing shortage threatens to cause a labor shortage, because workers cannot find homes near their jobs. Policies embraced by Trump — including tariffs on Chinese goods and a crackdown on undocumented immigrants — could be harmful to this state’s economy, with the nation’s two largest ports and a sprawling network of farms reliant on immigrant workers.
Californians may be well served to hope for the best but plan for the worst.