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Gavin Newsom: Delusions of grandeur?

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POSTED February 29, 2012 11:51 p.m.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom began a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting last week by complaining about his job. In states such as Texas and Maryland, gubernatorial nominees choose their lieutenant governors. Those officers, Newsom argued, are “empowered,” as each is “truly a lieutenant.” Under the status quo with Gov. Jerry Brown, Newsom said, “we’re at each other’s throats; nothing gets done.” But: “If they run together, then they have a team. Otherwise, get rid of the position.”

Well, OK. Get rid of the position. The Strapped-But-Golden State doesn’t need to spend $1 million to maintain a make-believe governor.

It’s not as if California has a shortage of politicians who live by the pandering press release. (Most recently, Newsom called on the California Fish and Game Commission chief to resign because he killed a mountain lion in Idaho. “I do appreciate that you did nothing illegal in Idaho,” Newsom wrote, “but it is clear that your actions do not reflect the values of the people of California.”)

Newsom’s problem: He couldn’t beat Brown in the 2010 Democratic primary, so he dropped out of the top race to run for junior governor. He trounced Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn in June and then beat Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (who loved the job) in November.

Then Newsom quit a real job, San Francisco mayor, a year early to assume this window-shopping position. And he’s down to a staff of three.

Newsom sure has an odd way of showing he wants to be on Brown’s team. He’s been all over the state disagreeing with Brown’s budget cuts. On KQED radio recently, Newsom suggested Brown lacks a “vision for greatness.”

“I said some negative things,” Newsom admitted Wednesday. He also argued that his same-ticket suggestion was about not his boss, but “structural reform.”

Maldonado agrees with the Newsom suggestion but chided, “Gavin is the No. 2. He should be on the team.”

Newsom has his defenders, folks who look at the lieutenant guv’s 2011 Economic Growth and Competitiveness Agenda for California and believe that Brown should give his lieutenant a platform. Newsom’s former political consultant Garry South argued that, as a one-time big-city mayor, policy wonk and successful businessman, Newsom is “legitimately frustrated because he’s got a lot of policy depth and executive experience” — but Brown has frozen out Newsom.

Except: Newsom makes himself look irrelevant by pushing to change the state constitution to make the false front that his office is important.

And for what? South has worked for two lieutenant governors who became governors. When governors pick their running mates, South believes, they choose people who can help them win — and then ignore them.

Besides, to get a constitutional change on the ballot, there first must be a big-money campaign or a legislative vote. “There’s a significant reason why the Legislature won’t do it,” noted South, “because it’s a statewide office for which they all can run.”

Brown’s people can’t even be bothered to comment. “I haven’t spoken to Jerry about it, so there’s nothing I can really say,” said adviser Steve Glazer.

That’s what you get when you run for lieutenant governor and win — whether you like it or not.

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