SH: There is a hardcore element [of homeless campers] who won’t leave the streets. They like it out there. What do you do with them?
GN: Small percentage. I’ve found those who are service-resistant to be one of the great myths of all times.
SH: We just had a string on nextdoor.com and someone quoted a homeless guy at Lake Merritt [in Oakland] who said, “We’re not going anywhere. We like it out here. Let them try to move us.”
GN: That’s an understandable response when it’s framed in the context of getting rid of an encampment and being punitive and, quote-unquote “getting tough.” But my experience is, maybe the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth time [you’ll get success]. You have to meet people where they are. Someone who’s service-resistant, who claims they have no interest in getting off the street, and they have not been able to get the appropriate supportive housing unit that allows for couples, or they have a dog and don’t have the appropriate opportunities to accommodate a dog, or, frankly, they’re not willing or capable on their own of getting clean and sober, and they’re not willing to go to a program that says everybody has to be clean and sober. So, by definition, people develop a resistance. But if you can meet people actually where they are, when you don’t give up, in my humble experience [of] 17 years in government of doing this, the overwhelming majority of people are indeed not service-resistant. So that’s to me an excuse for not doing our job. But this is a statewide problem and a national problem. I’m going to elevate this issue, and I’m going to call out the federal government that also needs to do significantly more.
SH: I want to hit on some other things before Nathan throws me out! Safe injection sites?
GN: Not ideological about it. It’s a tough issue. I like experimentation. We’ll see what the Governor does. If he doesn’t sign the legislation, I’ll look at it in detail. It’s something I pursued, full disclosure, at the end of my tenure as mayor, and I got my hand slapped because the community had no interest in it. We were talking about a site in Haight-Ashbury.
SH: You mean the greater community, or the drug community?
GN: The greater community. Many people felt they were overwhelmed by over-concentration of services, and so I think it’s site-specific. But in broad strokes, we pursued it. But I don’t know the details of what this legislation offers.
SH: Tasers for cops.
GN: With training and transparency, I’m open to it and have been for a long time. But there’s real abuse, and one has to be very, very cautious about it.
SH: Let’s touch on the National Guard at the border.
GN: [I] do not support it. Jerry [Brown] and I disagree on this. I think he made a mistake and I think he did it because it was a reaction to Jeff Sessions and what happened with the assault on the sanctuary [city] policy, and I think he was trying to show that he was willing to reach out and collaborate. I don’t see that he or this country, let alone the State of California, has benefited from that collaboration.
SH: I was reading in a San Diego publication that the California National Guard is assisting [U.S.] Border Patrol agents making arrests.
GN: Yeah. That was not what we intended. To the Governor’s credit, he was very prescriptive with the memorandum of understanding, but I’m not convinced, based on some of these reports—and you’ve just added another as a proof point—that they have indeed had limited utility. I think they have done things that were never intended, and I have no interest in continuing that policy.
SH: Does the Governor have the power to take all the troops [back]—?
GN: Yes. We do. And I would.
SH: You’d get hit so hard from the right.
GN: Bring it on. First of all, it’s a de minimus number of people [i.e. the number of National Guard actually deployed]. It’s completely symbolic. It’s only marginally substantive. At the end of the day, it was feeding Donald Trump’s political narrative and I have no interest in doing that. And by the way, I support border security. I am not an open-borders Democrat. And I do not believe sanctuary policy should be a shield to criminal activity, and I reject the assertion by the right that I believe in any of those policies! I simply do not.
SH: Thank you for making that clear. It’s important to get that in. Do you remember a couple of months ago, a restaurant called The Red Hen asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave?
GN: I didn’t feel very comfortable with—
SH: And following that, Maxine Waters called for mass harassment of Trump supporters to tell them they’re not welcome anywhere.
GN: I’m just not comfortable with that. Look: I have family members that align with Trump and Trumpism and I’m not going to have a litmus test for every customer that walks in [to a PlumpJack facility]. I’m uncomfortable with that, as a merchant, as a restaurateur. Good people can disagree. Quite literally: good people can disagree, even if I find them disagreeable. If they play by the rules and they’re honest, even if they don’t believe in the same things I do, I just think it’s a slippery slope, I think it’s dangerous.
SH: When you say that good people can disagree—
GN: And I don’t mean that from a white nationalist perspective!
SH: Well, I was going to say, because the mind automatically goes to Charlottesville and Trump’s infamous “fine people on both sides” remark. So did Trump have a point?
GN: No. No. Nazis, I do not subscribe to that point of view. White supremacy, I do not subscribe. But my point is specific to Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I don’t think she’s a white nationalist—my personal opinion. And I don’t think she’s a Nazi. And I don’t think there’s evidence to bear that out. And with Maxine, I understand the spirit of what she’s saying: Get off Facebook and get in people’s faces. But if we’re going to get in people’s faces, let’s do it in a way that doesn’t excite or incite violence. I just think we need to soften the edges, and we can get in people’s faces in a more benign and enlightened way. She could have softened the language.
SH: Are Democrats like me just too angry?
GN: No. People have a right to be angry. I’m in the spirit of Reverend Lawson, of Doctor King. Meaning, I think you can meet resistance and you can be resolved without crossing that Rubicon, of inciting the other side to violence. I worry about this nation fraying at the edges. We’re better than that. You lose your moral authority when you cross that line. I think we have the moral authority; the President does not. Honestly, I spent a couple hours with Rev. Lawson, who studied Gandhi. He had more impact in terms of making the vernacular of the Sixties more gentle to life in this world. And I approve that approach, or at least support it, as opposed to the Antifa approach, which I do not support.
SH Let’s end on a lighter note. What do you do for relaxation?
GN: Nothing! It’s a big issue. Quite literally, and it’s becoming a bigger issue. I love photography; I vaguely recall doing it. That was my relaxation. That would be my third life, business being my first, politics my second.
SH: I remember back in the day you’d jog down at the Marina.
GN: I do a little of that. I try to get to the gym. All last week I missed it. Today, I did it. So there’s a little of that.
SH: Where is your gym?
GN: In Marin [County]. I already met some Make America Great folks. One guy walks in everyday with a Trump shirt, I’m told, because I’m there. I want to tell him, I know you’re doing this because you need attention. I’m happy to hug you and offer you whatever attention I can give you. But, honestly, think about these mixed-status families, and what you’re communicating, how threatened they feel by your simple act of neediness. Anyway, I want to hug this man. In fact, I helped him the other day. He was leaving, and he left a bottle on top of the car, and I ran over to the car, and he literally thought I was about to tackle him, and I said, “Oh! You left the bottle.” And I think he’s still processing that I wanted to help. Because I see his humanity. I see it in everyone. And that’s the spirit of what I’m trying to communicate. I don’t wish to see anyone hurt. I just don’t. I’m empathetic to people struggling, suffering, people who are wrong-headed, naïve, I’m empathetic to that. And I think you can find something in everybody. That’s the spirit of renewal, rebirth that’s needed in this country.
SH: I’m going to meditate on your words! [Newsom erupts into laughter] I’m not there yet, Governor! Are you reading anything?
GN: Interestingly, I had never read “My Life,” Bill Clinton’s book. I read it last weekend, 950-plus pages. Fascinating on so many levels. Fascinating particularly at this moment: everything changes, nothing changes. Also because I’m a Bobby Kennedy fanatic. It’s obvious to me, so much of Clinton’s [thinking] all comes out of Bobby. I didn’t fully appreciate it [before]. Plus there’s a nugget that comes out of that that’s relevant to this, and that was, when Clinton lost, two years after he was [first] elected [Governor of Arkansas, in 1978], Jerry Brown [who then was Governor of California] reached out to him and asked him to be chief-of-staff, after Gray Davis left.
GN: And Clinton thought about it, and was persuaded not to do it by Mickey Kantor [who later was campaign manager, in 1992, for the Clinton-Gore campaign]. Jerry made an argument that people come to California and they make careers and opportunities. If nothing else, what a nugget!
SH: One of the great What-ifs of history.
GN: What if he had gone to work for Jerry Brown?
SH: History would have pivoted off in a different direction.
GN: Isn’t that incredible? I’m going to see President Clinton next week, and I’m really looking forward to picking his brain on how we can—
[At this point, Newsom’s scheduler was frantically motioning to him. He was very behind on his next appointment.]
SH: Okay, gotta move on. Last movie you saw?
GN: What was that movie? I cried, oh my gosh. My kids were like, “Yeah.”
Nathan Click: Coco.
GN: It was for the kids [but] it touched me in a deep way.
SH: Favorite T.V. shows.
GN: Increasingly, The Eleventh Hour [on MSNBC]. I’m a huge Brian Williams fan.
SH: He’s killing it.
GN: He is brilliant, and he is so good.
SH: I do think that he happens to be employed by a liberal network so he has to be the late-night liberal. I don’t know if his heart is in it, but that’s fine. He’s doing yeoman’s work.
GN: And of course, Rachel [Maddow] tonight has Hillary Clinton, which is so exciting.
SH: Have you ever been on MSNBC?
GN: I’ve had to focus on this campaign, put my head down and avoid the bright lights. But I’ve been on Rachel 5, 8, 10 times, [and] Meet the Press, This Week, I did all that for years and years. And so I don’t feel I need to do it, except that to the extent it helps the State of California.
SH: Desert island food?
GN: Oh gosh. I mean, it’s my go-to, Pasta Della Casa, a North Beach restaurant. That’s what I demand for my Death Row last-eat session! And I’ll take a bottle of ’47 Cheval Blanc!
[The scheduler is begging with him. “You’re super-late for your next meeting.”]
GN: I know, but this is personal.
SH: Okay, last question! Songs on your playlist.
GN: [Looks at his phone] This proves I have kids! My playlist. [He plays a silly kids song.] My daughter is downloading everything! All these young boys. I mean, my daughter’s heart is breaking at nine! Seriously. But for me, I have Chvrches. And I’m deep into Peter Gabriel.
SH: Okay, thank you Governor! Let’s take some pictures.