LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday delivered his State of the State speech in an empty Dodger Stadium — the 56,000 seats almost the exact same as the number of Californians killed by COVID-19.
"And I'm speaking to you from Dodger stadium — transformed from the home of last year's World Series champions into the centerpiece of America's mass vaccination campaign," Newsom said. "Instead of fans in the stands, we see nurses in [personal protective equipment] saving lives one injection at a time, all because a year ago, a once-in-a-century pandemic arrived on our shores.
"COVID was no one's fault, but it quickly became everyone's burden, forcing hardworking Californians into impossible choices to go to work and risk infection or stay home and lose your job," he continued.
As of Tuesday, Newsom said 54,395 Californians had died from COVID-19 — a figure he said gave the state one of the lowest COVID death rates per capita in the nation. But he also acknowledged that people of color were dying at a much faster pace.
"When this pandemic ends, and it will end soon, we're not going to go back to normal," he said. "I think we all agree, normal was never good enough. Normal accepts inequity. That's why Latinos are dying from COVID at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group."
And when it comes to reopening the state's economy, Newsom said businesses were getting more grant money, more aid was being offered to families and schools were in the process of reopening.
"Every single day more and more schools are announcing they are re-opening," he said. "In fact, almost 7,000 schools are now open or plan to reopen by mid-April for in-person instruction."
The speech came just days after the state announced a loosening of restrictions that will allow fans to attend baseball games for the first time in a year, albeit at extremely limited capacity.
Newsom highlighted the work being done to battle the pandemic, including health care workers, mothers, farm workers, children and others who have been particularly impacted by the virus.
"Your quiet bravery has created light," he said. "And the darkest of times, you know, Dr. King once said, 'Only when it's dark enough, can you see the stars.'"
Newsom's address also came as his political foes claimed they have the signatures required to trigger a recall election, though the signatures were still being reviewed. And while the governor did not directly mention the recall, he did address "California critics."
"So to the California critics out there who are promoting partisan political power grabs with outdated prejudices and rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again," he said.
And while homelessness was not the main topic of this year's address, Newsom pointed to Project Roomkey and the state's program to convert old hotels and other existing structures to supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. He also reaffirmed his administration's commitment to addressing the state's deepening homelessness crises.
"We are mindful that these tent cities on our sidewalks, these encampments, along our freeways, they simply remain unacceptable," he said. "And so our challenge moving forward is crystal clear to continue our immediate progress while focusing on our longer term goals."
In the very small in-person audience was one of Newsom's staunchest allies, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He said the governor did what he needed to do in his speech.
"At a moment when we have a pandemic to finish off, when we have an economic downturn to climb out of, the last thing we need is $100 million in politics on another election," he said. "Aren't we sick and tired of that."
Following the address, California Republicans slammed the speech.
"My takeaway is this: California under Newsom is no longer the Golden State," State Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) said. "He absolutely has no plan for how to get our kids back in school, he has no plan for how to improve EDD, and he has no plan on how to get our people vaccinated."
But Loyola Law School professor and political analyst Jessica Levinson said the recall effort would likely depend on the state's vaccine rollout and school reopening plans.
"I don't think that this speech is going to be the end-all, be-all for the recall campaign," she said. "What we saw tonight is a governor who appeared either nervous and/or on the defensive. It seemed like he was making his case, without ever mentioning the word recall, that he deserves to be governor."
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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