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The Big Idea

A humble suggestion for the incoming governor on how next to make history


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In our Marin-based sister publication this week, the Pacific Sun (, there's a playful story that's based off of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom's ongoing indecisiveness when it comes to telling the world where he and his family will be living when he takes office next month.

Will it be Sacramento or Kentfield? The consensus speculation among media types around the state is that Newsom and his family are staying put: He has a really nice house in tony Kentfield in Marin County, and four children under the age of 10 to think about.

I came up with a few thoughts about why Newsom ought to stay put in Marin, some more goofy than others, but one serious reason has to do with Newsom's history of being an out-front champion for hopeless ideas that suddenly become the law of the land, or at least part of the land—i.e., gay marriage and cannabis legalization, both of which Newsom has been a flat-out national leader in advancing.

And lots of reporters have been asking of Newsom since election day: Hey, what's the next Big Idea?

Here's one: Why doesn't Newsom break ranks with Gov. Jerry Brown's equivocating death-penalty posture and declare his opposition to capital punishment in California—and intention to end it? The state under Brown (who opposes the death penalty in principle) has fumbled around the grotesque ethics of cooking up a single-drug protocol that doesn't fly in the face of constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment. It has wasted millions of dollars on a failed execution protocol that has left more than seven-hundred people on death row, with no sign that anyone's going to be executed anytime soon. Suicide and old age will kill you before the state does. Two of the condemned died last week, as the Los Angeles Times reported—and as it added its voice to the clamor for an end to capital punishment in California (the paper called on Newsom and Brown to work together in Brown's last days to abolish the death penalty).

For Newsom, the notorious San Quentin State Prison is practically right down the street from Kentfield. He has a chance to go big out the gate, with or without buy-in from the departing Brown. Barack Obama made headlines—and history—as the first U.S. president to visit a federal prison while he was in office. So when was the last time a sitting California governor visited death row? As far as I can tell, the answer is never.

Tom Gogola is the News and Features editor of the 'North Bay Bohemian' and 'Pacific Sun.'

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write



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