Gov. Newsom talks high-speed rail, path to politics in surprise Paly visit

Soumya Jhaveri and Hallie Faust

“Don’t pursue something that limits your capacity, to not only dream, but to imagine, to be creative.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s voice filled a packed classroom during an impromptu visit to the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Center on Thursday afternoon as he covered a variety of topics such as the high-speed rail and education inequity, while also encouraging students to pursue their interests.

Newsom originally began talking to Campanile and C-Magazine journalism classes, but more students trickled in as they heard news of his arrival. The event was organized by Campanile adviser Esther Wojcicki, who said she had invited Newsom to discuss ideas about education in California.

He spoke about his non-traditional path to government, which began with a baseball scholarship to Santa Clara University.

“My experience was totally customized,” Newsom said. “It was totally self-paced, it was individualized. And that’s the only reason I’m standing here.”

He began his political career by speaking out against Willie Brown, who was the mayor of San Francisco at the time, by calling Brown “bad for businesses.” Brown then appointed Newsom to serve on the Parking and Traffic Commission. From there, Newsom served on the Board of Supervisors, as mayor of San Francisco for two terms, and later as lieutenant governor of California and current governor of California.

Newsom said he believes one of the most important reasons he became governor of California is the “Winter of Love” in 2004, in which San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Although he holds a powerful political position, he advised students to remember that they always have a voice.

“Some of the most transformational figures in our history had one thing in common: They, number one, didn’t have formal authority, and number two, they all exercised their moral authority,” Newsom said. “They didn’t wait to be something to do something.”

Questions from students prompted Newsom to explain the latest developments with the California high-speed rail. The project, which was first approved in 2008, is currently under construction; however, California only has $20 billion of the $100 billion needed.

“We had to reprioritize getting a segment done, so I just announced we’re getting that segment done, and we’re going to pursue more money,” Newsom said.

Now, California’s lawsuit against the recently announced emergency declaration by President Donald Trump could threaten to take away from the already lacking stash.

“It’s an interesting political dynamic in terms of the idealism of it and the vision which I supported, and the pragmatism of it — actually need[ing] to invest money,” Newsom said. “We don’t have it. It’s tough.”

In addition to the high-speed rail, he touched on topics such as climate change, education strikes, the achievement gap and healthcare.

He also spoke of his personal belief that people should hold themselves more accountable for their actions. Newsom shared a story of how his wine company celebrates the biggest failures of each month and year.

“The whole idea is to incentivize initiative,” Newsom said. “I don’t like people that say, ‘Well that’s someone else, or that’s not my problem.’”

He ended the talk by paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, saying everyone is born original but that many people die as copies of others.

“Find your authentic voice,” Newsom said.