Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom thinks hackers may be the key to good government. California’s lieutenant governor and San Francisco’s former mayor says officials are often hampered by old equipment and policies. But he thinks the tech community can step in and create apps for better bus schedules, carpooling systems and tracking your tax dollars, among other things. Lt. Gov. Newsom joins us to talk about his new book, “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.” We’ll also talk to him about his push to keep jobs in California, and his reportedly rocky relationship with Governor Jerry Brown.

Interview Highlights

On Gov. Jerry Brown and Job Creation

"I would just like to see us do a little bit more on jobs because we have 1.8 million people unemployed, we still have the third highest unemployment in America at 9.7percent. Imperial County's at 25.5 percent, you can't make that up, Colusa County's not far behind. Meanwhile, you have counties like Marin at 5.5 percent. So we have two different Californias even though we're living in the same state. And I think we need to reconcile that, reconcile our poverty issues, and get serious about job creation and job retention. I think Gov. Brown is more than capable of doing that, I just want to see him in the next to years put the kind of energy he put in the last two years into the issue of the budget, put it into to the issue of jobs and the economy. "

On Millenials

"They're more empathetic, this millennial generation, more engaged peer-to-peer, than any generation in history. But they're taking matters into their own hands, they're going to choose donors, as opposed to waiting in line up in Sacramento to get into a hearing that's dominated by the persuasion industry, lobbyists and special interests. They're rather doing direct connections on, or going to Indiegogo, or jumpstarting their opportunities to raise money and support causes they believe in with Kickstarter.

Malcolm Gladwell calls this the slacker generation, he's just missed the point. And the objective facts bared out he loves being the contrarian, and he got a lot of attention for that, but he's wrong. This is a whole new generational shift, you've seen it in media, it's flattened the media industry."

On Government Transparency

“Even though the American people overwhelmingly support the drone initiative, it just inures to less trust and goes to your question, why are people not engaged? Because they don?t have that trust. Even if they like the president and like the drones, they don?t like the secrecy. And that's what's got to be changed.”

On the Argument for an Open Government

"Right now we have a government that acts like a vending machine. David Kettle years ago wrote about this analogy and I loved it, the idea of a vending machine is that you put in your taxes, you get police, fire, healthcare, education, defense, but you have limited choices. Someone else is making the determination of what's in the machine. That's the government we have today, it's a framework of scarcity. And if you don't like the machine or what's in the machine, you shake it — [such as] the Occupy movement, the Tea Party. What we're looking for, and what I'm arguing for with this open government is a government 2.0 framework, government as a platform that recognizes the concern of your question, that we recognize that we can't necessarily solve all of our problems."

On the Public Private Pay Gap

"The problem with talent in the private sector is self-evident, how are you going to get the best and brightest in the public sector, particularly in information technology, and the answer is we won't. We're not going to able to compete in that respect. So it's all about opening up this platform to third-party developers. It's about taking up information, putting it up online the same way that Steve Jobs looked at the iPhone.

Steve Jobs didn't put together 80,000 apps that work on the iPhone platform today, he only did about 12. He said 'We're not in the apps business, we're going to open that up to the private sector.' And that's the way I see a framework of abundance. That's the way I see a framework of government in the future. It's trying to create a framework of engagement with citizen developers and with the private sector to initiate a lot of these solutions particularly as it related to the ubiquity of the cloud, the move to mobility, and the opportunity to engage with those who have the expertise to solve problems at a local, state, and national level."

On Education Reform

"The last 150 years the education system hasn't changed. If someone came back to life today someone would see the exact same classroom they saw 150 years. I mean Sal Khan, these guys, they get it. It makes the issue of tenure and seniority, those issues are so dull, so stale. I listen to all these people screaming and yelling at each other, and creating all these organizations, and billionaires spending all this money on trivia. You want to get serious about education reform, you can't reform it, you've got to design something completely different than it is today. You've got to look at blended learning, you've got to look at flipping the classroom. You've gotta look at these tools of technology to completely shift the mindset of how we engage in a more Socratic way."

Gavin Newsom, lieutenant governor of California, former mayor of San Francisco and author, with Lisa Dickey, of the new book "Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government"

  • Hamartia

    There has come to be so much criminality within government, perhaps more on the federal level than state, that for most members of the public who are not ignorant, gullible or sycophantic a bond has been broken. Consider the unprosecuted high-level criminality of recent years on Wall Street, the unprosecuted war crimes by Blackwater and others in Iraq, and of course the treasonous crimes of the military industrial complex in perpetrating 9/11 (see Legalized crimes like torture, spying, kidnapping (called rendition) and lawless assassinations of Americans and others using drones have cemented the awake public’s view of government as a bastion not just for crooks but for psychopaths. An informed person has every reason to fear and distrust the existing government, and I doubt that token efforts like welcoming the public to take part in improving bus schedules will begin to heal our society. The only viable solution is instead a parallel government, run by and for the people in spite of the corporate 1% system. This is what Occupy at times has striven to be, for instance after Hurricane Sandy.

    • Checkerboard

      One should equally consider the corruption at FNMA, from Franklin Raines on down, that created the government guarantees for all the junk loans that were destined to fail.
      The ultimate enabler: our own public officials. Without FNMA’s guarantees and purchases, there would have been no mortgage crisis.

  • Bob Fry

    Gavin is very naive if he thinks a creative, “hacker” culture can suddenly be dropped upon the state bureaucracy. As an engineer for the state with 25 years service, I’ve seen my department gradually degenerate from being somewhat receptive to ideas from staffers to being a totally top-down, rigid hierarchy with too often a kiss-up, kick-down attitude by managers. A few apps aren’t going to cure this. The only way is for the governor’s office, ultimately, to accept some amount of disharmony and “chaos” in the state departments that allows multiple voices instead of a single, soothing, party-line voice.

    • Hey Bob, I’m co-founder of Code for Sacramento ( and we’re well aware of the need to change the culture of state government. Would love to have you join us in being part of the solution.

  • Chris OConnell

    al-Jazeera is undoubtedly a far superior news organization to CNN, NBC etc. It is certainly at the level of BBC and even higher for Americans, since it covers topics, subject and views that are systematically excluded from discussions of US foreign policy.

    So I find it sad but hardly surprising Mr. Newsom resigned as some sort of statement against al-Jazeera. I guess he has national ambitions.

    • Chris OConnell

      OK. Newsom denied leaving because of the al-Jazeera connection so I can respect that. But meanwhile, Michael Krasny says that al-Jazeera supports Hamas and Hezbollah and were against the Iraq War and they are just bad, he intones. I am really not sure if any of those things are true. They may be. After all, our news media supported the Iraq War while denouncing and isolating or just plain ignoring Hamas and Hezbollah.

      But it is true that al-Jazeera gave voice to Hamas and Hezbollah (they are an Arabic media outlet after all). Hamas of course is the elected party in power in Gaza. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is the most powerful and largest faction in Lebanese politics. These are inconvenient truths as we in the US cry and shut down any discussion: “Terrorists!”

      al-Jazeera also showed the incredible destruction and victims of the US war in Iraq. According to Krasny, this makes them against the War unlike the good networks in the US which dutifully avoided such carnage (to the extent they could anyway).

      • mbglife

        I think Crasny said that al-Jazeera “started out” supporting those organizations and that they are right up there now. That something different.

      • erictremont

        For your information, Hamas came to control the Gaza Strip by staging a violent coup in June 2007 overthrowing the rival Fatah party’s executive authority. After Hamas narrowly won the popular vote in the Janaury 2006 parliamentary elections, Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party was still the legitimate president for both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

  • Kim

    Sounds like Lt. Gov. Newsom might be considering a run for Ca Governor…

  • Kim

    Has Newsom heard of Code for America? Their mission statement sounds very in line with CFA’s work.


    Tallk, talk, talk!!! Take a breath Gavin and have a discussion. It’s not all about YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BORING!!!

    • willcommentforfood

      Very annoying how Newsom filibustered. I was interested until it became painful. I wonder if he has add– no offense to those who do, but this behavior of his needs modification.

    • Pontifikate

      That’s all he ever does — talk without stopping. And he gets in all those buzz words. I think he said “lean in” at least 4 times in 1/2 hour. Please go back to private life.

      • Yef

        What, to be replaced by some grimy lobbyist?

  • Guest

    Ha. Mr. Newsome’s perspective that Apple isn’t in the app business reveals that he obviously hasn’t personally tried to develop for their platform. The paranoid cult in Cupertino known as “Apple” control and CENSOR third party apps from start to finish. If you want to be “open, transparent and build trust” then Apple is the WRONG example to be holding up as an example.

    • willcommentforfood

      Totally. While I like the gist of many things Newsom said, some of his details like that one were a glaring error. Also, his rap about being open to citizen feedback sounds a bit disingenious considering his record refusing to meet with the Board of Supervisors monthly as required by law. Nonetheless, I like Newsom compared to most other state politicians as he brings a fresh perspective and a desire to create change and not just continue the status quo.

  • Community engagement through technology is happening in cities around the US today! Check out how @

  • catherine L

    Can Newsom suggest ways to organize FOR adult education, FOR community colleges, FOR learning? Lots of us already have BAs, but they’re outdated. Adult Ed is affordable and an investment, right? Big shift now to education only for degrees, rationing of ed., and excessive emphasis on online learning (which is really inferior IMHO from the classes I’ve had to take online).

  • Katherine Cramer

    How has your Santa Clara University education influenced your passions? I have a story about Jerry Brown when he was campaigning for Mayor of Oakland. I was able to speak with him one-on-one and commented about house values declining. We had talked about being SCU grads prior to this so he looked at me and said that a SCU grad should have better things to think about. Soon after I went to grad school at JFKU for a Masters in Counseling and have served Oakland in that capacity. I have a request for Gavin Newsom. Please see if he can influence the lobbyists who have kept MFTs out of being hired at hospitals and in the VA. Social Workers are given priority and typically have less experience in face-to-face counseling. Thanks, Katherine SCU grad 1978.

  • I’m excited.

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