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Gov. Newsom’s biggest critic might be this California congressman

Freshman Republican Rep. Kevin Kiley spreads his warning in Washington

Rep. Kevin Kiley, seen here at a Judiciary Committee hearing in April, says his state under Gov. Gavin Newsom has trended in a direction that is “not where we want to go as a country.”
Rep. Kevin Kiley, seen here at a Judiciary Committee hearing in April, says his state under Gov. Gavin Newsom has trended in a direction that is “not where we want to go as a country.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Californians like to brag that their home has it all — mountainous forests, cerulean lakes, otherworldly deserts — and Kevin Kiley, the Republican representing the Golden State’s 3rd District, is no different. 

But he rarely passes up the opportunity to express how loathsome he finds the actions of the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom. “When you look at the fact that we lead the nation in poverty, in homelessness … I’ve seen why it is that these problems have gotten worse in California,” says Kiley.

After an unsuccessful attempt to recall the Democrat from office in 2021, Kiley sees it as part of his mission to keep the flame alive and make the case in Congress that “the brand of politics that has prevailed in the state is … not where we want to go as a country.” 

The Yale Law graduate and former state assemblyman sat down earlier this fall to talk about his first year in Washington, his view from the DCCC target list and what he has in common with Rep. Jamie Raskin. This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Q: Your district is nearly 450 miles long. It’s massive. Do you have a favorite among the desert, the mountains and the lakes?

A: I don’t — I love all parts of my district. Total political answer, I know. But I’m serious now, there really is no district like it in the country. From Lake Tahoe to Death Valley, who would have thought both of those would be in one district? 

I spend a lot of time on the road. Of course, I have to spend a lot of time in D.C., but I try to be as present as possible. 

As large as the district is, there is a commonality of concerns. From north to south, we have areas that have been affected by devastating wildfires, so that has been a top priority of mine. Everywhere in the district, the cost of living is a huge impediment to the quality of life, so that’s been at the top of my priorities as well. 

Q: You worked with Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland to reintroduce the PRESS Act, which was marked up in the Judiciary Committee this summer and got bipartisan support. Why do you care about a press shield law? Why did you pick this issue as a freshman?

A: Well, it’s about the First Amendment, and it’s about the ability of our democracy to function as the founders intended. What’s the quote from Madison? “A popular government without popular information … is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy, or perhaps both.” 

The founders put freedom of the press in the First Amendment because they understood how vital it was to have the ability to provide the public access to the information they need to participate in the great experiment of self-government. And when you have impediments to the exercise of that right, or when you have the potential for government compulsion of source material or communications or work product, then that can only serve to chill the exercise of those First Amendment freedoms to the detriment of our body politic. 

As you can see from the bipartisan support it’s received [from 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats], it’s an issue where we can come together to advance First Amendment principles. And I’m always looking for those kinds of opportunities.

Q: I think it’s fair to say that you’re best known as a critic of Gavin Newsom. You were one of the GOP challengers who had your name on the ballot and tried to recall him from office in 2021. Why has he been a continued focus for you since you’ve come to Washington?

A: My first and foremost focus is representing my district and serving my constituents. That’s the core of the work we do. 

Now, I spent time in our [state] legislature, and it’s true that I fought very hard against many of the actions that Gavin Newsom took, particularly during the COVID era. For example, he shut down schools longer than any governor in the entire country, which everyone now acknowledges was a mistake. And in fact, Newsom himself said just [a couple months ago] on “Meet the Press” that he would have done everything differently. 

The brand of politics that has prevailed in the state is far outside the bounds of the normal parameters of either the left or the right. It has gone so far in one direction, and it’s not where we want to go as a country. 

And so I feel like, having experienced that firsthand in California, it is important to share with my colleagues in Congress what the results have been. 

Let’s take a very clear example. The president has nominated Julie Su to be secretary of Labor. She was Gavin Newsom’s secretary of labor in California. California has the second-highest unemployment in the nation right now and the highest poverty rate. As labor secretary, Julie Su aggressively enforced one of the worst laws that has ever passed when it comes to economic opportunity, AB 5 [that reclassified some independent contractors as employees], and she squandered $32 billion in unemployment fraud. 

I felt like my experiences dealing with her and the administration in California prepared me to make the case against her ascension to lead the U.S. Department of Labor.

Q: Permit me a cynical follow up. It sounds like you want to run for governor, based on that response.

A: I’m running for reelection to the House. Right now, my focus is on serving this vast district that I now have the great opportunity to represent.

Q: You’re on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list, which means you can expect there’ll be some added help for your opponents next year. Are you worried about how your party’s agenda will reflect on you as House Republicans keep pursuing an impeachment inquiry into President Biden? 

A: You know, this is a constitutional process. It’s not — or at least it’s not supposed to be — a product of politics. It’s specifically the domain of the legislative branch to hold the executive branch to account in these matters. So my approach to the investigations that are underway now would be the same regardless of who the president was.

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, which is ultimately the committee of jurisdiction for any impeachment, my guiding philosophy will be to follow the facts where they lead and then to assess whether they reach the constitutional threshold of a high crime or misdemeanor. That goes for this president, it goes for any other president, and it goes for any other administration official that is subject to that constitutional provision.

I view myself as a juror, and I want to be in a position to evaluate the facts as they are then presented against the standard set forth in the Constitution.

And just like a juror, I don’t think you should go out and be announcing your conclusion before you’ve had an opportunity to evaluate the evidence — or indeed, before the full breadth of the evidence has even been gathered. 

Quick hits

Last book you read? “Interstellar” by Avi Loeb, about space exploration.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? To an extent. We’re not elected to be philosophers, but rather to get a job done — but it’s also important to have guiding principles and lines you won’t cross. That is a balance you always have to keep in mind, between principles and pragmatism.

Your least popular opinion? I’m a big Sacramento Kings fan, and I hold out hope that they’ll win a championship, let’s say within the decade.

One thing your friends know about you that your constituents don’t? I’m recently engaged. 

One thing you’ve learned in Congress? There are a lot of different ways to make an impact, and it’s important to pursue every possible avenue. Sometimes that might mean introducing a bill and getting it passed. Sometimes it might mean pressing an administration official, participating in an oversight hearing or taking a stand on an issue within your community. Having that sense of flexibility and resourcefulness really pays dividends.

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