Gov. Gavin Newsom in Dodger Stadium. Courtesy of the governor’s office

Defying his critics and repeatedly preaching that belief in science has guided the state through the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at Dodger Stadium Tuesday evening that California will emerge from the crisis not on its knees, but with a roar.

In a 28-minute State of the State Address delivered at the empty stadium — its 56,000 seats roughly equaling the 54,395 Californians who have died from the coronavirus — Newsom looked back on a year of policies designed to tackle the pandemic, and vowed a triumphant emergence.

“Since this pandemic started, uncertainty has been the only thing we could be certain of,” he said. “But now we’re providing a little bit more certainty. Certainty that we’re safely vaccinating Californians as quickly as possible. Certainty that we’re safely reopening our economy and certainty that we’re safely getting our kids back into the classroom. All of which adds up to a much better future for our state. Because California — we’re not going to come crawling back, we will roar back.”

Although he did not specifically mention the effort to recall him from office, he delivered a pointed rebuke to his critics.

“The state of our state, it remains determined,” he said. “I remain determined. And I just want you to know, we’re not going to change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers. So to the California critics out there who are promoting partisan, political power grabs without outdated prejudices and rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and getting our economy booming again. This is a fight for California’s future.”

Newsom touted the state as a national leader in combating the virus, from being the first state to issue a stay-at-home order to now leading the country in vaccine administration, doling out 3 million more doses than any other state.

“Think about this, California now ranks sixth in the world for vaccination distribution. Ahead of countries. Not states. Ahead of countries like Russia, Germany, Israel and France. I know our progress hasn’t always felt fast enough. And look, we’ve made mistakes. I have made mistakes. But we own them. We learn from them and we never stop trying. After all, that’s the California spirit.”

Newsom repeatedly emphasized the state’s insistence on following science, not political pressure, in making decisions about virus control.

“It was a year ago, a year ago that we made that incredible difficult decision to issue that stay-at-home order to slow the spread. You know, we agonized about it. We agonized about the sacrifices that it would require. But we made sure that science, not politics, drove our decisions. And as experts like Dr. (Anthony) Fauci have said, it was the right thing to do. People are alive today because of the public health decisions we made. Lives saved because of your sacrifice.”

He said the state is working aggressively to reopen the economy, referencing a new shift that accounts for vaccine distribution in hard-hit communities as a metric for speeding the restart of more businesses. But he also said it’s still too early to “let down our guard,” particularly with the emergence of rapidly spreading coronavirus variants.

Newsom touted state stimulus packages, eviction bans and landlord support, $2.6 billion in small business grants, financial support for farmworkers and funding for “food banks and diapers.” He also promoted the recently enacted $6.6 billion legislative package providing incentives for schools to restart in-person instruction for students up to second-grade.

“Every day, every single day, more and more schools are announcing reopening dates, in fact, almost 7,000 schools are open or plan to reopen by mid-April for in-person instruction — 7,000,” he said. “But California has about 11,000 schools in over 1,000 school districts spread across 58 counties, all locally controlled. So we’re not going to be satisfied until everybody is safely back in the classroom.”

Newsom also took time to address the continuing problem of homelessness across the state, touting programs such as Project Roomkey and Project Homekey that he said have created thousands of shelters and permanent homes, and saying the state is “literally rewriting the book on how to tackle homelessness.”

“While we acted swiftly during this pandemic, we are mindful — none of us are naive — we are mindful that these tent cities on our sidewalks, these encampments along our freeways, they simply remain unacceptable,” he said. “So our challenge moving forward is crystal clear, to continue our immediate progress while focusing on our longer-term goals.”

The speech comes as Newsom deals with the growing possibility of facing a recall election. Organizers of the recall effort said Monday they had collected 1.95 million signatures on recall petitions. Forcing a recall election requires organizers to submit just under 1.5 million valid signatures. Recall organizers typically try to far exceed the signature requirement, due to the likelihood of some signatures being found to be invalid.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who has announced his candidacy to replace Newsom should the recall be successful, didn’t wait to hear Newsom’s speech before issuing a blistering criticism of the governor Tuesday.

“The only comeback Gavin Newsom is focused on is his own,” Faulconer said. “He will say anything to save his political career. Words are all he has.”

Faulconer said Newsom’s policies have triggered an exodus of residents and businesses from California, saying, “the only people thriving under Gavin Newsom are the folks who work at U-Haul.”

“I know that crises are inevitable,” he said. “It’s how you deal with them that matters. Gavin Newsom has had almost unlimited emergency powers for a yea … Time and time again he has completely failed on delivering the basics.”

State Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, issued a statement saying that under Newsom, California “is in a state of disrepair.”

“He has no plan on how to get our kids back in school full time,” Wilk said. “He has no plan on how to improve EDD and he has no plan on how to get people vaccinated. He talked about number of vaccinations but the reality is we are 49th our of 50 states in vaccinations rates. We are doing something wrong but he has no plan to fix it.”

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