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Vaccines, unemployment, housing, drought: Where top recall candidates stand on the issues

Photos of Kevin Paffrath, Kevin Faulconer, John Cox, Kevin Kiley and Caitlyn Jenner
Candidates running to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election include, clockwise from top left: Kevin Paffrath, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, John Cox, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and Caitlyn Jenner.
(Associated Press)
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The Sept. 14 recall election is just days away, and Californians who are registered to vote have been sent their ballots.

The Times asked six leading replacement candidates — five Republicans and one Democrat — how they would address several pressing issues facing the state and about their political ideologies in an effort to provide readers a better understanding of how they might lead if elected.

Those contacted to participate were determined by the findings of a recent poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by The Times.

Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Olympic decathlete and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, Rocklin Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, all Republicans, and real estate investor and YouTube personal finance personality Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, provided responses to the questionnaire.

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Republican Larry Elder, who is the front-runner among the replacement candidates in recent polls, declined to respond to the survey.

Here’s what Cox, Faulconer, Jenner, Kiley and Paffrath had to say. Responses have been edited for clarity.

Jump to: | COVID-19 vaccine rates | Unemployment | Eviction protections | Drought | Political ideology |

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COVID-19 vaccine rates

Several of the candidates to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election have spoken out against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, saying that while they believe inoculations are the key to ending the pandemic, they would take other steps to urge Californians to be vaccinated. If you are elected governor, what measures if any would you take to help bolster vaccination rates and protect the state against future surges in virus transmission?

John Cox: We have to make Californians trust the science and believe the government. Here’s the simple truth. Vaccines work. They are overwhelmingly effective. They are how we get our lives back to normal. When the government starts closing down businesses again and restricting our lives, it sends the wrong message. It says the vaccines don’t work and are a waste of time. They aren’t. They are key to ending this pandemic. We have to make sure people know that, know that they are safe, and then not backtrack and send mixed messages about their effectiveness.

Some people can’t have the vaccine for medical or other reasons; some have powerful immunity from having had the disease. They shouldn’t be mandated. It is shown that this disease spreads among vaccinated or unvaccinated but the unvaccinated have far worse symptoms. We should be working to educate people about this difference. We aren’t likely to “erase” this illness; it has animal reservoirs, unlike smallpox. We will have to live with it, develop better therapies and stress vaccinations — which may have to be done on a more regular basis. The one thing we should not do is multiply the problem by shutting down small business, keeping our kids out of school or imposing psychological and other ills by requiring masks.

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The FDA has now approved fully the Pfizer vaccine and will hopefully address the others soon. I believe a major part of the reticence in the unvaccinated is the lack of trust in government. Removing Gavin Newsom will help that. He eroded the trust needed by acting hypocritically at the French Laundry [restaurant] but also by handing out no-bid contracts to donors and soliciting charitable donors for his wife’s foundation from companies with business before the state. My administration will stress integrity, transparency and absence of conflicts of interest to rebuild trust in California’s government.

Kevin Faulconer: I want children in school, workers employed, and Californians healthy. I encourage every Californian to get vaccinated, and will continue to do so as governor. I know many Californians are concerned about the Delta variant, and I share that concern. As governor I am going to listen to doctors and follow their advice. I will work with health experts to monitor hospital capacity and will empower local governments to make public health decisions based on the facts on the ground.

Given the critical importance of education, my administration would organize vaccination campaigns to ensure that all students, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have access to vaccines once eligible. California also must ramp up its outreach to communities that data show are more likely to be unvaccinated by using trusted community advocates and organizations. I will focus targeted campaigns on improving vaccine rates among Black and Latino Californians, who are currently less likely to be vaccinated. I do not support a statewide ban on vaccine or mask mandates.

Caitlyn Jenner: There has not been a single governor who has mismanaged the pandemic worse than Gavin Newsom. He is the epitome of hypocrisy — dining at the French Laundry with his special-interest friends while he shut us down and ordered us to stay home. He personally chose winners and losers of the pandemic. His special-interest friends won while the rest of California lost.

When I’m governor, I will balance the safety of our residents with the economic impact of a shutdown. Last year, states like Texas and Florida did it well because their governors made balanced decisions based upon science rather than who wrote them the biggest campaign check. They did a great job of listening to the science without destroying lives. I would do the same and make sure we are encouraging vaccination, but not mandating it. What Newsom is doing with vaccine and mask mandates is completely beyond the pale of what any governor should do. Even the unions are standing up against him and pushing back. He simply does not understand that he can’t control us with his draconian rules.

Kevin Kiley: My approach would be based on trust — the precise opposite of Gavin Newsom’s. Newsom cast doubt on the vaccine last October to try to score political points, saying we couldn’t take the FDA’s word for whether it was safe. The chair of the United States Senate Health Committee said Newsom’s antics would “discourage Americans from taking the vaccine” and “cost lives.”

Newsom was then responsible for the slowest vaccine rollout in the country, ignoring my request for a special session of the Legislature where we could have provided oversight and assisted with the process. Most recently, he’s announced mandates that no other state has, then immediately rolled out campaign ads with dire warnings that a new governor would roll them back.

Newsom has played politics with the vaccine just as he has played politics throughout the COVID era — resulting in an excess mortality rate significantly higher than the national average. My approach would focus on building trust and promoting health while protecting individual rights.

Kevin Paffrath: As governor, my priority is making sure we use every tool available to combat COVID, and that includes incentivizing vaccinations with $250 for new adult vaccinations, encouraging each local business or community building to choose and disclose whether or not they require vaccines or masks, and encourage HEPA filtration/ventilation to make sure we can help minimize the spread of COVID where those who cannot get vaccinated or effectively wear masks are also protected, like in our schools.

A nurse prepares to give a patient a shot
A nurse gives a COVID-19 vaccine to a woman on Aug. 17.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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Unemployment

California’s unemployment system struggled from the onset of the pandemic, buckling under the pressure of getting benefit payments to hundreds of thousands of jobless residents and losing billions of dollars to fraud. A strike team was appointed by the governor to make recommendations on addressing long-standing issues at the agency, including outdated technology and insufficient staffing. What steps would you take to reform the Employment Development Department that have not yet been taken, and how would you ensure unemployed Californians who still have yet to receive their benefits are made whole? Please be specific.

Cox: As a certified public accountant and businessman, I know about broken systems and how to fix them. We will perform a top-to-bottom audit right away and correct every identified problem. Part of the audit will be making sure every California who deserves help gets it, and that no fraud occurs. We will increase staff and update technology. A human being will answer the phone and help someone when they call. We will appoint new leadership who are focused on the customers and fixing a broken system. We know the system is broken; the politicians just don’t have the willpower to fix it. I do.

We will also get politics out of it. We will do a match of Social Security numbers to identify those who would claim coverage but are otherwise ineligible, such as prisoners in our jails. Politics kept California from accessing federal funds for such a matching system with disastrous consequences.

Faulconer: It’s not right that hard-working Californians can’t get the money they need to pay their bills because of incompetence or negligence. The state’s failure to modernize its technology is a product of failed leadership and priorities. The Employment Development Department’s problems have been brewing for years, but Newsom has still not made fixing it a priority — his plan to modernize the EDD’s outdated IT system is planned to take until 2027 to complete. These problems came up in the wake of the last recession, when Newsom was lieutenant governor, yet few impactful changes have been made during his decade in Sacramento.

Sacramento’s inaction will change under my administration. My comprehensive plan for reforming the EDD is one of the first proposals I made when I entered this race. A modernized EDD will have robust fraud protections, the ability to provide Californians direct deposit payments, automated claims processing, expanded call center hours and an effective online customer service portal.

I’ll make fixing the EDD the state’s top technology project under my administration, dedicating the best minds in state government and engaging the private sector to update its systems immediately. Modernizing its computer systems will help ensure claims are processed more accurately and efficiently, so EDD can better serve Californians.

I will use the full power of the governor’s office to ensure more Californians are receiving their benefits, holding the state bureaucracy accountable every step of the way. I will provide 24/7 phone access for Californians until the backlog is addressed and during future times of crisis. I will also hire additional workers to clear unemployment claim backlogs and ensure all staff get the training needed to effectively resolve cases.

Jenner: Gavin Newsom’s “strike team” — just like everything else he’s done — has been a failure. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Californians are not getting the help they need while California has lost billions of dollars to fraud.

I am a results-oriented person, and I will require the Employment Development Department to produce results. People’s lives are at risk, and this type of fraud puts Californians in danger. Part of the problem is Newsom failed to heed warnings of fraud earlier in the year. As governor, I will take all fraud claims seriously, and each one will be investigated to ensure that we evaluate every dollar spent by our state government provides the return on investment that our people deserve.

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Kiley: My team and I were on the front lines of the EDD crisis, working daily to help hundreds of my constituents get the benefits they so desperately needed. It was absolutely unconscionable that so many of the families I represent were not able to get benefits, while people in our state prisons were skimming off billions in taxpayer dollars.

I got to work immediately to demand an audit of the EDD, and I coauthored a package of bills to make urgent reforms. These reforms sought to ensure individual data was protected, cross-check unemployment claims with correctional inmate data, and expedite the time in which qualified claimants received benefits. When the 2020 legislative session ended with no action on the issue, I called for a special session of the Legislature and asked my colleagues to keep working for the people of California.

Unfortunately, Gov. Newsom failed to act with any sense of urgency. He refused to prioritize EDD reforms in his “historic” state budget. The EDD has been working on a “modernization” of its software for 11 years and was woefully unprepared to respond to the surge in demand over the past year. The result has been devastating for millions of Californians who are still waiting for benefits.

Other states resolved similar issues in a matter of days by partnering with the private sector on cloud-based solutions. As governor, I would unleash the power of California innovation to fix our state’s most daunting technological problems. I would also put in place leadership that serves the people of California, not leaders who are simply biding their time until they get an opportunity to serve in a national administration.

Finally, it is time that we reform our civil service system in California state government. It is far too difficult to incentivize and reward good performance, and it is even more difficult to let employees go when they are not meeting the demands of the organization. Until we address the root causes of our broken bureaucracy, we will continue to see the same failing results.

Paffrath: The massive fraud and slow payment-processing of the EDD is symptomatic of the disastrous way California handles problems. EDD employees frequently lament the complicated processes, lack of training, and lack of a single system for coordinating payments, leading to extremely slow processing time frames and high fraud. California should have a single platform for the EDD to process payments through, one that’s easy to use and easy to train on — then we need to ensure we can eliminate fraud in our payments system. Coordinating with the Federal Reserve at San Francisco or companies like JP Morgan to utilize faster payment processes will be a top priority to ensure Californians receive money fast, efficiently, and we eliminate fraud.

A jogger runs past the EDD office building
The office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

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Eviction protections

Homelessness and housing insecurity have long been at a crisis point in California. The twin issues were magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many worrying they were on the brink of homelessness as they struggled to pay rent amid business shutdowns. What, if anything, should be done when COVID-19-related eviction protections expire?

Cox: We need to keep our economy open so that those who want to work can. Millions of Californians lost their jobs because of Gavin Newsom’s mismanagement. Tens of thousands of small businesses closed. We can’t let that happen again. That’s why we are going to keep California open, and I’m going to slash taxes for families and small businesses. The best way to keep people housed is to have a good economy. We also need to eliminate the EDD backlog. It’s unacceptable. And finally, we need to lower the cost of housing. I build housing for a living. The cost to build in California is exorbitant and it gets passed down to regular Californians. We need to reform zoning, speed the permitting process and stop endless lawsuits. We can and must dramatically lower the cost of housing in California. The career politicians haven’t done it. I will.

Faulconer: We need to take care of working Californians who have been harmed by COVID-19 or the related economic shutdowns. State COVID-19 eviction protections will be evaluated based on the state of the pandemic when I take office. I will also work with the Legislature to introduce long-term solutions that will make housing more affordable for all Californians. As mayor of San Diego, I passed reforms that made it easier, cheaper and faster to build housing for all income levels, and I will do the same as governor.

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Jenner: Government has caused most of this problem by overtaxing and overregulating its people. We need to immediately eliminate regulations that are preventing developers from building affordable, new units and we need to change the tax code to make it less expensive to build new units.

The government should encourage faith-based and nonprofit entities to be part of the solution, rather than make it nearly impossible for them to do what they do best, help people. And we need to help Californians get back to work so people have a steady paycheck and the confidence to buy a home or sign a new lease.

Kiley: Shortly after taking office, I will call special sessions of the Legislature to address our failing schools, soaring cost of living, rising crime rates and jarring homelessness. The Legislature would have two choices: Pass the necessary reforms or face accountability from voters in 2022.

Newsom made addressing homelessness the key issue in his 2020 State of the State address, and yet, under his watch the problem has only grown. As an Assembly member, I called for an audit of all homelessness spending in California to determine why we spend billions more on homelessness every year, but the problem only gets worse. The audit fell one vote short despite garnering bipartisan support. As governor, I would identify the programs that work and eliminate wasteful spending on those that don’t.

I would also make sure shelter is available. But once homeless individuals have a roof over their head, I would connect them with the needed services, such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and job training. While homelessness is not just a housing issue, there is no doubt that California has an affordability crisis. We need to eliminate the overregulation that makes housing so difficult and costly to build, while reducing costs and fees that increase the price of a home by tens of thousands of dollars.

Paffrath: The first thing the state needs to fix is our rental relief program. The federal government has given California $4.8 billion for rent relief, and yet Newsom has only distributed a small fraction of that money to families in need (less than 6.5% as of July, despite having funds since getting the first funds in December 2020).

Once we get the rental relief program solved we can move on to solving the root causes of homelessness and housing insecurity. Seventy percent of homelessness is caused by economic reasons: unaffordable housing, low wages, poverty and lack of financial education. These issues lead to drug abuse and mental health issues — which need massive prioritization. I have proposed building hundreds of thousands of new homes in California every year to combat the housing shortage and unaffordable prices in the state by building new energy-negative (net negative) communities near massive solar and wind farms just outside of our cities. I have also advocated for building Future School, where we will end the cycle of poverty and miserable schooling: We’re the fifth largest economy in the world with schools ranked 40th in the nation (bottom 20%), and our schools fail to teach basic, practical skills like financial education, career education and business communication skills. These schools will be available for adults, as separate buildings, as well, so that those on minimum wage, welfare, in poverty or in our prisons finally have an opportunity to build wealth and graduate from poverty programs.

By paying and teaching people new career skills we create higher wages while ensuring they have somewhere to live. If we pay someone to become an engineer, nurse, plumber or computer scientist, we’ll save much more than the $48,000 we’ll pay them for two years. Consider this: We spend $240,000 for two years to house someone in a jail or prison. When they’re out of prison, they tend to have no career, no money and no opportunity for a career — and eventually just continue the cycle of poverty and crime. We must do as JFK did: Invest in Californians so we can reduce the costs of administrating a very expensive government. Then, we can lower taxes.

A car moves down a street with a sign reading, "No wages!! No Rent!"
Protesters drive by the house of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in Hancock Park.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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Drought

With drought worsening across California, what steps need to be taken now and in the long term to address water allocation across the state?

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Cox: The career politicians have sat on their hands for years while California’s water woes have gotten worse. It’s unacceptable. We need to build additional reservoirs and recycling facilities. We also need to utilize desalination, much as Israel has done. They actually export water to neighboring countries. California has one of the largest coastlines in the world. We should never, ever have a water shortage in California.

Faulconer: Every Californian should have access to a clean, reliable and affordable water supply. Washington is taking action to build infrastructure. Why can’t Gavin Newsom? California needs 21st century water infrastructure, but Newsom would rather follow extreme ideologies that let our farms and cities go dry. He hasn’t taken any action except asking Californians to take a shorter shower.

As governor I’ll take an all-of-the-above strategy, including water recycling, desalination and more. I’ll ensure our agriculture and communities have water, and fund key water infrastructure that will improve water reliability and supply. Of particular importance is ensuring vulnerable communities at risk of running out of water and California’s agriculture communities, which help to feed the rest of the state and nation, have water access.

In the short term, we must begin to connect the communities most at risk for water shortages to more water reliable systems. No Californians should have their taps run dry. We also should avoid unnecessary cuts to farmland. In the long term, we must uphold promises made to voters, such as the approved 2014 water bond measure, by expanding the state’s water storage infrastructure so we have more water available during the next drought. I would prioritize getting critical projects like Sites Reservoir built as soon as possible.

Jenner: Wildfires and drought go hand in hand. First, I would not have lied like Newsom lied about what he’s done for wildfire prevention. It was revealed by media reports that he deceived the public about the extent of his fire prevention work, putting the lives of millions of Californians in danger. Just a few years ago my house was surrounded by wildfires and I almost lost everything I had. It’s not something I ever want to relive, and it’s something I hope no Californian ever has to face. We have to focus on making sure areas susceptible to these fires are cleared of brush. We also need to take a look at our environmental laws to ensure they’re not interfering with our ability to take preventative measures.

The last major water reservoir built in California happened almost half a century ago. That is unacceptable. We need more water projects that can ease the pain Californians and farmers feel when going through stretches of drought. This is an emergency, and we need to find every single opportunity to utilize any and all technologies to find ways to capture water and get it to those who are in need. Overly restrictive protections for the little Delta smelt fish have wreaked havoc on how much access we have to fresh water. We need to ease these restrictions so all Californians have access to more water.

Kiley: California’s recurring water shortages are entirely avoidable. But we have failed to invest in the storage and infrastructure that would allow us to save water in wet years that could be used in dry years.

My plan would allocate a percentage of the state’s general fund for construction projects — dams, aquifer storage, conveyances, desalination, potable reuse of wastewater, and water treatment — to increase the annual sustainable supply of water to California’s cities and farms by several million acre-feet. It would also require state agencies to spend the money as intended and safeguard projects against excessive litigation and liability.

Paffrath: California has underinvested in its water infrastructure. The governor needs to take emergency action to start construction of large-scale water infrastructure projects to prevent future droughts. This may include desalination plants or an interstate pipeline to the Mississippi, which would take just 11 power plants and would double the flow of water to the Colorado River. Some of these plans will take negotiations with the federal government, but we must have a governor who encourages all solutions for our water crisis. It is absolutely unacceptable that California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world, can’t provide water to its citizens and farmers. Agriculture is extremely important to our state, yet we are hanging our farmers out to dry by cutting them off from their water.

An irrigation canal is shown in a field
An irrigation canal that feeds rice fields in Knights Landing, Calif.
(Max Whittaker / For The Times)

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Political ideology

Describe your political ideology in one sentence.

Cox: As a CPA, businessman and outsider, I believe in common-sense government, the kind that the career politicians have failed to deliver, that fixes problems like homelessness, the high cost of living, wildfires, water and energy shortages and high taxes. I don’t believe that government can force solutions to the problems California has. Government should be there to enable the free market and capitalism to solve problems. I believe in a world of abundance, not scarcity. Too many times in our history, we have had leaders preach scarcity and limits; I believe in the vast power of the human mind and will; we just need the right incentives and freedom to unleash it for the betterment of all.

Faulconer: Politics is a debate between two sides on how to achieve common goals, and I promise that I will never let politics stand in the way of getting things done for Californians.

Jenner: I am a thoughtful and compassionate disruptor who will take on entrenched Sacramento politicians and the special interests that put the people of California second.

Kiley: Empowering citizens is the key to fulfilling the promise of the American dream and assuring a government of, by and for the people.

Paffrath: I am a moderate, JFK-style Democrat with a two-part strategy: use common sense to solve homelessness via emergency action, then solve the causes of homelessness including housing, crime, schooling and mental health with our Legislature.

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