Facing off in recent debates, the four Democrats and two Republicans leading the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown have sparred on the hot topics of the moment: President Trump, of course, as well as immigration, climate change, the proposed border wall, single-payer healthcare and the candidates’ own history of smoking marijuana. (In case you are wondering, half of them admitted to it.)
Those are matters worth debating — well, most of them are — and it is fine to kick off a campaign by focusing on provocative issues that will rev up interest among voters. But now that the June 5 primary is on the near horizon, it’s time for the gubernatorial candidates to start expanding their talking points at public events and on their websites to address less sexy but equally important issues facing the Golden State over the coming decade.
The next few years will be crucial for California, which is facing crises in water supplies, housing stock and the growing homeless population. The next governor’s actions on these issues, and on looming challenges in University of California funding, public pension obligations, crumbling infrastructure and other longer-term concerns, will help determine the fortunes of the state and its denizens.
Will Brown’s successor be a penny-pincher like him or a Daddy Warbucks? It would be useful for voters to get specifics from the candidates on how they intend to govern during the next recession. Assuming the next governor serves two terms, it’s painfully likely that he or she will have to deal with an economic downturn and its effects on the state.
Voters should also know what they would be getting from each candidate when it comes to two of Brown’s signature infrastructure projects, high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels. Will the candidates champion these projects, or let them wither and die? If they don’t believe that building tunnels would ensure California’s future water reliability or that a bullet train would improve public transportation, they ought to spell out their ideas for what will.
And though this might glaze over a few eyeballs, the candidates should offer their solution to soaring public pension obligations that are threatening to swamp state and local governments’ budgets. Where do they stand on bail reform? Do they plan to support rolling back the criminal justice reforms of Propositions 47 and 57? What’s the prospect for some overdue improvements to the state tax code and the California Environmental Quality Act?
The list goes on and on.
(This same message goes for candidates in other statewide and Los Angeles County races on the June 5 ballot. Voters will be casting ballots for nine statewide offices, and the race for lieutenant governor has drawn a surprisingly competitive lineup of candidates for such a useless job. County voters will be weighing in on the sheriff, assessor and two supervisors, plus judges.)
The top candidates all have experience that could help them grapple with these important issues. Gavin Newsom is California’s lieutenant governor and a former mayor of San Francisco. In additional to leading Los Angeles for two mayoral terms, Antonio Villaraigosa was speaker of the California Assembly. John Chiang is state treasurer and has served as state controller and a member of the state Board of Equalization. Travis Allen is an Assembly member. Delaine Eastin, the sole woman among the race’s front-runners, is a former state superintendent of public instruction and Assembly member. Businessman John Cox is a veteran of multiple campaigns for state and federal office. Doug Ose, a Sacramento Republican who joined the race too late to have been included in the previous debates, served six years in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is very likely two of these seven people will end up facing each other in the November general election.
Listen, there is room for glitz here. No one wants a gubernatorial race that’s all wonk. After all, whoever is the next governor of California will be on the national and global stage; he or she should be capable of both enlightening people and keeping them from nodding off. But that person must be able to manage the more prosaic but no less important demands of the job as well. That test needs to start now.