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Analysis and video: California governor candidates debate

Welcome to analysis of the California governor debate. It’s a critical moment for the candidates on stage to make their pitches, and the best opportunity for them to get attention before the June 5 primary.

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Christina Bellantoni

Thanks so much to everyone for joining us.

If you like coverage like this, have we got a newsletter for you! Sign up at latimes.com/essentialpoliticsemail and you will be the first to know about other live events and breaking news. There are just 27 days until the June 5 primary, and The Times has you covered.

Have a good night!

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni

And last week's included an interview with Chuck Todd about the upcoming debate. It's a great listen.

John Myers

Before I sign off from tonight's live chat, just a small plug for our weekly podcast: The California Politics Podcast is published every Friday on iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher. Melanie and I are on most episodes, and occasionally we drag a few of our Times' colleagues in for the fun. This week, I'm sure the big topic will be this debate -- winners, losers and what's next. We hope you'll listen and subscribe! https://soundcloud.com/politics-california

Melanie Mason

Meanwhile, the independent expenditure backing Antonio Villaraigosa just reported spending nearly $500,000 to go after Cox. So the battle continues...

John Myers

But just barely.  Villaraigosa: wow.

John Myers

Melanie, we win!

Christina Bellantoni

Drum roll ...

This is unscientific, but we think pretty close to accurate. Compiled by Michael Livingston on the politics team:

Allen    

13:26    

Newsom

12:07    

Cox    

11:17    

Eastin    

10:11    

Villaraigosa

9:45

Chiang    

9:42

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-may-2018-guess-who-talked-the-most-during-the-1525838815-htmlstory.html

Melanie Mason

Jinx

Melanie Mason

I'm going to guess Travis Allen

John Myers

Allen

Christina Bellantoni

Any guesses on who talked the most tonight?

Christina Bellantoni

Great point, Mel.

Melanie Mason

I thought Cox tried to strike a tricky--maybe even contradictory--balance of embracing Donald Trump and yet being a "Jack Kemp Republican." Kemp was a moderate on issues like immigration (he opposed Prop. 187, for example). How can Cox try to claim the mantle of both leaders?

Christina Bellantoni

In the LAT conference room, we're adding up the amount of time each candidate spoke. Stand by!

Melanie Mason

Considering that single-payer healthcare had been such a major flashpoint (especially between Democrats) up until now, I'm surprised we didn't hear more about it. Among Democrats on other policy issues, the differentiation wasn't so much in what they'd do--they all seemed to largely agree--but who is best qualified to do it. A lot of recitation of resume, which is helpful for voters just now tuning in.

Christina Bellantoni

That said, I keep coming back to the idea of a voter seeing these candidates for the first time, and if that's the case, they probably came away with a clear picture of where they line up, even if there aren't many differences between the candidates in the same parties.

Christina Bellantoni

My overall takeaway is that Chiang did the best job of telling his own personal story, and with the exception of gas tax, high-speed rail and immigration policy, they didn't do much to show how they would be different from Gov. Jerry Brown — or each other.

John Myers

I'm going to start poring over my notes, folks, in anticipation of a quick post on our Essential Politics news feed. Thoughts, overall, from the two of you?

John Myers

So I counted 18 questions in the debate. I was a bit surprised that there wasn't more about the economy. Poverty came up, but sort of obliquely (or did I miss that?). I would have liked to have heard the candidates pressed a bit more on some specifics, but that's the debate moderator in me. Six candidates is tough to handle!

Melanie Mason

Chuck Todd gives the candidates high marks for a "nice, civil conversation." And I'll agree -- fewer fireworks than I expected but some interesting grist on policy for us reporters to mull over

John Myers

And those opinions haven't changed. Of course, the parties refused to fund the ballot measure I mentioned in that column, so go figure!

Christina Bellantoni

John, you had a good column about the parties hating the top-two not so long ago:

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-road-map-california-top-two-primary-20170910-story.html

Christina Bellantoni

Our colleague Liam Dillon, who worked for a long time in San Diego, has a fact-check on John Cox's claims about the recall of Mayor Filner.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-may-2018-john-cox-says-he-led-the-effort-to-oust-1525833797-htmlstory.html

John Myers

"19 states have elected business people as governor," says John Cox. Fact check: Voters rejected a major business leader, Meg Whitman, in 2010.

John Myers

All the candidates seem to be polite here about the legacy of the top-two primary. Fact check: Both the major parties hate it. So do most third parties.

Melanie Mason

Even more laughs when he added "either one of these [Republicans] will do"

Christina Bellantoni

And crowd laughs loudly.

John Myers

"I think a Republican would be ideal in the general election," jokes Gavin Newsom. Yes, that's his fondest hope... keeping a Democrat off the November ballot.

John Myers

Delaine Eastin invokes a change to Prop. 13 -- to assess commercial property at market rates -- as she talks about the Schwarzenegger legacy and budget cuts. Christina, you called Eastin the Bernie Sanders of this debate -- she certainly is staying on course.

Melanie Mason

It's a little jarring to hear a Republican like Allen bash the last Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it goes to show the deep factions within the state GOP party and how Schwarzenegger infuriated much of the party's base. Schwarzenegger now is supporting an effort to boost more moderate Republicans, but that contingent is pretty much absent from this stage.

John Myers

With the way Cox answered that question about not voting for Trump ("I do regret it"), it sounds as though he realizes that's a problem with the base.

Christina Bellantoni

Worth noting, as Allen and Cox discuss their support for President Trump, that only 22% of California voters gave Trump positive marks as president in a November poll.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-latimes-trump-congress-poll-20171110-story.html

John Myers

And now Allen!

Melanie Mason

John, it's as if Villaraigosa heard you, with a dig at "talking and tweeting" at Trump.

John Myers

"I don't wake up everyday thinking of how to take shots at Trump," says Newsom. Boy, that's hard to square with his Twitter feed.

Christina Bellantoni

Although we always have to remember that so many people haven't paid any attention, so many voters might be seeing these candidates for the first time.

Christina Bellantoni

Yeah, that's an interesting point.

John Myers

We're coming up on the home stretch of this debate. Honestly, I haven't heard a breakout moment. And I don't mean that as a need to focus on the horse race.  The Q is whether anyone's minds have been changed. For now, it feels like things are where they stood when the debate began.

Melanie Mason

Travis Allen just made a very quick reference to SCA 5, a failed legislative effort by Latino and African American Democrats to roll back the state's ban on affirmative action. Republicans had capitalized on that issue to appeal to some parts of the Asian American community, who considered re-instating affirmative action as a threat to their access to elite UC campuses.

John Myers

I agree, Melanie. That was very quick. I also thought Newsom had come prepared with a pivot to Trump.

Christina Bellantoni

Our colleague Seema Mehta took a look at the well-documented Villaraigosa and Newsom affairs, and why it seemed like they might not actually become a campaign issue. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-antonio-villaraigosa-gavin-newsom-consultant-rivals-20170716-story.html

Notice the date on that story. It was before the MeToo movement began, and that's one reason it's up for discussion tonight.

Melanie Mason

Allen going after Newsom and Villaraigosa hard for their affairs, but perhaps he actually did them a favor. Both Democrats took the opportunity to acknowledge they were wrong and learned from their actions.

Christina Bellantoni

The mention of Travis Allen allegations was brief and didn't include the context. We've got you covered: http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-gop-gubernatorial-candidate-travis-allen-1517612326-htmlstory.html

John Myers

Eastin laments men in politics who don't have "a sense of self-control." Her answer gets applause in the room.

Melanie Mason

Eastin scores a nice applause line by noting there are "businesswomen too." Eastin has tried to capitalize on being the sole women in the race, especially with the surge of women jumping into politics after Trump's election. But as our colleague Seema Mehta noted, she's had a hard time breaking through with her lagging fundraising. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-delaine-eastin-california-governor-race-20180410-story.html

John Myers

Look out: sexual misconduct is on tap.

John Myers

It is, though, a bit of a missed opportunity to invoke a Bill Clinton "I feel your pain" moment.

Christina Bellantoni

It's a bit of an open-ended question. Newsom used it to attack Allen, without really answering.

John Myers

This topic about personal sacrifice is interesting. No one seems to have an on-point answer.

Melanie Mason

Gavin Newsom often talks about redirecting money that is currently spent on healthcare to establish a single-payer healthcare system. But we're still waiting for details on how, exactly, he would do that. Repurposing federal dollars, figuring out how to raise revenues to cover what's being spent in the commercial insurance market--so far Newsom hasn't articulated how he would accomplish this.

John Myers

Asked about high-speed rail, the Democrats on stage give slightly varying levels of support for the project. The Republicans instantly promise to kill the project. A reality check for the Dems: The project simply must have money from Congress. And that's not going to happen with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the watch.

Christina Bellantoni

I wonder if the topic of gun control will come up. It's something we've seen already on the television airwaves.

John Myers

That's a good point, Christina.  Maybe the feeling is to not get in the way of Republicans talking only to the base of their party.

Christina Bellantoni

Melanie, to your point, the positions that both Cox and Allen are taking on immigration are not in line with the majority of Californians. The Democrats might be thinking it's a better strategy to let them discuss their views rather than attack.

John Myers

"That wall is a monument to stupidity," Newsom says about Trump's border wall plan.  I'm betting that was a rehearsed line.

Melanie Mason

John, I definitely expected a more combative Villaraigosa, at least aimed at the Republicans. But maybe he's content watching them squabble among themselves

Christina Bellantoni

For the record, it's truthabouttravis, not truthagainsttravis

John Myers

On early childhood education, Newsom says he agrees with Villaraigosa.  Earlier, Villaraigosa said he agreed with Newsom on another topic.  Anyone else surprised we aren't seeing Villaraigosa take someone on -- either Newsom or one of the Republicans?

Christina Bellantoni

So, Cox cited two different sites that he said would set the record straight on Travis Allen, the only other Republican who can be considered real competition.

Christina Bellantoni

John Myers

Fascinating that John Cox keeps talking all about "all these politicians" on the stage. Reality: He's run for office several times in the past when he lived in Illinois.

Christina Bellantoni

Chiang has repeatedly mentioned his parents, and their immigrant story

John Myers

Allen and Newsom have sparred over Steinle's death in an earlier debate, too.

Christina Bellantoni

If the name Kate Steinle that Travis Allen cited sounds familiar, it's because then-candidate Donald Trump frequently cited her murder on the campaign trail when criticizing immigration policies. Here's some context on the verdict in that case: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-kate-steinle-analysis-20171202-story.html

Melanie Mason

Chiang portrays himself in the mold of Gov. Jerry Brown, who took federal money for national guard operations to deal with trafficking and enforcement throughout the state, rather than defy the president outright. Brown has notably picked his shots against the president. Newsom and Villaraigosa oppose Trump at every turn.

Christina Bellantoni

And Villaraigosa joins in "I'm not going to respond to fake news."

John Myers

Democrat John Chiang threw out a white-hot accusation about one immigration case when Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco.  He did so twice, and Newsom wouldn't bite.  It's quite clear he doesn't want to give Chiang any oxygen -- on this or any other issue.

Christina Bellantoni

John Cox reminds the audience — a second time — that he's a Jack Kemp Republican

Christina Bellantoni

Newsom tries to own the sanctuary state policy, seemingly glad to be the foil of the people he cited: Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs and President Trump

Christina Bellantoni

7:05 p.m. when Trump's name first comes up, from Newsom

John Myers

Travis Allen just promised to call a special election if he's elected to repeal California's sanctuary law. Reality: That would take Democrats in the Legislature to go along.

Melanie Mason

"Gavin Newsom's sanctuary state law" must be news to the author of the law, state Sen. Kevin de León

John Myers

Sure thing. You don't get a statement in the voter guide if you don't agree to campaign spending limits. The biggest fundraising candidates didn't want to be constrained.

Christina Bellantoni

John, can you tackle that one? It's actually a story our team is working on explaining for people

Christina Bellantoni

We've got a question from a reader following along with the livechat. Duane in Playa Vista asks:

Can you enlighten me as to why several of the gubernatorial candidates statements were omitted from the CA Voter Guide (ie Newsom, Chiang, Villaraigosa)?

Christina Bellantoni

Commercial break!

Melanie Mason

And sure enough, Cox follows up saying there's too many regulations. He says that competition would spur companies to improve their privacy for users, not the government.

John Myers

Almost 30 minutes in on this debate and no one has laid a glove on the frontrunner, Gavin Newsom. I wonder how long that lasts.

Melanie Mason

I'm somewhat surprised to hear Travis Allen embracing the privacy initiative, given that Republicans are generally wary of increasing regulations on industry.

John Myers

The candidates are being asked about an initiative that would change privacy rules in California. It might be on the November ballot.  Here's what I wrote about it last year: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-road-map-privacy-consumers-ballot-measure-20171126-story.html

Christina Bellantoni

(LAT plug here: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll will be out in late May)

Christina Bellantoni

And these particular guys — and gal — are participating in this televised event because they met the threshold NBC set for being there. In total, there are 27 candidates on the ballot. These six have the best chance, according to a bunch of polls.

John Myers

Sure.  This is a great example of the top-two primary, passed by voters in 2010 and putting all candidates -- regardless of party -- on the same ballot.  Pick your favorite from any party. The top 2 head to November.  It's really jumbled traditional politics in this state.

Christina Bellantoni

John, let's back up for the people who might not understand why there are 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans on the same stage.

Melanie Mason

Cox is channeling a lot of anger about the cost of living and affordability in this state. Question is, are voters just as angry?

Christina Bellantoni

The candidates are mentioning their own bios. You can keep track of who's who here: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-california-governor-list-2018-htmlstory.html

John Myers

And... Eastin gets another round of applause in calling for free tuition at UC schools. Reality check: There's no way to do that without either raising taxes or taking money from K-12 schools or healthcare for the poor, two big parts of the state budget.

Melanie Mason

That surprised me too, Christina. But smart of the moderators to keep the debate trained on these very California-specific issues. Not easy for Dems to pivot to Trump when it's about state highways.

Christina Bellantoni

Delaine Eastin often gets points with debate audiences for her forceful positions. She's the Bernie Sanders of this race, sort of.

Christina Bellantoni

We're almost 15 minutes in, and surprisingly, the words "President Trump" haven't been mentioned.

Christina Bellantoni

"Lockbox!"

Melanie Mason

This intra-GOP tussle over whose gas tax repeal measure is the real deal is very inside baseball. But also a sign of how much the GOP is hanging its hopes on using the repeal to boost their voter turnout. No wonder Allen  and Cox are battling for credit.

John Myers

Republicans Cox and Allen fighting about the gas tax repeal initiative... well, that's a sign of how much they (dis)like each other.

Christina Bellantoni

"Picking the pockets of the taxpayers of this state" is a line generated to ignite voter anger.

Melanie Mason

"Potholes old enough to qualify for Medicare" is a decent zinger from Newsom.

John Myers

Allen is now repeating an allegation that Gov. Brown "bribed" 4 legislators to pass last year's $52 billion transportation plan. In truth, he agreed to projects those lawmakers found to be important; that's not actually a bribe.

John Myers

Travis Allen is promising single-family homes with "a back yard and a front yard." It's an image of California through the years... not so much what some say the state must accept in years to come.

Melanie Mason

I hope the panelists return to Cox talking about the need to stimulate economic growth in the state. The truth is, California's economy is pretty darn strong right now--in fact, we've just become the 5th largest economy in the world. Cox seemed to imply more economic growth is necessary to tackle the state's pension liabilities, but political will is more of an obstacle.

Melanie Mason

John Chiang just cited our colleague Liam Dillon's piece at Newsom and Villaraigosa's ambitious promises on homebuilding. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-new-home-building-goal-governor-candidates-20180306-story.html

John Myers

John Cox is now talking about the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state's landmark environmental law. He is one of many who says it's time to overhaul it.  But doing so will be hard, as environmental groups don't want it completely discarded.

Christina Bellantoni

John Chiang's "I'm doing it today" is a reminder that he's a statewide office holder. He also goes right at "Gavin and Antonio" on the homelessness issue.

John Myers

"What lacks is leadership in this state," says Lt. Gov. Newsom on homeless crisis in California. Yes, that sounds like a subtle swipe at Gov. Jerry Brown... not that he'll say so.

Melanie Mason

It's striking to hear the contrast between the candidates on how they describe the homeless population. Eastin emphasizes families and elderly women. Cox talks about substance abuse. Allen talks about "vagrants." All are shades of California's immensely complicated homelessness issue.

Christina Bellantoni

First attack on Newsom comes from Assemblyman Travis Allen, a Republican

Christina Bellantoni

I applaud Chuck Todd for skipping an opening statement. Those rarely illuminate any differences between the candidates and take up valuable time. They only have 90 minutes, so getting to the point is good for everyone.

John Myers

The first question is about homelessness. Delaine Eastin calls for an emergency action by the next governor.  This is a major problem in the state.

Melanie Mason

Hi everyone! Looking forward to what'll definitely be a spirited--and hopefully substantive--debate. I'm watching to see how much the debate is driven by a man not on stage: President Trump. Expect Democrats to compete in how hard they can bash him and Republicans to jockey to embrace him.

John Myers

Hello from the state capital, John Myers here. Tonight's debate is about 15 minutes away. One overarching thing worth watching for in this 90-minute event: How much of the event is driven by the race for second place? By that, I mean how do 5 of these candidates jockey for a moment in the spotlight alongside the consensus front-runner, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom? Remember, in the top-two primary, everyone else on stage has a shot to make it to November with Newsom. This will be quite an interesting evening!

Christina Bellantoni

Hi everyone! I'm Christina, the AME for Politics here at The Times, and I'll be your host for the debate tonight.

I'm joined by Sacramento bureau chief and longtime California politics observer John Myers and Melanie Mason, one of our reporters covering this race.

We'll be watching the six candidates on stage make their case to voters, and as we do we'll share our thoughts here with Times readers in real time.

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