Democratic candidates for California governor in harmony at debate on eve of state party convention

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom, right, Antonio Villaraigosa, Delaine Eastin and John Chiang, left, debate Thursday in San Diego.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom, right, Antonio Villaraigosa, Delaine Eastin and John Chiang, left, debate Thursday in San Diego.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The debate among California’s top four Democratic candidates for governor Thursday night was unlike most of their recent match-ups, with long stretches of broad agreement and few, if any, fireworks.

The gubernatorial contenders may have been on their best behavior because the gathering took place the night before the California Democratic Party meets and its delegates decide whether to endorse a candidate in the governor’s race and other contests.

At one point in the debate, which was moderated by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, front-runners in the race who have clashed bitterly and personally, shook hands after agreeing on the need to reform the state’s tax policies.


The two men, along with state Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, also aligned when discussing the importance of early childhood education, gun control, addressing climate change, affordable housing and other policies.

Meeting hours after President Trump criticized California law enforcement’s handling of gangs and threatened to pull federal immigration officers out of the state, the candidates united in pledging to push back against his administration’s policies, and spoke of invoking states’ rights.

“We’ll use the 10th Amendment, we’ll use everything we can,” said Villaraigosa, who called on federal officials to halt sweeping searches for illegal immigrants to “stop terrorizing communities in the way Donald Trump has done.”

Newsom agreed, ridiculing Trump’s proposed border wall as “a monument to idiocy” and vowing that the state would resist the president’s immigration policy.

“We are not going to be part of the deportation arm of the Trump administration,” he said. “Let’s stand tall, Democrats!”

California Democrats to decide endorsements and hear from potential presidential candidates at annual convention >>


Chiang, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, spoke of being treated like a second-class citizen as a child before calling for protecting those in the country illegally.

“We have to stand together at this Democratic convention, because you have people who are coming across, who want to be here, but they are scared of being on the border of San Diego,” he said in front of several hundred people at the forum, which was organized by the San Diego County Democratic Party, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and the Rancho Santa Fe Democratic Club. “So when they get there, we have to give them a hug and say, we’re going to protect you while you’re here and we’re going to protect you going forward at every time and everywhere.”

The candidates’ sole disagreement of the evening came over single-payer healthcare, an issue they have been split on.

As in previous debates, Villaraigosa and Chiang both said they agree with the concept of universal healthcare but were concerned about how the state would pay for it.

“I want to push California aggressively to create what we can today,” Chiang said, adding that “we have to finance this correctly.”

Newsom and Eastin vocally support such a system. Newsom accused Villaraigosa and Chiang of being “defeatist Democrats” who spoke of supporting the issue but then found ways to undermine it.

Eastin added that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.

“Every other first-world country has figured this out,” she said. “Why can’t we?”

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