Photo illustration by John Osborn D'Agostino

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

Feb. 24, 2018 1:40 pm

Former aide to Hillary Clinton keeps a low profile as she begins campaign for California governor

Gubernatorial candidate Amanda Renteria

Most of the Democrats running for governor of California are hard to miss at the state party’s convention this weekend in San Diego. Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang and Delaine Eastin are roaming the convention center, making speeches to delegates and—whether signing autographs or being booed—facing crowds of supporters and detractors at every turn.

Not so with Amanda Renteria, the political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run, who announced her longshot campaign for governor earlier this month. Renteria is at the convention but keeping a relatively low profile. She’s not addressing delegates because she got in the race too late to have her name included on their endorsement ballot.

“We are doing it differently,” Renteria said in a brief interview with CALmatters.

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“The normal, traditional ‘Did you get this endorsement? Did you raise $10 million? Are you poll-tested?’… Those are the kinds of things we are just not going to do. In fact, I believe they have eroded the authenticity of people running.”

Renteria, who grew up near Fresno, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014 when she challenged Republican Rep. David Valadao for his seat representing the Central Valley. Renteria now lives in Menlo Park with her husband and two young children. She recently stepped down from her job as operations chief to Attorney General Xavier Becerra to launch her gubernatorial campaign, a move that shocked the political establishment.

Renteria said she’d been thinking about running for governor since November but decided to go for it in January after sitting through a debate among the Democratic candidates in which Newsom and Villaraigosa attacked each other over their business ventures.

“It was the debate of who used what more to get rich,” Renteria said.

“I’m sitting there in the crowd with a lot of college students … and there was a piece of me that wanted to jump up and say, ‘Wait, this is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be about how you’re going to enrich yourself. It’s supposed to be about serving others.'”

Renteria said she wanted to focus on poverty and income inequality, but offered no policy specifics on the subject. Instead, she said she wants voters to get to know her first.

“It is also important for political leaders not to just put forth policies but to make sure we’re actually working with people to understand what their needs are,” she said.

“A lot of people criticized the Hillary campaign for having all these policies—and we had some really great policies—but if you’re not actually connecting them to folks, I think it’s hard for people to understand how they’re involved or to be a part of it.”

Political Reporter
Election 2018

March 22, 2018 6:06 pm

Some will say there are no easy answers in politics. Not Travis Allen.

Assemblyman Travis Allen, photo by Judy Lin for CALmatters
Assemblyman Travis Allen, photo by Judy Lin for CALmatters

California may face its share of thorny policy problems and political conflicts, but for Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen, the solutions are actually “very simple.”

That’s been one of the Huntington Beach Assemblyman’s favorite responses to policy questions on the campaign trail—an unofficial slogan verging on verbal tic. But it also offers a look at how he thinks about the challenges facing California and how he would approach the job of the state’s top elected official.

During a visit to CALmatters this afternoon, he offered what he labels simple solutions to a number of seemingly complex issues.

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Take the sky-high cost of rent in California. “Very simply, build more housing in California,” he said.

Allen argues that the state can unleash a wave of new construction by cutting environmental impact fees and reforming the California Environmental Quality Act. Rejecting proposed legislation to override local zoning rules, he said that the state needs to give even more authority to locals—and promises that this will result in one million new units built by the end of his first term.

What about closing the academic achievement gap between privileged and disadvantaged students in California’s public schools? Another easy one, says Allen.

“I believe, very simply, that when you get competition for education dollars you get better outcomes for our students at lower price points.” To him that means more support for charter schools and potentially allowing parents to use publicly-funded vouchers to pay private school tuition.

And how should lawmakers prepare the state budget for the next recession? “I’ll tell you very simply: We start off by cutting those taxes and cutting those regulations.” According to Allen, making the economy more business-friendly and allowing for more natural resource extraction like offshore oil drilling and timber harvesting will make the state economy more resilient to swings in the business cycle.

Allen may be politically out of sync with the majority of Californians on issues including climate change, health care and immigration, but his unflinching confidence and his bullet point approach to policy prescription are a prime reason  he has such a fervent following among many of the state’s conservatives. Despite what you might have heard, according to Allen, there are in fact easy answers—other politicians are just too myopic or beholden to special interests to tell you so.

Other seemingly intractable issues that Allen dispatched with quick-fix proposals include eliminating California’s “out of control bureaucracies” (nix the California Air Resources Board), ensuring water reliability (build more water storage facilities “up and down the state”), making college more affordable (a tuition freeze for all of California’s public universities), and getting people without homes off the street (place the chronically homeless in state-run mental institutions that are improvements over the facilities of the past.)

And then there were the handful of issues especially simple to address because, according to Allen, they simply do not exist.

Asked about a recent survey that found 41 percent of California State University students report struggling with the cost of food, Allen called the findings “a complete lie.”

“If I can go down to Taco Bell or McDonalds and feed myself for a dollar, there is no such thing as food insecurity in California,” he said. “When we see college kids with the latest iPhone that are complaining that they can’t afford something to eat, clearly they’re prioritizing their spending in the wrong direction.”

About the threat of rising sea levels, which a new state report says could result in more flooding in Allen’s hometown of Huntington Beach, Allen called it “absolute nonsense” and “bogus science.”

Much like President Trump, whom Allen supported in 2016 campaign, unlike his Republican rival, John Cox, the assemblyman does not sweat the contradictory evidence.

Confidence may not be enough to win over the majority of the state’s voters—or even enough to get past the state’s top two primary. According to a new poll released yesterday from the Public Policy Institute of California, only 10 percent of likely voters support Allen. That places him four points behind Cox and fourth among all the candidates.

Asked if he thought the poll might be wrong, Allen didn’t skip a beat: “Very simply put, absolutely.”

Election Reporter
Election 2018

March 21, 2018 9:04 pm

Antonio Villaraigosa says he’s not a “partisan warrior,” but he’s ready to fight

If there’s one thing Democratic contender for governor Antonio Villaraigosa wants voters to know about him, it’s this: “I’m not afraid to take on tough issues.”

In a conversation at CALmatters on a day when a new poll showed him dropping into third place, the former Los Angeles mayor talked education, health, fiscal policy—and how his views depart from the Democratic Party orthodoxy because he’s a “small d” Democrat.

On closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers in the state’s  public schools, he said that the state should make sure the money is targeted to the kids who need it most rather than “spreading it like peanut butter.” But he also talked about weakening tenure—lengthening the probationary period for new teachers from two to three years—and relaxing teacher seniority rules.

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He also said the state should increase financial support for low income university students, rather than push for tuition-free higher education across-the-board, as many progressives do.

“Making college free? Yeah, that’s a great goal, but I think we’ve got to make it free first for the people who are absolutely destitute, the poor,” he said. “I think you get the most bang for the buck, if you want to deal with this, with the kids who need it the most.”

He endorsed the idea of a state-run public insurance option that anyone can buy into, increasing reimbursement rates for doctors that serve low-income Californians, and expanding coverage to undocumented immigrants. But he reiterated his skepticism over stalled legislation that aimed to create a single payer insurance system across California—a bill endorsed by his Democratic opponents Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.

That division was eminently clear at the party’s state convention last month where Villaraigosa received 9 percent of the delegate vote in the contest for the party’s endorsement—and as he acknowledged, a much higher share of the booing and heckling.

“I’m not a Democrat because I think the Democratic Party is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “I’m a Democrat because I believe the government has got to work for more people. I’m not a partisan warrior.”

It’s not a new persona for Villaraigosa, who sells himself as the candidate willing to speak unpleasant truths to lawmakers, interest groups, and even voters.

But there may be a downside to telling people what they don’t want to hear.

A poll released this evening by the Public Policy Institute of California showed only 12 percent of likely voters support Villaraigosa for governor—a 9 point drop for him since the institute conducted a similar survey last January. (Both polls had a margin of error of more than 4 percentage points.)

“We’ve always believed that we’ve got to get into the run-off,” said Villaraigosa, who in the latest poll comes in third among likely voters behind Newsom and Republican candidate John Cox, and ahead of fellow Democrats John Chiang and Eastin, as well as GOP candidate Travis Allen.  Under California’s “top two” primary system, only the candidates who come in first and second place during the June 5 primary will move on to the general election ballot. Villaraigosa said the biggest threat to his campaign “is a Republican knocking me out, if they consolidate….I’ve got some work to do—and I’m going to keep on working.”

Taken at face value, the new poll marks an unwelcome reversion for the former mayor, who had been eating into Newsom’s lead in most polls since last September. It also shows steep drop-offs in support from some of the demographic groups that the Villaraigosa campaign is most counting on.

In Los Angeles, his home turf, the former mayor is now 1 point behind Newsom; in January, he had nearly a 20 point lead. Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Newsom used to be mayor and dominates public opinion, Villaraigosa is now polling below the Republican Cox.

While Villaraigosa still had the support of more Latinos than any other candidate, at 37 percent, that’s 11 points down from the beginning of the year. Drawing strong support and historically high turnout from California’s Latino population has been a key part of Villaraigosa’s electoral strategy.

The latest poll shows a quarter of likely voters have yet to decide whom to support. Said Villaraigosa: “I don’t think the support among Latinos is anywhere near where it’s going to end up.”

Election Reporter
Election 2018

March 9, 2018 11:26 am

Delaine Eastin stakes out progressive vision—but with some notable exceptions

Candidate for governor Delaine Eastin speaks to reporters at the CALmatters office in Sacramento. Photo by Byrhonda Lyons.
Candidate for governor Delaine Eastin speaks to reporters at the CALmatters office in Sacramento. Photo by Byrhonda Lyons

Delaine Eastin has staked herself out as the most progressive Democrat running for governor of California. But in a wide-ranging discussion with CALmatters in our Sacramento office, the former state schools superintendent shared some views that break from that orthodoxy.

Take pensions. As the state confronts a pension crisis and many local governments in California grapple with the rising cost of financial and health benefits for retired public employees, Eastin suggested that state policymakers should consider hiking the retirement age.

“If you retired at 55 and live until you’re 105—whoo—that’s a long time to collect a pension,” she said. “So I think we really do have to look at one another honestly and say maybe the retirement age for public employees is 62.”

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Eastin also wondered whether employees who retire from one government job and then take on another should be allowed to double up their retirement benefits.

“I think it’s something we ought to explore and I’m sorry a lot of people won’t like it.”


Though she didn’t outright endorse either idea—instead calling for a task force to consider both— the mere suggestion of scaling back such benefits is somewhat surprising from the candidate some activists have seen as filling the field’s “Bernie niche.”

Eastin famously wants to spend more on education, ban fracking, increase property taxes on commercial property, repeal the statewide ban on new rent control ordinances, and adopt a single-payer healthcare program—a system financed by taxes and managed by the state that would provide health insurance to all Californians.

But her approach to public pensions isn’t her sole instance of straying from left.

On capital punishment, which Eastin now opposes, she vowed as governor to allow legally ordered executions to be carried out.

“There are things that you wish were different, but you do have to follow the law,” she said, saying she would commute a sentence only in the “very special case” of someone demonstrating “Herculean efforts” of self-improvement.

And on housing, Eastin also pledged to take on local obstruction to new housing—a debate not so much left versus right as NIMBY versus YIMBY.

“We should try to use as many carrots as we can,” she said, proposing bringing back the state’s redevelopment agencies and increasing state funding for affordable housing. But for communities that do not meet their state-determined housing goals, “we go to the more ham-handed approach, where we tell locals, ‘You must create this much affordable housing.’ ”

Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco recently proposed a bill that would require denser zoning around public transportation hubs—a bill she supports.

After the hour-long conversation, Eastin left the CALmatters office to submit her nomination papers to make her candidacy official.

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