Twice this week, the Democratic candidates in the 2018 California governor’s race assembled to discuss state issues—and largely agree.

They echoed one another, if sometimes vaguely, on the need for tax reform and more housing, on a successor program (of some kind) to replace local redevelopment agencies, on the wisdom of California’s new sanctuary state law, on the need for more resources for homeless people, and on the obligation to fight climate change and bolster the state’s cap-and-trade system.

“I think the biggest issue that separates us aren’t the issues, I think it’s leadership,” said one contender, former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa, after Tuesday’s debate in San Francisco, sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle and the City Club.

But there are a few issues where a sliver of daylight has emerged between the candidates.

All agreed that state-provided health insurance is, at least in principle, a worthwhile idea.  But while both Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin wholeheartedly endorse the idea, Villaraigosa and Treasurer John Chiang’s support falls into the “yes, but” category, acknowledging that supporting it is easier than finding a way to pay for it. That distinction might not seem grounds for fierce ideological battle—ask the Republican candidates and they’ll tell you it’s all socialism to them. But recall how current Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was vilified by single-payer backers after he pulled a Senate-approved bill earlier this year because it lacked detail about how the health plan would be funded. 

When California sells permits to industry for the right to emit climate-warming greenhouse gases as part of its cap-and-trade program, a large chunk of that funding goes to the proposed high-speed rail project, championed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. Some call it an elegant financial arrangement, but it also mashes together two of the state’s most controversial policies. Only Eastin seems skeptical.


Newsom and Villaraigosa took a few jabs at one another over the issue of privately-operated but publicly-funded education. It’s a particularly touchy subject, given that Newsom won the endorsement of the California Teachers Association this weekend.

In 2014, an LA County judge ruled that state teacher seniority protections violate the constitutional rights of California’s public school students and keep sticking some of them with incompetent teachers. That ruling in Vergara v. California was overturned on appeal and the state Supreme Court declined to take it up, but tenure critics vowed to take their fight to the Legislature. Clearly, this isn’t a settled question. Case in point: