Michael Shellenberger’s first bid for governor didn’t get far: Running as a Democrat in 2018, he finished ninth in the primary, receiving less than 1% of the vote. Since then, he has shed his party affiliation and developed a devoted online following by challenging the liberal orthodoxy of California’s approach to issues such as climate change and homelessness. Books including “San Fransicko,” his critique of “why progressives ruin cities,” earned Shellenberger national attention.
The Berkeley activist, who frequently renounces the “radical” views of his youth, is hoping to break through voters’ partisan affiliations by promising to restore order to a society in chaos. His focus is California’s homelessness crisis, which he blames on decades of offering people housing without requiring them to seek treatment for drug addictions or mental illness; he wants to ramp up forced psychiatric care and arrests of drug users and dealers. Shellenberger is also a vocal advocate for nuclear energy and keeping the Diablo Canyon Power Plant operating.
Though an independent candidate has never won statewide office in California, Shellenberger is buoyed by hundreds of small donors and a national platform that has made him a frequent guest on Fox News and Joe Rogan’s massively popular podcast. In a field without any prominent challenger to Gov. Gavin Newsom, he could have a shot to advance to the November general election.
President, Environmental Progress
Founded an organization to advocate for nuclear energy, which has since expanded to include other environmental causes as well as anti-drug and homelessness policies.
Campaigned to save nuclear reactors slated to close around the globe, including California’s Diablo Canyon.
Published several books including 2020’s “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All,” disputing the scientific consensus that climate change is an existential threat, and 2021’s “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.”
President, The Breakthrough Institute
Co-founded a research and policy center to promote “ecomodernism,” a philosophy that embraces technological developments such as genetically-modified crops and nuclear energy to advance both economic prosperity and sustainability.
First came to renown with “The Death of Environmentalism,” a controversial 2004 essay making the case that the environmental movement had become ineffective and should be abolished in favor of a new approach to dealing with climate change.
“We need an intervention imposed by the voters. I am that intervention.”
Here’s where Michael Shellenberger, applicant for governor, stands on some of the biggest questions facing California. Answers are from written answers his campaign provided:
Californians are increasingly concerned about crime, though the numbers paint a more complicated picture. Many Republicans are seeking to pounce, blaming voter-approved Proposition 47, which eight years ago lowered some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. While more Democrats are talking tough, they’re not proposing a return to longer prison sentences.
“First, I will significantly increase the number of police in our cities. California has just 2 officers per 1,000 compared to 3 per 1,000 in Illinois and 3.4 in New York. Second, I will stop Gavin Newsom’s insane plan to close three prisons and let 76,000 prisoners out of prison early, of whom 63,000 are in for violent crimes.”
“One of the alleged perpetrators of California’s most recent mass shooting, in Sacramento in April that left six dead, had been released from prison six years early from a 10-year sentence. If he had been in prison, or under strict parole supervision, he would not have been able to aid in the killing of six people. Some perpetrators of mass shootings suffer from severe mental illness. Like most of the U.S, California needs to make large investments in treatment for the severely mentally ill, including the creation of a statewide addiction and psychiatric care system.”
California’s affordable housing crisis only deepened during the pandemic, as average home prices surged even further out of reach for many families. Homelessness likely worsened as well, prompting Gov. Newsom to propose forcing more homeless and mentally ill people into treatment. The Legislature twice extended a statewide eviction moratorium, but the final protections for renters ended on March 31. Lawmakers also tried to pump up housing supply by allowing duplexes on single-family lots, but cities are pushing back. Some also say the California Environmental Quality Act is stopping housing production.
“We need more housing of all types to bring down housing costs. All cities grow the same way. They add more housing density and expand suburbs. It’s the role of governors to bring us together. I will do that through a series of ‘citizen juries’ to build consensus across the state. We have plenty of land. We just need the leadership to bring all sides together. I will close the loophole in CEQA, a state law that currently allows anonymous groups to file repeated frivolous lawsuits against housing projects under the guise of environmental protection.”
“As governor, I will declare a state of emergency. First, I will create a statewide psychiatric and addiction care system so we can humanely and efficiently treat our highly transient homeless population in places where the costs are lowest. Second, I will create a ‘Shelter First, Housing Earned’ policy. Third, after creating sufficient shelters, I will use the state of emergency to enforce a statewide ban on public camping, both to save our cities and to get people the care they need.”
Even though the economy is rebounding from COVID, California still has among the nation’s highest jobless rates and hasn’t recovered all the jobs lost. The pandemic also highlighted how much the state relies on the wealthy for tax revenues that are fueling record budget surpluses — and raised again the issue of whether the tax system needs an overhaul.
“I will lower the cost of living by making housing, energy and water more abundant and cheaper. Abundant and cheap energy means we can have abundant and cheap water. As governor, I’m going to end the unnecessary war between city dwellers, farmers and environmentalists.”
“Income inequality is a problem in California and our state government is making it worse. We Californians have the highest income tax, highest gasoline tax and highest sales tax in the United States, and yet suffer blackouts and abysmal public services. State government can take certain actions to alleviate wealth inequality. We should invest in reliable sources of electricity to keep prices from increasing.”
On Jan. 31, the Legislature — despite its Democratic supermajority — again rebuffed a bid by progressives for a single-payer system funded and run by state government. Instead, the state is moving to expand eligibility for Medi-Cal, though the proposal would leave out many. And California is still sorting out how to deal with COVID, though regarding it more as a predictable threat.
“One way to bring down health care costs is to enforce the federal rules requiring hospital administrators and insurers to disclose their prices up front, thereby creating a real market for services and procedures. California spends more than any other state on behavioral health but has the worst outcomes. We need a statewide psychiatric and addiction care system, Cal-Psych, because the county-based system is expensive and wasteful and counties are overwhelmed.”
“COVID-19 is endemic. We need to move on from the drastic measures we took at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m for lifting mask mandates and vaccine requirements. I oppose further lockdowns. Our focus should be similar to treating seasonal flu viruses, focusing on protecting the vulnerable, not shutting down society. I’m against the continued masking of children and demanding vaccinations against a virus that hurts children the least. ‘Zero COVID’ was never possible, but many clung to that goal, dogmatically, and to great negative impact.”
California is stuck in a drought, with few signs the emergency will improve any time soon — or that voluntary measures will be enough. The state is also struggling to reach its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also advancing environmental justice for communities with dirty air and water.
“Today, Newsom’s actions, inaction and support of pro-scarcity environmentalists like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council are making scarcity worse. California is the fifth largest producer of food in the world, and producing food requires water. Energy can create freshwater through desalination. Reactors could be added to Diablo Canyon to desalinate gigantic quantities of water, which was its original plan. Instead of issuing a mandatory water conservation order, I will protect and expand our water storage facilities and work to accelerate desalination projects.”
“For the last six years, I’ve warned that shutting down nuclear plants, not building enough natural gas plants and over-relying on weather-dependent renewables would be a disaster. California has long played a positive role in buying cutting-edge technologies as a way to incentivize innovation. I would continue to do so for advanced technologies like electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but not at levels that put an unfair price or tax burden on working class and low-income Californians.”
Public school enrollment has plummeted during COVID, the achievement gap for students of color has stubbornly persisted and the state is facing a severe teacher shortage. There are renewed debates whether more charter schools are a solution and whether the state’s extra investment in schools with poorer students is paying off.
“California’s public schools are failing our children. I’m going to significantly increase school choice, including for public and private charter schools. I’ll work to raise standards and enforce them. Not all students are going to college or getting Ph.D’s. We need better vocational education, while also teaching children the basics.”
While California boasts the best and biggest public university systems in the nation, they’re in turmoil. The University of California is facing a student housing crunch at the same time it is under intense pressure to increase the number of in-state students. UC Berkeley needed intervention by lawmakers to avoid an enrollment cap. Meanwhile, the California State University just had its chancellor forced out and is struggling to improve access, including enough student housing.
“California residents should have greater access to their own university systems. I would support mandating great California enrollment quotas upon UC.”