Four Democrats vying to become the next governor of California faced off for the first time Sunday at a forum in Anaheim hosted by a union for health care workers. The discussion focused largely on health care and labor issues—but it also gave the public the first glimpse at the intra-party dynamic that may shape next year’s campaign for the state’s highest office.
It’s early in the 2018 campaign. Other candidates may still step in. But for now, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin are the most prominent Democrats running in this deep blue state. All voiced support for California’s new sanctuary law, which limits the circumstances when police can cooperate with federal immigration agents. And addressing an audience of union members, all four candidates predictably touted their support for, and experience with, organized labor.
But there were a few surprises, too. Here’s a look at what stuck out most:
Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa are off to a friendly start.
Among the four Democratic candidates, the two former big-city mayors are best positioned to differentiate themselves. Newsom grew up socializing with San Francisco millionaires before launching a successful wine shop and working his way up in politics. Villaraigosa is the son of a Mexican immigrant who rose to become mayor of Los Angeles years after dropping out of high school.
They have different approaches on the issue of health care. Newsom supports creating a government-run “single payer” health care system, and cast himself as a leader who could turn it from concept to reality. Villaraigosa said he wants to create a “public option” allowing people to pay to participate in Medicare. But he called the single-payer approach “pie in the sky” because it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and there is no plan for how to pay for it.
Still, the pair displayed no animosity during the debate, and even helped each other a couple of times. At one point, the moderator criticized Newsom for going off topic because he mentioned touring damage from the devastating fires in Sonoma and Napa counties. Villaraigosa told the moderator it was a valid point because Newsom was answering a question from a Napa County worker.
Bottom line: No sign yet of a nasty NorCal–SoCal rivalry.
Delaine Eastin is fired up.
So far the former state schools superintendent is lagging in the polls and in her campaign fundraising. But Eastin came to the debate with a whole lot of spunk, delivering defiant quips that earned whoops and applause:
“You can’t scare me, I’m sticking with the union,” she said when asked about “right-to-work” laws in other states.
“If you don’t persuade them, you sue them,” she said in touting the class-size reduction program she carried as superintendent.
And on health care, she said insurance companies are “hosing the state and the people.”
But Eastin was short on critical details. She said she supports a bill in the Legislature that would create single-payer healthcare, and mentioned raising taxes but didn’t articulate a firm plan of how to pay for it. Ditto with education: She wants to spend more on preschool, schools and colleges but didn’t say where the money would come from.
John Chiang could use a cup of coffee.
Where Eastin had a lot of passion but few details, Chiang was the opposite. He had lots and lots of details, but a measured delivery.
Chiang is working to translate his long experience running the state’s finances into expertise on issues that resonate with voters. (He was state controller for eight years before being elected treasurer in 2014.)
In his role as treasurer, Chiang said he has increased financing to allow construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing. He talked about diversity by saying he’s using his role on the boards that invest pension funds to encourage businesses to add more women and people of color to their corporate boards. And he mentioned a bill he sponsored—never signed into law—to create a fund to refinance student loans.