The top three Republicans running for governor convened in downtown San Francisco Tuesday night to lay out their respective visions for the state—and give a sizable boost to the liberal city’s scant GOP-affiliated population.
The ideological mismatch was lost on no one, not least debate moderator and San Francisco Chronicle editorial page editor John Diaz. After listening to the candidates try to outdo one another in support of a Trump presidency, he said: “This is the first time in San Francisco I have heard an argument among people about who most supports Donald Trump.”
Despite the setting, Assemblyman Travis Allen, businessman John Cox, and former Congressman Doug Ose were unabashedly right of center. (Cox acknowledged he originally did not support Trump but said he has since become convinced Trump is a “true conservative” after all.) On issues relating to housing, climate change, health care, immigration and taxes, the three contenders disagreed on little—except who on the stage represented the true conservative choice for California.
Republicans have worried that the trio risk splitting the conservative vote in June—inadvertently ensuring that no Republican candidate placed in the “top two” cutoff for the November election. “I think they should both drop out,” Allen said of his opponents. “I have never lost an election.”
“We’re not going to change California with more politicians,” responded Cox, who stressed that the nation’s best governors were former businessmen instead of “the same old same old” politicos.
Ose characterized himself as the optimal blend of both business and political experience.
Predictably, Allen was asked about the Legislature’s Friday release of substantiated sexual harassment complaints, which identified several Democratic former and current lawmakers and one Republican: him. Even so, he accused the Democrats of targeting him for purely political reasons, and blamed what he called the “unsubstantiated” complaints against him on “a misunderstanding” of his gestures of friendliness. “I was shocked when I saw that this was being dragged up,” he said.
On California’s lack of affordable housing, the candidates all agreed that the problem lay primarily with excessive regulation.
The last time California had a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state’s greenhouse gas reducing cap-and-trade program into law. But those days are long gone.
All of the current GOP candidates for governor expressed varying degrees of uncertainty about whether humans play a vital role in climate change, while agreeing that California’s current policy of reducing statewide emissions is not the way to go.
On healthcare, there was a sharp contrast with the Democrats running for governor, whose policy prescriptions range from expanding upon Obamacare to creating a state-funded single payer system. Instead, the Republicans offered variations on a very different theme: the less government, the better.
Both Cox and Allen are enthusiastically backing a ballot measure to repeal a 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax Democratic lawmakers recently enacted to pay for a backlog of road repairs and other transportation projects. The GOP candidates were swift to condemn the deterioration of California’s transportation system, but insisted new money was not required to fix the problem.
As the candidates wrapped up their debate, each acknowledged that any Republican governor would face a formidable challenge: the Legislature, which is virtually certain to remain under Democratic control. Each offered his own remedies for streamlining the way the Capitol works—such as Cox’s radical plan to create 12,000 local representatives that would then select 120 state legislators to send to Sacramento. State election officials just announced that initiative failed to make the ballot, but he vowed not to give up the fight.