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

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.”

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.”

Indeed.

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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