Who’s run­ning for gover­nor?

A sated elec­torate means many aren’t yet tuned in to wide-open gu­ber­na­to­rial race.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - MARK Z. BARABAK mark.barabak @la­times.com

TRACY, Calif. — Who’ll be the next gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia? It’s a com­plete and ut­ter mys­tery.

In­sur­ance Com­mis­sioner Gavin New­som? An­to­nio Vil­la­garosa? Ka­mala Har­ris?

Ac­tu­ally, none of the above. New­som is Cal­i­for­nia’s lieu­tenant gover­nor, not in­sur­ance com­mis­sioner. The for­mer mayor of Los An­ge­les spells his name Vil­laraigosa. And un­like those two, Har­ris is not even run­ning for gover­nor; in­deed, she’s just start­ing to warm the U.S. Se­nate seat she won in Novem­ber.

The fight to suc­ceed Demo­crat Jerry Brown is likely to be the most wide open and un­pre­dictable Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor’s race since at least 1998, when Gray Davis, the over­whelm­ing un­der­dog, surged to vic­tory in the fi­nal weeks of the Demo­cratic pri­mary and took the of­fice in a Novem­ber land­slide.

One would hardly know it, though, talk­ing to vot­ers who haven’t the fog­gi­est no­tion who’s pur­su­ing the job.

In more than three dozen in­ter­views through­out the Bay Area and its fringes — with Democrats, Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents rang­ing in age from their early 30s to late 70s — fewer than a hand­ful could prop­erly iden­tify New­som, who for­mally an­nounced his can­di­dacy in early 2015.

The num­ber just about matched those who named Vil­laraigosa, in­cor­rectly, or cited Har­ris as a can­di­date. She may be pleased to know that both were fans, in case the fresh­man Demo­crat changes her mind about the gover­nor thing.

As for the other for­mally de­clared Demo­cratic can­di­dates — state Trea­surer John Chi­ang and for­mer state schools chief De­laine Eastin, or the sole Repub­li­can se­ri­ously run­ning, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist John Cox — vot­ers had not a clue.

Which is not to suggest the av­er­age Cal­i­for­nian is ig­no­rant or ap­a­thetic. State pol­i­tics has never been a con­sum­ing in­ter­est here; it’s more like base­ball or foot­ball, draw­ing at­ten­tion for a few months dur­ing the sea­son, then re­ced­ing into the back­ground for all save the most pas­sion­ate fans.

All of which un­der­scores the dis­con­nect be­tween your av­er­age Cal­i­for­nian and the po­lit­i­cal in­sid­ers, ob­sessed as they are over the fight for chair­man­ship of the state Demo­cratic Party, or the lit­mus test im­posed by lib­er­als push­ing a Sacra­mento-run uni­ver­sal health­care plan.

There is plenty that will hap­pen in the next 17 months to shape the mood of vot­ers. But for now, at least, can­di­dates aren’t fac­ing the an­gry elec­torate that thrust the GOP into the ma­jor­ity in Sacra­mento in 1994 or grudg­ingly re­elected Davis in 2002, only to pitch him from of­fice less than a year later in an un­prece­dented re­call.

“Things are go­ing pretty well,” Demo­crat Jim Knoll, a 71-year-old re­tired sales man­ager, said on a sunny morn­ing in San Fran­cisco’s West Por­tal dis­trict, one of the more but­toned-down neigh­bor­hoods in the city. “The next gover­nor needs to keep things on track.”

(Bar­ring some epic shift, Brown’s suc­ces­sor will al­most cer­tainly be a Demo­crat and more likely than not the one who runs best in the Bay Area, which tends to have out­size in­flu­ence in state elec­tions.)

There were gripes, nat­u­rally. Some grum­bled that vot­ers had no say in a gas­tax hike to pay for road and tran­sit fixes. Or mar­veled that hous­ing prices have gone from ridicu­lous to on-an­other-planet in­sane. Or lamented how “rush hour” has be­come a quaint no­tion in an age of 24/7 traf­fic tie-ups.

There was mid­dling sup­port, at best, for two of Brown’s pet projects: a plan to build two gi­ant tun­nels to ship North­ern Cal­i­for­nia water south and a bul­let train be­tween San Fran­cisco and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. “That’s all about him leav­ing his legacy,” scoffed Repub­li­can Doug Thomp­son, 75, a re­tired health­care ex­ec­u­tive, as he hefted gro­ceries into the back of his SUV in up­scale Alamo. “Use that money to fix the schools and im­prove in­fra­struc­ture.”

For the most part, though, the pre­vail­ing sen­ti­ment was one of rel­a­tive con­tent­ment; it seems very likely the in­cum­bent would win a third term, if the law didn’t keep Brown from run­ning again.

To that end, most hoped the next gover­nor would largely con­tinue in his steps, es­pe­cially when it comes to fight­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ag­gres­sive immigration stance and ef­forts to un­der­mine the state’s tough en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

“It’s im­por­tant they stand up for the moral val­ues — not just mar­ket val­ues — that Trump seems to be throw­ing com­pletely out the win­dow,” said Demo­crat Mary Burns, 67, who re­tired from the pub­lic re­la­tions in­dus­try and now writes mys­tery nov­els set in West Por­tal.

There was de­cid­edly less en­thu­si­asm for the brio mus­tered by for­mer Demo­cratic Chair­man John Bur­ton, who flipped Pres­i­dent Trump the dou­ble-bird at a re­cent state party con­ven­tion and led a crowd chant of the f-bomb.

Don’t stoop to Trump’s level, most said, or en­gage in a tweet-for-tat back-and­forth with the pe­tu­lant pres­i­dent.

“For­get about the lit­tle fights. Fo­cus on the big things he’s screw­ing up,” said Larry Ven­ner, 65, a re­new­able en­ergy an­a­lyst and “re­luc­tant Demo­crat,” as he paused out­side the li­brary in Tracy, where the Bay Area starts giv­ing way to the Cen­tral Val­ley. “Stay away from sym­bolic fights that don’t mean any­thing.”

The sin­gle-payer health­care pro­posal that en­thralls lib­eral ac­tivists drew a far more tepid re­sponse. While many praised the no­tion of free qual­ity med­i­cal care for all, they ques­tioned who would pay the enor­mous cost, es­ti­mated at $330 bil­lion to $400 bil­lion an­nu­ally.

High taxes are al­ready a bur­den, many said, and what guar­an­tees that rais­ing them even higher would pro­duce bet­ter health­care, as the politi­cians prom­ise?

“The money you send to Sacra­mento just seems to go into this gen­eral grind­ing ma­chine and dis­ap­pear,” said Demo­crat James de Avel­lar, a 67-year-old re­tired truck driver in Tracy.

If there was a rough pre­scrip­tion for the next gover­nor, it seemed to be: Don’t at­tempt any­thing dras­tic. Fo­cus on what’s achiev­able. Fix the roads. Make pub­lic schools bet­ter. Do some­thing to im­prove pub­lic tran­sit and make hous­ing more af­ford­able.

Liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia has al­ways in­volved trade-offs: nat­u­ral beauty vs. nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. Pricey liv­ing vs. price­less ameni­ties.

“It’s the best place in the world and the hard­est place in the world,” said Cathy Tur­ney, a real es­tate bro­ker and Demo­crat of a cer­tain age (“call me a ma­ture adult”), as she headed to a lunch date in Con­cord’s Todos Santos Plaza.

That’s un­likely to change, whoever the next gover­nor turns out to be.

Gre­gory Urquiaga UC Davis

CAN­DI­DATES FOR gover­nor run­ning in 2018, clock­wise from top left: Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som, state Trea­surer John Chi­ang, for­mer state schools chief De­laine Eastin, and for­mer Los An­ge­les Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa. The race has yet to be­come a pri­or­ity for many vot­ers.

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