Gover­nor can­di­dates snipe at each other in L.A. de­bate

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Joe Garo­foli

There were lots of signs that Cal­i­for­nia’s race to re­place termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown be­gan in earnest Satur­day dur­ing a fo­rum at the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in Los An­ge­les.

With the top fin­ish­ers in the June 5 pri­mary, re­gard­less of party, ad­vanc­ing to the Novem­ber elec­tion, the can­di­dates started swing­ing hard in an ef­fort to stand out in the crowded field:

Both of the two Repub­li­cans on­stage and two of the three other Democrats at­tacked early poll fron­trun­ner, Demo­crat Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som.

The two Repub­li­cans — busi­ness­man John Cox of Ran­cho Santa Fe (San Diego County) and Assem­bly­man Travis Allen, RHunt­ing­ton Beach (Or­ange County) — sniped at each other for ev­ery­thing from be­ing “im­ma­ture” to con­tribut­ing money to Democrats, and each claimed to be do­ing more to sup­port a

pro­posed bal­lot mea­sure to re­peal Cal­i­for­nia’s new gas tax.

The field neatly cleaved into those who sup­port Pres­i­dent Trump (Repub­li­cans) and who don’t (Democrats.) And kind of like it is in Cal­i­for­nia — where 66 per­cent of vot­ers dis­ap­prove of Trump, ac­cord­ing to a Berke­ley IGS Poll — there was no mid­dle ground.

“Clearly he’s a racist,” said for­mer state schools chief De­laine Eastin, the self-de­scribed “op­ti­mist” and only can­di­date on stage not to attack a fel­low can­di­date.

But in re­sponse to the same ques­tion from a mod­er­a­tor about what they thought of Trump’s vul­gar com­ments last week ques­tion­ing the need to ac­cept im­mi­grants from Haiti and African coun­tries, nei­ther Cox nor Allen crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent.

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” Cox said. But as a life­long busi­ness­man, “I don’t have the lux­ury of call­ing some­body a name and then de­flect­ing the is­sue. We’ve got to fo­cus on things that will make life qual­ity for the peo­ple of Cal­i­for­nia, not de­mo­nize the pres­i­dent.”

Cox sup­ported Trump on im­mi­gra­tion, say­ing “We need to build a wall.”

Allen also de­clined to crit­i­cize Trump and drew a smat­ter­ing of boos when he said Cal­i­for­nia must “never be a sanc­tu­ary state.

“These are peo­ple who came into the coun­try il­le­gally and are in our com­mu­ni­ties com­mit­ting crimes,” Allen said. “They are now go­ing to be shel­tered by Jerry Brown’s sanc­tu­ary state ”

For­mer Los An­ge­les Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa tore into Allen, point­ing to a Na­tional Academy of Sciences study that found im­mi­grants com­mit fewer crimes per capita than na­tive-born Amer­i­cans. “What you say is ab­so­lutely wrong,” Vill­raigosa said.

Nearly all of the can­di­dates, save for Eastin, found a more com­mon en­emy in New­som, who led a De­cem­ber Berke­ley IGS Poll with 26 per­cent of the vote over Vil­laraigosa with 17 per­cent. Allen and Cox each had 9 per­cent, Eastin and state Trea­sure John Chi­ang, each had 5 per­cent. A sev­enth can­di­date, for­mer Sacra­mento-area GOP Rep. Doug Ose, just en­tered the race and wasn’t mea­sured in the poll.

The other can­di­dates fo­cused on New­som’s sup­port for sin­gle-payer health care. Vil­laraigosa said that while he is “philo­soph­i­cally for it,” that as some­one on Medi­care, he wor­ried about abruptly switch­ing health care sys­tems with­out a plan to guide the tran­si­tion. Turn­ing to New­som, he said, “You don’t have a plan.”

“You’ve got to have a plan, ev­ery­body,” Vil­laraigosa said. “Any­body who is telling you that we should do it with­out a plan is sell­ing you snake oil.”

New­som coun­tered, say­ing that “An­to­nio just men­tioned that he’s on Medi­care. Isn’t that in­ter­est­ing — (Medi­care is) a sin­gle-payer plan in this coun­try that is work­ing. That brings down the costs. That al­lows gov­ern­ment to use its lever­age and pur­chas­ing power.”

Eastin of­fered un­equiv­o­cal sup­port for a sin­gle-payer plan, say­ing she would con­vene the best minds to make the sys­tem work. “It’s about hav­ing will,” she said. “I have the will to make this hap­pen.”

Chi­ang said he sup­ports such a plan, but chided New­som for not of­fer­ing de­tails.

“You have to ask Gavin, ‘Hhow much are you go­ing to in­crease pay­roll taxes?’ ” Chi­ang said. “‘Are we go­ing to sup­port busi­nesses in the state of Cal­i­for­nia? Are we go­ing to make it dif­fi­cult to do busi­ness in Cal­i­for­nia?’ ”

Cox and Allen wholly op­posed a sin­gle-payer plan.

“Why stop at health care? Why don’t we have sin­gle-payer food? Why don’t we have sin­gle­payer hous­ing?” Cox said. “I’ll tell you why. Be­cause the free mar­ket is ab­so­lutely the best way.”

Eastin con­tin­u­ally re­turned her fo­cus to how im­prov­ing the state’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem would solve other prob­lems, in­clud­ing the high in­car­cer­a­tion rate. Cox crit­i­cized New­som for re­ceiv­ing the en­dorse­ment of the state’s teach­ers union, say­ing it is an ex­am­ple of the crony­ism that crip­ples Sacra­mento.

While New­som touted San Fran­cisco’s schools as be­ing the best ur­ban dis­trict in the state, Vill­raigosa pointed out that the achieve­ment gap be­tween African Amer­i­can stu­dents and oth­ers is the worst in the state. “We ac­tu­ally have a real achieve­ment gap,” there, he said.

The other can­di­dates fo­cused on Gavin New­som’s sup­port for sin­gle-payer health care.

Amy Os­borne / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle 2017

Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som, the clear front-run­ner in the race for gover­nor, has be­come the tar­get of crit­i­cism from other can­di­dates in the June 5 elec­tion.

Tommy Lee Kreger 2017

GOP can­di­date John Cox (left) with Rudy Mendoza, mayor of Wood­lake (Tu­lare County), last year.

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