SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Six candidates for California governor faced off against each other as the race to helm the Golden State intensifies ahead of the June 5 primary in the first gubernatorial debate televised statewide.
The candidates, including four Democrats and two Republicans, sparred over issues such as homelessness, housing affordability, cost of living, transportation, immigration, education and character. The debate also marked the appearance of front-runner Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had declined several other debates between the candidates.
Newsom’s appearance gave his competitors time to bring up questions of his character, as evidenced Tuesday night by the constant attacks on him launched by both Republican and Democratic challengers.
California Treasurer and Democrat John Chiang said Newsom was partly responsible for deporting a young undocumented girl during his time as mayor, while Republican Travis Allen accused Newsom of being indirectly responsible for the murder of Kate Steinle, who was killed by an undocumented man who had previously been deported.
“It’s shameful that a young girl was murdered due to those policies,” Allen said.
The fact that Newsom was attacked from both flanks on the same issue was indicative of his lead in both the polling and fundraising.
Newsom, for his part, stayed largely above the fray, touting his record, arguing for the need of leadership on a host of issues and parrying the occasional verbal jab.
His one moment of discomfort came at the hands of Democratic candidate Delaine Eastin, the former state schools chief, who alluded to his affair with his former appointments manager during his stint as San Francisco mayor.
“It’s wrong for any boss working in any government agency to make passes at the women who work for them,” Eastin said.
Newsom acknowledged his error.
“I’ve apologized for it, been open about it and learned from it,” he said. “And I will fight like hell to do the right thing.”
But the personal attacks were actually few and far between, with the six candidates largely sticking out to the issues and staking out the nuances in their policy approaches.
Newsom and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles, both pledged to build 3.5 million houses by 2020 in an effort to tackle the housing affordability crisis wracking Silicon Valley and the rest of the coastal regions of the state.
Chiang took a more modest position, touting his pragmatism. Eastin, too, said the goal of 300,000 new houses per year was more feasible.
Republican John Cox, a San Diego businessman, said the housing affordability crisis was due to excessive regulations and singled out the California Environmental Quality Act as the biggest impediment to an increase in housing stock.
“CEQA needs to be revamped,” he said. “It’s used by lawyers to restrict housing.”
Cox made a verbal hit on Allen, his Republican counterpart, saying he was just another politician in thrall to special interests who isn’t as forthright about attempting to repeal the gasoline tax.
Allen sniped back at Cox, pointing out that he didn’t vote for Donald Trump and was in favor of progressive policies like universal pre-school.
The greatest point of divergence between the Republican and Democratic candidates came unsurprisingly when queried about their feelings about the wall.
“It’s a monument to stupidity,” Newsom said. “About 40 percent of the people here without documents flew here.”
Cox and Allen both said California should defer to federal law and called for an end to sanctuary city policies.
“The first role of government is to provide security,” Cox said.
The Republicans also accused Democrats of using the Trump administration as a foil to distract from California’s failures as evidenced by a rising cost of living, congested highways and other burdens.
But Eastin said Trump was a “racist and misogynist” and needed to be stopped.
Villaraigosa also vowed to stand up to Trump, saying the statement of his campaign was unity.
“I’ll stand up for mother liberty’s call,” he said. “I want to build bridges, not walls.”
Newsom said California needs to stand for the values of diversity and for the people of California “to advance together across every conceivable difference.”
Chiang pointed to his painful childhood experiences in Chicago, when his family was ridiculed because of their ethnicity, saying it inspired him to a life of public service in the mold of Martin Luther King Jr.
Chiang also pointed to funding higher education as one of his priorities, saying he would like to reduce tuition to 2009 levels, while his Democratic opponents focused more on early childhood education.
Allen talked about repairing the “broken higher education system” and firing University of California President Janet Napolitano on his first day in office.
Cox said reducing regulations and the cost of living so parents had more spending power was the best way to address affordability across the entire education spectrum.
All four Democrats stated support for the California High Speed Rail, with Newsom criticizing the former business plan while expressing optimism about newly installed leadership. The two Republicans opposed it as a boondoggle.
But Chiang said California is the fifth largest economy in the world and pointed out other global economies such as Japan, China and France all have high speed rail.
After the June 5 primary, the top two candidates, regardless of party will move on to the general election in November.
Most candidates supported the arrangement, saying voters should be able to pick between the two best people.