LOS ANGELES (CN) – California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said at an elections forum Thursday that he will continue pursuing a single-payer health care plan for the state and rent relief even as Republicans decry his vision as fiscally irresponsible.
At Politico’s “Deciders” election event co-hosted by the American Association of Retired Persons, Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Newsom said that if he had a magic wand, he’d build 3.5 million houses to tackle the state’s affordable housing crisis, adding that politics have lately been short on “audacious goals.”
Although Newsom backs the idea of a single-payer health care option for the state, political support has buckled under the weight of the $400 billion price tag a state legislative analysis burdened it with.
“Single-payer won’t happen overnight,” Newsom said Thursday. “It’s a process.”
San Diego County businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox declined an invitation to speak at the forum, according to event officials.
But California Republican Party chair and former state senator Jim Brulte represented the GOP, noting that demographic changes – such as increases in racial and ethnic minority populations – have driven a decline in registered Republican voters in the state.
He also believes debates on policy have shifted toward judgments on moral standing.
“If you support secure borders, somehow that means you’re xenophobic,” Brulte said.
He criticized the state’s recently approved gas tax increase and said elected officials should instead implement “efficiencies” in state revenue allocation to pay for repairs to crumbling roads and bridges.
Newsom called Brulte’s suggestion “nonsense” and said the state should continue to utilize the gas tax.
Republicans led the successful charge to put Proposition 69 on the statewide primary ballot in June. The measure, approved by 80 percent of voters, requires the estimated $5.2 billion in annual gas tax funds go directly toward transportation projects.
With GOP voters fuming about the gas tax, the party also pushed for the successful recall of state Senator Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, in June.
Newman was one of the backers of the tax.
Brulte criticized Democrats and news media outlets for focusing on Trump while income inequality has spiked under a Democratic controlled state legislature.
“Voters of California are very upset with what’s happening here in California,” Brulte said. “I understand why [Democrats] want to talk about Donald Trump, because they are afraid of talking about their record.”
Trump’s economic policy, displayed by his recent federal tax cut, has hurt the nation’s ongoing recovery from a recession, Newsom said, adding that further cuts could “bankrupt” the country.
“If we can survive Trump and Trumpism, [California] will thrive in the next few decades,” he said.
In the U.S. Senate race between state Senator Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Newsom said he backs four-term incumbent Feinstein, who he knows to be a “fierce champion” of gun safety and environmental justice, among other issues.
Despite concerns that Feinstein is too moderate, Newsom believes she is “well positioned to win reelection.”
When asked if Feinstein’s age was a concern, Newsom responded that the question of age seems to only come up for female politicians. While Feinstein is 85, President Donald Trump is 72 and Governor Jerry Brown is 80.
Brulte said he’s comfortable “voters will deliver” the 14 Republican-held congressional seats in California.
Operating out of 18 field offices across the state, the GOP has knocked on a million doors in this election season.
“Our long-term play will pay dividends in a couple decades,” Brulte said. “There’s a lot of fight in us.”
Newsom called the state an “extraordinary place” and said that the country should look to California as an example of embracing racial and ethnic diversity.
“We are America’s coming attraction,” Newsom said.
Newsom leads Cox by 24 points among likely voters in the Nov. 5 general election, according to a July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.