PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – California gubernatorial candidates duked it out at the first Asian-Pacific American focused debate on Friday evening where they shared their vision for the state’s healthcare, immigration policies and what language Californians should speak.
Three Democrats and two Republican candidates were asked if they supported language access for Californians.
Republican candidate and state assemblyman Travis Allen said the best thing the state can do is provide basic proficiency in reading and writing to its children.
“Let’s not kid ourselves: this country was founded on English,” Allen said.
Democrat candidate and state treasurer John Chiang, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, agreed English is important, but said so is diversity and the multiple languages people speak.
“We need to know each other to better connect,” Chiang said.
The crowd at Pasadena City College responded to verbal jabs traded between candidates. Republican businessman John Cox called Allen a slick-talking “attack dog” after he said Cox and his housing units benefit from Section 8 and said he was a “slumlord.”
Candidates and event organizers also took their swipes at Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who declined an invite to Friday night’s debate. He also declined an invite to another debate in San Bernardino County earlier in the day.
Less than 40 days to the June primary, the race for California’s governor is for second place. That’s because Newsom has a comfortable lead in the polls, leaving the rest of the candidates in a battle to get enough votes to meet him in November.
Newsom, 50, leads in a poll with 30 percent of likely voters saying they would vote for the former mayor of San Francisco. That’s a bump from 26 percent in December, according to a survey from the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates Cox and Allen passed former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the same poll, with preference for him at just 9 percent, a decline from 17 percent in December.
Cox has 18 percent support, almost double from what he had at the end of 2017 and Allen has seen a boost to 16 percent, according to the Institute of Governmental Studies poll from UC Berkley.
Rounding out the pack are former state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin and Chiang, with 4 and 7 percent support as of late-April.
At Friday night’s debate, candidates presented their message to the Asian-American community at the event hosted by the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment (CAUSE).
Cox called California unfriendly to businesses and a “judicial hellhole” where regulations are crushing business.
“The Asian-American community knows it,” Cox said.
The candidates spoke about issues important to them, with Eastin saying she believes in science and would continue to carry the environmental policies of Gov. Jerry Brown.
Chiang and Villaraigosa said they advocated for affirmative action, because it provided them access to education.
Eastin called herself the American dream.
“I’m the daughter of a machinist and dress clerk,” Eastin said. “I want every kid to have the chance I had. We need quality education for every child.”
The audience booed and cheered as the sanctuary law was brought up by candidates, but not by the moderators. Both Allen and Cox said they would repeal the law, while the other candidates said diversity is part of the state’s strength.
Villaraigosa said, “Let’s fix this broken immigration system,” to some cheers, while Cox called Mexico a corrupt country, which received jeers.
The top-two primary election will be held June 5.
*A previous version of the article incorrectly attributed a quote from Cox to Allen.