ANAHEIM, Calif. (CN) – The four Democrats running to be California’s next governor vowed to resist the Trump administration, protect the state’s newly enacted sanctuary status, increase affordable housing and boost jobs and education during their first joint forum Sunday.
But the top two candidates – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – split on support for a single-payer health care system in California.
Newsom strongly endorsed pending, if vague, legislation to establish universal health coverage for everyone in the Golden State. Villaraigosa called the plan in stalled Senate Bill 562 unworkable because it lacks any funding source for its estimated $400 billion annual cost.
“When you’re governor, you got to make the tough choices,” Villaraigosa said. “You can’t just say, I want pie in the sky, because that doesn’t put food on people’s tables. So what I would do as governor is to create a public option that allows people to buy into Medicare.”
Speaking to an audience of several hundred health care union members, Villaraigosa said he would never “sell you snake oil. We all agree that we need to get there, but we need a plan to get there.”
Newsom said the real issue is leadership and California should lead the nation. “I’m not going to wait around for the debate to unfold in Washington, D.C. Sure, I support Medicare for all, but you got to shape the debate in California,” he said.
He minimized concerns about cost as “mythology,” noting that total health care costs in California currently run about $368 billion annually, with taxpayers footing over 70 percent of the bill. But a single-payer system would drive down those costs through efficiencies and economy of scale, he said.
“A single-payer system provides the ability to provide more efficiency and more cost controls,” he said.
Now in his second term as lieutenant governor, Newsome has consistently led the other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in fundraising and polling, although Villaraigosa is expected to draw significant support from the Los Angeles area. The top two vote-getters in California’s June primary, regardless of party, will go on to run in the general election in November 2018.
The other Democrats at Sunday’s forum before the National Union of Healthcare Workers were state Treasurer John Chiang and Delaine Eastin, the state’s superintendent of public instruction from 1995 to 2003. The top two Republicans in the race, John Cox and Travis Allen, were invited to the forum but did not attend, according to the union.
Chiang, who previously served two terms as state controller, supports universal health care but urged a slow but steady approach.
“We don’t have to go all-in to provide all the services all at once. Let’s make sure that what we’re implementing, we can scale up appropriately and show its effectiveness in the program.”
Eastin gave the strongest support of the four to the stalled SB 562. A single-payer system would cost more now, she said, but save money later. “The fact of the matter is people are dying in California because we do not have affordable health care coverage for everybody,” she said.
Cost increases could be paid for through a gross-receipts tax and a small hike to the state income tax. “We’re now paying for a big, for-profit industry that is hosing the state and the people and is not doing a good job by the sickest people,” she said.
On other issues, the four candidates all support a month-old law declaring California a “sanctuary state.”
Eastin and Villaraigosa in particular said the Constitution’s 10th Amendment could be used to defend California from the Trump administration on that and other issues – much as Republican-led states used the amendment, which guarantees state authority, against Obama administration programs.
“The 10th Amendment has been waved in our face for decades” by Republicans, Eastin said. “It’s time for us to wave it back.”
Support for improved health care coverage in California clearly mattered to members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Following the candidate forum, some 350 union stewards voted to endorse Newsom for the governorship, with Eastin coming in second after a runoff vote. Newsom drew 53 percent of the final vote, the union said.
The candidate forum was not conducted as a debate. Rather it was “conversation with a competitive edge,” according to moderator John Donvan, a former ABC News reporter and anchor. Four local journalists and three union members each submitted a set of questions to the candidates.
Coincidentally, the NUHW convention took place at an Anaheim hotel about a block from the state Republican Party convention, where erstwhile Trump operative and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon unleashed an attack on former President George W. Bush and other mainstream Republicans on Friday.
The following day, Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who famously brandished a pocket Constitution at Trump last year, called for unity. “When so much of this nation is worried about the direction of this nation, we will set it right, we will fix it, we will change the course,” he said, according to news accounts.