A live debate between the candidates for governor of California.
Radio host Scott Shafer, top, moderates a California gubernatorial debate between Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom, left, and Republican candidate John Cox at KQED Public Radio Studio in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018.
Jeff Chiu, AP Pool
California governor’s race entered the home stretch Monday. As counties started sending out vote-by-mail ballots, Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox met for their only general election debate.
The two candidates for California governor joined KQED's Scott Shafer in-studio for a wide-ranging conversation about their priorities and visions for the state. Listen back to the full debate above, read the full transcript below and see the key moments from the debate here.
Scott Shafer: And welcome to this special edition of KQED's Forum — a debate about the future of California and who should be the next governor with John Cox and Gavin Newsom. I'm Scott Shafer, KQED's senior editor for politics and government, and before we hear from the candidates, I just want to let everyone know that this will not be a formal debate with the exact same questions to each candidate and strict time limits for answers, that kind of thing. Instead, it's going to be more of a wide-ranging conversation with lots of give and take, and hopefully by the end you'll have a better sense of who these two candidates are and what kind of governor they'd be. So let's get started. Republican John Cox is a businessman who lives in Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego. Mr. Cox, Welcome.
John Cox: Thank you for having me.
Shafer: And Democrat Gavin Newsom is the lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco. Mr. Newsom, welcome to you as well.
Gavin Newsom: Great to be here. Thanks for having us. Well we flipped a coin to see who is going to go first. And so we're going to begin with you, Mr. Newsom. And the same question will be to you afterwards, Mr. Cox. What's your vision for California and how do you think it's different from the other guy? And I'm going to ask you to keep it relatively short.
Newsom: Well I think at the end of the day we're all better off when we're all better off. And so any vision has to be an inclusive vision. The Commonwealth. The fact is the issue that defines all of other issues from my perspective in this state is the issue of wealth disparity and income inequality, the issue of social mobility, the California Dream. It's an interesting fact — there are only two dreams: the American Dream and the California Dream. There's no Iowa dream, New Hampshire dream, there's no Nevada dream, but the California Dream is predicated on social mobility. The richest and the poorest state. We have to mind that gap. We have to address the issue of cost of housing. We have to address the issue of affordability broadly. We have to address the issue of homelessness and we have to tackle the vexing issue of health care and the issues related to health care that are devouring the state budget.
Shafer: And we're going to get to many of those issues in just a moment. Mr. Cox, what's your vision?
Cox: Well my vision of California's where people can afford to buy a house or pay rent that's affordable. They can afford gasoline, they can afford water, electricity. They can send their children to a school that's not failing, that's not near the bottom. They don't have to live in fear of fires. They don't have to see homeless all over the street. You know, Gavin's been part of the political class that has led this state downward. I have a vision of this state being affordable and livable for people. I think we can do that if we get rid of the special interest influence in Sacramento, the interest groups that inhabit Sacramento benefit from the status quo. The status quo isn't working for average working Californians. They can't afford to live here, and that's why they're leaving. I represent change. We're going to start talking about reforming our broken political system. Day one when I'm the governor.
Shafer: All right, and we're going to talk about many of those things, but both of you mentioned affordability. So let's talk about housing. Everybody agrees there is a housing crisis in California — just not enough supply to meet demand, and what's out there is either unaffordable to buy or in many cases to rent. And California is also almost dead last in housing construction per capita. I think Utah is 50, we're 49. And there are a lot of reasons for that, but I'm wondering, do you think, and I'll start with you, Mr. Cox. Do you think that there is too much local control when it comes to housing that enables — whether it's local governments or interest groups — to kill housing or slow it down so that it ends up costing too much money?
Cox: First of all, I'm in the housing business. I started 30 years ago and I build apartments for a living. I can build apartments in other states that I operate in for a fourth or a fifth of what they cost to build in California. And the reason is red tape, taxes, lawsuits, approval processes that take forever.
Shafer: To be clear though, you've been building in other states right? Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois.
Cox: I have, and it's government that has driven up the cost of housing in California. Now, we have to exercise leadership from Sacramento, and I will certainly do that because we do need to build a lot of housing, but we need to build that housing in a cost-effective way with lower cost. Now I certainly want local authorities to be involved in the process, and they have to be involved in the process. I've sat on local zoning boards in the past.
Shafer: Do they have too much power now, do you think?
Cox: No, I don't think they do. No. I think they should have power. But I think there also can be leadership that's exercised from the top. One of the things that I would do is reform CEQA, which has been turned into an effort by trial lawyers to sue competitors and stop development and that's limiting the supply of housing.
Shafer: That's the California Environmental Quality Act, signed by Ronald Reagan, actually I think in 1970. Mr. Newsom, what about you, housing?
Newsom: Yeah, no, look — you're right. We're 49th out of 50 of them per capita housing units, and you're correct, Utah is the only state producing less housing. And the fact is we're producing about 100,000 plus or minus housing units on an annual basis in order to create some price equilibrium in this state. From a production perspective, we want to be developing close to four times that number. So you're right, it is a issue of production, but it's also an issue of intentionality or lack thereof. There are no statewide housing goals in California. There are no timelines, no objectives, no strategies to organize at the local level, the kind of determination to address this legitimate affordability crisis. As it relates to your question about localism — yes, localism is determinative, but there is a certain point where the NIMBYism, there's a certain point with a lack of focus in terms of producing the requisite housing that's required in this state. There is a certain point where the state of California needs to intervene...
Newsom: Incentivize good behavior or disincentivize bad behavior. One of the specific plans of the 15 specific plans we have to address this housing crisis comes to the issue of allocation of tax revenue. Mayors have a perverse disincentive for housing. Mayors actually have an incentive for big-box retail. Mayors collect, cities collect retail sales tax. They don't collect property tax. We would like to have that debate about reallocating that tax base.
Shafer: You're talking about reforming Prop. 13?
Newsom: We're talking about a tax conversation around this housing conversation.
Shafer: Is Prop. 13 on the table?
Newsom: Everything's on the table as it relates to this issue. This is the issue that defines the affordability crisis. No. 2, I think you also have to be a bit punitive as it relates to local government. I think one of the proposals that to me is most interesting and intriguing actually comes from this region — the MTC, our Metropolitan Transit Commission, is talking about utilizing their ability to take discretionary transit dollars and allocate those transit dollars to municipalities that are meeting their housing production goals and taking those dollars away from those that are not. That's just two specific examples of how we can address this issue.
Shafer: Mr. Cox, yeah, you mentioned CEQA, so I wanted to talk about it...
Cox: But what I didn't hear in any of that, by the way, and Gavin's been in office for 16 years here in California and he's not done much about this problem as it's gotten worse and worse and worse. We've got to bring down the cost of housing, and it's not enough just to apply incentives and disincentives. What we also have to do is make sure that we shorten the approval frame. We've got to make sure...
Shafer: How do you do that?
Cox: Well I think we work with local authorities, frankly, to basically modify a lot of these state laws that are making the process longer and longer and longer. It takes 12, 15 years. I can build in Indiana and I can get approvals within six months. Other states that have Democratic governors can build housing a lot faster, a lot less costly than California. I fail to believe that we can't build housing that's more cost effective and available for people.
Newsom: And Scott, just because this is an important point on CEQA, in the past John has argued for eliminating CEQA, not reforming it, he called for its elimination.
Cox: Specifically I said to eliminate it and replace it with something that's more workable.
Newsom: And so I believe in more categorical exemptions for socially desirable projects for — excuse the wonkiness around this — more programmatic environmental impact reports to address the issue of predevelopment risk. I do believe the issue of Time value of money, in essence, what John is getting at is an important part of the solution as well. Again that's why there's no one single strategy that's going to address this issue. That's why we've laid out 15. I hope you can compare and contrast, the listeners, compare and contrast our proposals, our specific, tangible plans, because there is a profound contrast in the two...
Cox: I have a lot of specific plans and of course those plans don't mean anything unless you're willing to go up against the special interests.
Shafer: What does that mean?
Cox: Well these are interest groups that benefit from...
Shafer: Which ones?
Cox: Environmental groups that fund the legislature, as well as fund Gavin's campaign. We've got to take that money out of that, you know, out of that game, and we've got to make sure that we change the status quo. I'm someone who is going to work to change that status quo and all these plans don't mean a thing if we can't change a lot of these laws that are adding to the costs, that are driving housing prices and apartment prices through the roof. There is no good reason why I'm able to build other places for a lot less cost than in California.
Shafer: One way to take the money out of this whole thing would be public financing.
Cox: No, that doesn't do it, because then you have independent expenditures that are financed by these groups.
Shafer: How do you do it?
Cox: Well we'll talk about that after I'm elected governor. We've got a lot of reform ideas. And there's other reform ideas out there. But the fact of the matter is the status quo isn't working. We need change. We need to build affordable housing for people and the rents. When I travel around the state — I talked at the Sriracha plant, I talked to Felipe Martinez, who is running a one-bedroom apartment for himself and four children, paying $1,500 a month. People keep moving farther and farther away from their jobs because they can't afford a house and then they get hit with this gas tax, which I hope we're going to talk about.
Newsom: What you heard again — no specific strategies. Let me give you a specific strategy to address the example that John just advanced. We have a desire to take our $85 million affordable housing tax credit, increase it over the next few years to $500 million to leverage more financing for affordable housing. We have strategies to address workforce housing — those were where the jobs go to sleep, the quote unquote "missing middle" for middle class families. We have specific strategies to address the issue of tax increment. We lost redevelopment years ago and we never came up with successor agencies. We have specific goals on enhanced infrastructure financing districts in the state taking advantage of these opportunity zones. Again what you heard from John is an illusory strategy where he criticizes and identifies problems, but with all due respect doesn't have the details and the strategies to actually solve any problems.
Cox: What you heard from Gavin is more government, more plans to pay out money from government tax credits, plans for government financing. But if you don't really attack the cost of building, the delays in building, the litigation, the lawsuits, the impact fees that are put on housing in the state. If you don't do that, what you're going to do is institutionalize these high rents. I don't want rents costing $3,000 for a two-bedroom apartment and then had government come along and subsidize people for a short time. That's going to put us even more in debt and it's not addressing the problem, and I have specific plans on dealing with that.
Shafer: All right, let's move to a new topic. Voters, you know, have a right to know who you guys are, what your values are, how you work, what kind of governor you'd be, because if you win you're gonna have to work with the legislature and you're going to be appointing department heads and all this stuff. So I have a question — a different question for each of you starting with you, Mr. Newsom. Throughout your career, you've had a series of public spats, shall we say, with elected officials. Board of Supervisors when you were mayor. There were a lot of back and forth comments. And sometimes when you get asked a tough question by reporters, you didn't like it. You were, some would say thin-skinned as lieutenant governor. You had a difficult relationship with Jerry Brown at the beginning. You tangled publicly with the state Senate president pro tem over gun control and then also a back and forth with the speaker, Anthony Rendon, over single-payer. So my question is, like, what, you know, what does that say about your ability to get along with the people you need to get along with?
Newsom: Well I get along extraordinarily well with the legislature. Currently I get along and got along very well with most of the members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But I'm interested in change. You know, changing the order of things is difficult. Some people have different points of view. The speaker has a different point of view on single-payer financing. Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have different points of view on homeless strategies and different points of view on health care strategy. So look I'm going to assert myself. I'm going to be bold. Not many people came to my defense when we advanced same-sex marriage. You didn't include that. You should. Because the overwhelming majority of Democrats in this country, some of the most I think well-known Democratic leaders were very, very critical publicly of my willingness to lean into that. I took on the National Rifle Association and they weren't pleased by those efforts to require background checks, not just for gun purchases but now ammunition purchases, so if you're looking for timidity I'm not your person. If you're looking for someone to be bold and courageous lean into issues change the order of things I'm committing myself to that cause as the next governor.
Shafer: Do you think, though, that you can be bold and not timid without getting in spats with your allies?
Newsom: I mean, periodic. Look I've been doing this for some time and there's areas of disagreement and sometimes people are disagreeable. My intention is to go together, not go alone, learn a lot over the years, and my approach.
Shafer: What did you learn from those experiences?
Newsom: I think at the end of the day you know there is that African proverb that is if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. You know, when I look back over the course of 20-plus years, I was mayor at a relatively young age. There was a desire to do everything all at once. And I think issues of prioritizing, bringing people into your vision, making people feel part of the team. Those are all lessons. Those are all attributes that I hope to bring to the governor's office.
Shafer: All right I have a question for you, Mr. Cox. Did you want to say something really fast?
Cox: Yeah, I just wanted to emphasize that, you know, I come from the private sector where I have to work with people and get things done and achieve results and I've done that for 40 years, and not everybody in my team agrees with everything that we had. But what we've got to do is we've got to get people aligned around common goals and try to figure out the ways to reach those goals and I think that's what I'm going to do as governor.
Shafer: All right and for you I have a question about values. You started off your political life as a Democrat. You ran in Illinois to be a delegate to the 1976 Democratic convention, and then you became a Republican, you ran for a local office in Chicago and then the U.S. Senate from Illinois, a guy named Barack Obama won that. And you ran for president in 2007-2008. And I just want to refresh some of the points you made during those times. You said we need a federal marriage amendment to keep same-sex couples from marrying. You said we have, and I'm quoting, "We have a problem with transvestite teachers." You said that if we don't use common sense we will quote "open the floodgates to polygamy and bestiality and all kinds of other things." And you know I could go on, but I guess what I'm asking is what does that say what your values and about your, you know, what kind of governor you'll be?
Cox: You're specifically referring to, you know, the issue of gay marriage.
Shafer: Well, I have others. I have others.
Cox: Well maybe so. But, you know, fact of the matter is that those were many, many years ago. I've evolved on those issues and frankly just like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who both opposed gay marriage very strongly for a long time. They evolved and they changed. But you know I think the thing to take away from all that is that all the way through my efforts in the past I've been fighting against the establishment and about corruption. You know my mom was a Chicago school teacher. That's what led me to want to fight corruption. It's the corruption of these special interests that are making California too expensive and too unequal for people. And that's what I'm going to attack in California as well.
Shafer: You say you've evolved, and that's fair, although he was mayor at the time that you said those things. It wasn't like a long, long time ago.
Cox: Well maybe so, but as recently as 2003 and 2004, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage. So, you know, I've evolved on those issues and I think they are not going to be germane to this. I think the important issues in this race are the affordability for people in this state, the ability to live a productive life and afford gasoline and water and electricity and, you know, the failing schools that we're having to put up with. I think those are far more important issues.
Newsom: What is germane though is to understand more fully. Look, it's one thing to have quote unquote evolved on on same-sex marriage. I certainly respect that. But you supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. You said you equated, and Scott mentioned this and I haven't heard you evolve on this, that homosexuality leads to bestiality.
Cox: No I didn't say that.
Newsom: Well you did and you're quoted saying that and to quote unquote other things. You you talked about transvestites as a way of advancing the notion that some people can choose to be homeschooled to stay away from quote unquote transvestites. Have you evolved on those specific points. People the right to know that, John.
Cox: I have. And, you know, again this is all meant to take the topic away from the important things that people are worried about here in this state and that is the ability to rent a decent apartment and afford a price.
Shafer: Well, and we're going to talk about that.
Newsom: But also against discrimination against renting as well. The LGBT community is concerned about that.
Cox: I'm opposed to discrimination of all forms.
Shafer: We're coming up on a break, but real quickly for each of you: which one of you represents the mainstream of California better? Mr. Cox?
Cox: I think I do it because I represent the people who are just trying to get by. I wasn't put in office by billionaires. You know, I had to work my way up, I had to struggle all the way through and that's something that I think the people of the state don't identify with.
Shafer: Fifteen seconds.
Newsom: No, I certainly think we represent the vast majority of Californians that reject John Cox's absolute allegiance to Trump and Trumpism and his longstanding advocacy for causes that I don't think the vast majority of Californians embrace.
Shafer: All right. You're listening to the gubernatorial debate on KQED. I'm Scott Shafer. We're going to take a very short break and we'll be right back.
Shafer: We're talking with John Cox, the Republican candidate for governor, and Gavin Newsom, the Democrat. Let's switch topics and talk about criminal justice. Last month Governor Brown signed a couple bills giving the public under certain conditions more access to police personnel records and the video from police body cameras. Would you have signed either of those Mr. Cox?
Cox: No, I wouldn't have. And let me tell you, I think we have a serious crime problem right here in this city. Now San Francisco is the No. 1 city for property crimes. And you know, Gavin was mayor here for eight years. He didn't solve the homeless problem here at all. And it's gotten worse and and not only that but Gavin was also the only statewide official to endorse Prop. 47, which redefined a lot of felonies as misdemeanor.
Shafer: And I'll give him a chance here, but we're talking about transparency. Those bills are specifically about transparency. Tell me why you wouldn't have signed them.
Cox: I favor transparency. I certainly favor transparency. But I think we have to work more with our law enforcement and give them the tools and the ability to deal with, you know, particular situations. I regret the gulf between the police and you know people in the neighborhoods. I think there has to be a lot more communication. I think we have to foster that. But going after the police and opening up private personnel records I think is is you it's just kind of creates a fishing extradition for trial lawyers.
Newsom: I don't know how you can be pro-transparency and oppose that bill. Twenty seven states provide quote unquote "some access" to those records. What we did is reconcile that. There was a lot of compromise, a lot of work with law enforcement before it got on the governor's desk. To the governor's credit, he led a lot of those efforts to find common ground and compromise. It's about transparency. It's also about trust. And I'm someone who believes very passionately and very enthusiastically and very supportive of the men and women in uniform. Same time you could be pro-public safety and pro-civil rights and due process. And I think we found a nice balance with the legislation that governor signed.
Shafer: Now another question on this topic. Past governors — virtually every other governor except Jerry Brown — have reversed parole recommendations for most people who have come up for parole when they're serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. Governor Brown has gone the other direction. He's allowed about 80 percent of those parole recommendations to go forward and to let those felons out onto probation or out on the streets. Would you do that, Mr. Cox? Would you go back to the way it was, or do you think that this governor is doing the right thing?
Cox: No, I think we have to be very tough. You know I lament the fact that our criminal justice system is letting you know so many people and doing plea bargains out to let people out on the streets. I think of Anthony Mele who was a young man who was murdered in cold blood in Ventura by a guy who was out. This guy had a rap sheet as long as my arm.
Shafer: But these are folks who have been recommended for parole by the parole board. Are you saying maybe you would appoint a different kind of person to the parole board?
Cox: No, I would look at those judiciously, of course, and evaluate those on the facts and the circumstances. I mean I certainly believe in restoration. I'm on the board of a restorative justice mediation project in San Diego, so I do believe in reconciliation, you know, and rehabilitation, but I want to make sure that the public is protected on each of these situations so I'll be pretty tough on that.
Shafer: I know you're also Catholic. You've spoken about your Catholic faith. Both of you are Catholic. How does that figure in — I remember talking to the governor about it and he talked about redemption and that's one of the reasons he was giving these folks a second chance.
Cox: I do believe in redemption. I really do. I think someone who's committed a crime. That's why this Restorative Justice Project is so important because it reconciles offenders with their victims to make them understand what the hurt is of their victims. But I think we owe it to the public to make sure that we apply parole judiciously and that we have a good set of eyes looking at this and make sure it's evaluated.
Newsom: I think we do have a good set of eyes and we've had a good governor who's done the right thing. What I'm trying to reconcile is John's answer. He says he would not continue. I think in the enlightened sense the policies of Governor Brown, which has been about restoration, has been about second chances, has been in the spirit of what John was advancing. I would like to build on that. I also would like to build on Governor Brown's criminal justice reform legacy. There's been a lot of, I think, very enlightened reforms. Can't be ideological about these reforms, you gotta be open to argument, interested in evidence as it relates to changing conditions.
Shafer: Do you think the jury's still out on whether they've all been good changes?
Newsom: All of these things, you have to be iterative, on Prop. 57, which is about to be implemented, 47, three strikes, AB 109, which was realignment. You cannot be ideological. The fundamental responsibility of a governor or any chief executive is public safety. So that's always top of mind. But just locking folks up being quote unquote "tough on crime." I don't think it's necessarily the answer. That's the old saw. I think being smart on crime. And I think the example of the last few years is an example of that. I think is a much more enlightened approach and I want to build on that approach of Governor Brown.
Cox: Prop. 47 is widely acknowledged to have been a real problem—
Shafer: And just for listeners who don't know we should say that that was a ballot measure that downgraded a lot of mostly drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Cox: And you talked to a lot of small retailers and they're finding that this is really creating problems for them. You know, Gavin wants to continue Governor Brown's management or even worse. And the fact of the matter is under Governor Brown people are further being priced out of the state. They're leaving the state in droves. In our schools, we've spent 80 percent more — I hope we talk about education because we've vastly increased spending for our schools and they're now in the bottom, you know, 10 percent of the states and that's just not a situation that I would want to continue.
Shafer: We just had bail reform signed by the governor and that's going to take effect next year. And I'm wondering — you know judges are going to get a lot more discretion because of that and there are people feel both sides of that. Where that's a good idea or not. But another thing Governor Brown has done is he's really diversified the bench — not just in terms of race and ethnicity but backgrounds. He's appointed a lot of public defenders and a lot of defense attorneys and public interest attorneys. Is that is that a trend you would continue or would you go a different direction?
Cox: I think having a balance is a good thing but this bail reform was not a good thing. I mean what you're doing is replacing a private business with a lot more state workers and that's really who lobbied to get this done.
Shafer: Why would it need more state workers?
Cox: Well because you're going to have a lot more people that are gonna have to go out now and bring people in to make sure that they appear for further trials. And that's a real issue. And it eliminates an industry. You know, listen this is all part of the same piece and that is that we have to make sure that the people are protected and it's not just rhetoric. It's actual performance.
Newsom: You know let's talk about bail reform. Only Duterte's Philippines and Trump's United States of America have money bail. California became the first state to step up and step into this debate and do the right thing. It is insidious, from my humble perspective. African-Americans and Latinos are being incarcerated disproportionately for one reason: the size of their ATM, their bank balance. Not the likelihood that they'll actually commit a crime before their crimes are officially adjudicated. This bail reform was an extraordinary step forward in a civil rights effort, not just a criminal justice reform. I applaud the governor I applaud the legislature for their enlightened leadership. And by the way in terms of moving forward, one has to be yes, very cautious about its application and implementation as it relates to that judicial oversight. And that is an expression of legitimate concern and the next governor will have to advance that concern by being very attentive to the implementation of that reform.
Shafer: We're not taking live calls on this show, but we did through social media solicit some questions and we've got one now sort of related to this topic of criminal justice. Let's listen.
Listener: Hi, my name is Michelle. I live in San Clemente and I would like the candidates to answer how they are going to handle gun violence.
Shafer: Mr. Cox, gun violence.
Cox: Well, one thing we need to do is stop publicize the names and pictures of these perpetrators of these gun crimes. A lot of them are mentally ill. You almost have to be mentally ill to take another person's life. The way that these have happened. I think California has done a lot to keep guns out of the hands of people that are mentally deranged. Certainly be interested to look at more ways to keep guns out of the hands of people...
Shafer: What would you be open to? What other things?
Cox: You know, I don't know, but I think we've done a lot already. I think what we need to do is we need to treat mental illness and we need to make sure that people who do commit these crimes don't have their names and pictures publicized. I think that's a mental illness as well. Do you think gun control is useful or not? Well criminals don't care about gun control. I mean they'll break the law. That's why they're criminals. More laws are not going to do the job. I certainly favor keeping guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous people, people who are mentally ill. But the Second Amendment is an important amendment.
Newsom: Let's be honest with John's record. He said gun safety laws are quote unquote "a waste of time." He prides himself on being a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, doesn't believe in wait times and has been a strong advocate for concealed weapons, concealed carry legislation. In every one of these cases, I think he's wrong. And all I could say is thankfully he's not been in a position of real leadership and influence in the state of California because we would not have had the progressive record on gun safety that we had that have saved literally countless of lives in this state. I'm very proud the fact that I took on the NRA with Proposition 63 and we won and we're about to be the first state in America to require the same background checks we do on guns for all ammunition purchases. That begins in January of next year. It's an example of a stark contrast between John and myself. I believe gun safety laws work and save lives. I want California to continue its leadership. He doesn't believe that and he's proud of his longstanding support and A rating from a lot of the subgroups that are part of the national level.
Cox: Let's be clear here and that is that we're talking about guns, we're talking about all these other social issues that I'm not running to change one iota. I am not. I am running to make sure that people in this state have an affordable life. They have schools that are not failing, they have available water, affordable water, affordable electricity. All these other things are being done to occupy time and really not address the issues that we ought to be addressing and that is the cost of living the state and the horrendous conditions of people that are struggling and trying to get by.
Newsom: But those same families, John, have the right to go drop their kids off at school without worrying is a weapon of war is being used by someone that didn't get a comprehensive background check, and in every instance you have not been there fighting for common sense.
Cox: Would you join me Gavin in agreeing that we should ask the media not to publicize the names and pictures of people who perpetrate these crimes?
Newsom: You're deflecting from your fundamental opposition to any common sense gun safety law.
Cox: No I'm not. I'm not opposed to—
Shafer: What about background checks?
Cox: I'm not opposed to them. Neither is the NRA. This is a red herring, and this is—
Newsom: ...about gun show loopholes? For ammunition purchases?
Cox: Keeping guns out of the hands of people that are mentally ill is a wonderful thing and I will certainly back that up completely.
Shafer: All right. You've both talked about affordability and cost of living in California and so we have a listener question. Let's listen.
Listener: Hi my name is Cindy. I'm from Santa Clara, California. And I'd like to ask both candidates: what is your position on California Proposition 6? It's listed as eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding. I also have a flyer that says Vote yes on 6 to repeal the gas tax. I'm just curious from each of them what is their position of California Proposition 6.
Shafer: And let me begin. It's quite clear we've talked about this before. You have opposite positions on this. You, Mr. Cox, have been a supporter, a driving force behind Prop. 6, getting it on the ballot. You support the repeal. Mr. Newsom, you oppose it. I'm just wondering what what do each of you think the other one's position says about the kind of governor they would be?
Cox: Well I think it's clear. I think Gavin would not exercise enough control over the efficiency of our spending to Caltrans. Caltrans has been regularly highlighted as one of the more inefficient agencies in the country. It spends way more than a lot of other states to build a mile of road. And there's a lot of contractors who make hefty contributions to Gavin as well as to Mr. Brown. And they build that into their cost and the public pays for it. And instead of reforming that system...
Shafer: How would you do that?
Cox: Well we need to get the money out of politics. And I'm going to be talking about that day one, on November 7th, after I'm elected. But we also need to make sure that Caltrans uses its money efficiently and the politicians like Gavin went ahead and approved an increase in the gas tax. They didn't want to do the tough job. The tough job would have been making Caltrans live within its means. The tough job would have been modifying CEQA, which, by the way, it's been waived for a lot of sports stadiums who have connected investors. But it's not been waived for road building, and it's driven up the cost ...
Shafer: Or housing.
Cox: Or for housing and it's driven up cost and the people are paying for it. And they can't keep doing that. They are struggling and unable to live in the state.
Shafer: So, to you then, what does this say about the kind of governor you would be?
Newsom: Well I'll answer that, but I want to make some fundamental points here. San Jose, San Francisco and L.A. have the worst road conditions in the United States of America. What John just argued for is to make things worse. His plan is to make things worse. The fact is the legislature and the governor finally began to address this issue in a substantive way. He's talking about taking away over $5 billion every single year for road improvements, public safety improvements, addressing the issue of traffic and congestion, which in and of itself is a hidden tax, and to reconcile the fact that 27 other states since 2013 have increased their sales tax or rather gas taxes in an effort to improve their roads. He chooses not to do that. He talks about the illusory notion of efficiencies.
Cox: It's not illusory.
Newsom: The fact is, John, you may not be aware of this but the entire payroll at Caltrans is $2.86 billion. You can eliminate every single position. I imagine that's the ultimate manifestation of efficiency and still struggle to find the money that you are taking away and advocating taking away from improving our roads, our tunnels, and our bridges in this state.
Cox: This state is running a surplus right now and it generates tens of billions of dollars from motor vehicle-related sources — sales taxes on cars and other things like that that aren't being used. We have a surplus. Why are we...
Shafer: Let me just ask you about that.
Cox: Why are we digging into the pockets of people who were already paying the highest housing prices, the highest water prices, the highest electricity prices in the country?
Newsom: John, what's the plan to rebuild the roads and the bridges? Where does the $50 billion come from?
Cox: We're going to build a lot more roads. We're going to use money efficiently and we're going to we're going to cut good deals with contractors and you know he can laugh about it because this budget has zoomed under the last eight years. And the budget has zoomed now to over $200 billion and they haven't been building the roads.
Shafer: Because the last governor — you're running, of course, you're a Republican. The last Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I mean you've said in your commercials that Democrats broke it. They broke everything. That's why the states a mess. But Jerry Brown inherited a $26 billion deficit and he's leaving, as you say, a surplus. So and part of what Arnold Schwarzenegger ran on was cutting the car tax. So, and it blew a hole in the budget.
Cox: You gotta remember, 2010 is when Governor Brown took office. The whole country was in a financial disaster at that point in time.
Shafer: But cutting the car tax contributed to that.
Cox: Well no. Not necessarily, no. The housing crisis and the financial meltdown.
Shafer: To the budget deficit, I mean.
Cox: Well yeah but the budget meltdown, and that's another issue that we need to talk about. And that is the reliance on a very thin layer of people to finance this government. And we've built up a huge amount of cost in this budget that has to be addressed. And Gavin is not going to address those things. I'm going to have to address them because you know in the private sector I can't afford to waste money. I have to use every penny efficiently. And that's not being done in Sacramento.
Newsom: We're going to find more efficiency of Caltrans, but I want to make a point that you're emphasizing or at least framing your question. We inherited a $27 billion budget deficit. We have an $8.5 billion budget surplus. We've had 101 consecutive months of net job growth. A 3.7 percent GDP growth rate average over the last four years. The lowest unemployment in recorded history. California has created three-plus million jobs under Governor Brown's administration since 2010. We're proud of that record. There are stubborn areas where we have to do more and do better on homelessness, on housing, the broader issues of cost of living, I concur. The difference between myself and my opponent John Cox is we actually have strategies and plans to address those issues. And with respect to this illusory notion of quote unquote "efficiencies" at Caltrans, I can assure you that's not going to build any road or bridge in the state.
Shafer: And Mr. Cox, so you're saying that the money's there because there's a surplus, but what happens, I mean, in a downturn. I mean the gas tax is going to be generating $5 billion for 10 years. So in those down years, which are inevitable, where would the money come from to fix the roads?
Cox: Well, we've got to certainly broaden it. We've got to look at every expense that we incur. We've got to audit every agency and we've got to get root out the the waste in this budget. And believe me there's a lot of it. This budget has increased tremendously and there's a tremendous amount of waste and mismanagement that's going on this budget.
Shafer: All right we still have much more to talk about. You're listening to the gubernatorial debate on KQED. I'm Scott Shafer. We're going to take a very short break and we will be back with Gavin Newsom and John Cox.
Shafer: I want to say that before today we reached out to a lot of reporters that we respect from places like the LA Times, CALmatters, San Francisco Chronicle, Politico and our public radio partners and we got their suggestions for questions and topics and a lot of the questions you're hearing today are a reflection of their input. I want to thank them for that. This question comes from one of our listeners. Let's listen.
Listener: Hi, my name is Maria. I live in Los Banos, California. My question to both of the candidates is: What will they do to resolve the issue of our sanctuary state or sanctuary city to deal with the illegal alien problems that we have? Thank you.
Shafer: And we should say 2 to 3 million folks who are here without documents here illegally. Who wants to go first?
Cox: Well I think public safety is the most important thing and I think we need to have law enforcement work together to make sure the public is safe. I've talked to sheriffs all over the state who have told me that the sanctuary state law is an impediment to their ability to police their communities and to make sure that criminal activity is reduced. They tell me that they get information and they have information about gang activity and about people who are engaged in drug dealing and other kinds of things.
Shafer: How does the sanctuary law stop them from pursuing them?
Cox: Because if they know that they're here illegally they can't inform ICE until they actually go through and get a conviction under a lot of issues that are put into these sanctuary state law. I think if somebody is here illegally and they are engaged in criminal activity, I think it's up to our public officials to kick them out. I don't want my family to have their papers checked everywhere they are. I don't want any family in California to have that. We should be checking papers at the border, not on a yard or not in a classroom.
Shafer: You said you'd get rid of sanctuary law. How would you get rid of it?
Cox: Well I think we need to get the legislature to do that. And if they don't do it I think we need to get it to a vote of the people. This law I think is very unpopular. I think it sends the wrong message. I think people want to know that they're going to have their law enforcement officials work together.
Newsom: Here's one of the clearest points of contrast between myself and John Cox. He's someone who believes very passionately in building the wall. He believes that sanctuary policy should be eliminated. He believes in the elimination as he refers to it of chain migration, which is nothing more than family reunification. He parrots at almost every opportunity Donald Trump and Trumpism and Trump would have an advocate in Sacramento if he becomes the next governor. As it relates to the issue of immigration, here are the facts. And with respect to the question I hope the listener has the benefit of listening to this and that is fundamentally the immigrants of this state are under, not over, underrepresented in the criminal justice system. The fact is sanctuary counties are not more violent, more dangerous than non-sanctuary cities and counties. Quite the contrary. Sanctuary policy is nothing more than this. It's about community policing. It's about building trust. A victim of crime or a witness a crime is more likely to come forward if they're not worried about local law enforcement being an arm of federal immigration deportation. They're more likely to get their child educated drop them off at school if they're not worried about a school crossing guard being part of that immigration arm. Accordingly they're more likely this time of year, flu season, to get an immunization shot and be healthier if they're not worried about the nurse turning them over. I fear under a Cox administration working hand in glove with Donald Trump that our policies our progressive and enlightened policies on immigration will roll back into the dark ages.
Shafer: Mr. Cox, you once said I think that you would arrest CEOs that hired undocumented immigrants. Does that reflect your thinking?
Cox: Well I think we need to make sure that we provide a guest worker program and other avenues for people. But yeah, I think we should not be hiring people who have broken the law and cut in line.
Shafer: Well would the penalty be?
Cox: I don't know. We would need to determine that. But I think every country has a right to determine its borders. And unfortunately the country to the south of us had 26,000 murders last year. I don't want to see drugs, guns and human trafficking come across that border and I think a border wall is necessary. I live in San Diego and it's had some effect there.
Shafer: You know the Republican mayor of San Diego opposes the wall.
Cox: Maybe so, but you know a lot of people think it's the right thing to do. Having said that, I'm not in favor of checking papers in classrooms or on people's yards and going around and taking people out who are obeying the law.
Shafer: What about ICE in courthouses?
Cox: I want to make sure that if somebody is involved in criminal activity, that, and they're here illegally they should be removed from the state.
Newsom: Let me just say this about the wall. The wall, it's a monument to stupidity. The wall is intended to divide this country. John may be familiar with this. I hope others are as well. Forty percent of people here without documentation came here because they overstayed their visa. Many flew. This notion of a sixth century solution to a 21st century problem is ludicrous from my humble perspective. As it relates to sanctuary, there certainly should be sanctuary when people are accessing the court system. And I subscribe to a point of view that's aligned with the vast majority of judges that believe that should be neutral territory and I should not be coming in raiding our court system where people are trying to access justice or participating in the justice system.
Shafer: When you were mayor, and I know you remember this, there was a terrible murder of a father and I think two sons, committed by somebody who was here illegally, had been in the juvenile justice system and was not turned over to the police. And I wonder you know you then implemented a policy to turn over juveniles accused of crimes before they were convicted. Was that a mistake?
Newsom: Yeah, due process. I mean the fact is if I had that to do over again the issue of due process was the missing link there. Look the point is sanctuary policy is not a shield for criminal activity. No one is suggesting somehow, John implied that people have the right to unfettered violence in this state regardless of their immigration status. They need to be held to account. The question is due process and so the iterative quality of these laws require some objectivity not an ideological prism. That's why Governor Brown, as an example, amended the sanctuary law that he was handed with 800 specific conditions where we can coordinate and collaborate with ICE, along the lines of some of the mistakes and lessons that were learned from the past.
Shafer: Well, one of those conditions was that the state prisons were exempted from that legislation. Would you change that? Should prisons be part of it?
Newsom: I think I stand by what the governor did today but I'm open to argument as new evidence and new conditions present themselves.
Shafer: All right, let's talk about a timely topic: climate change. Today is the one-year anniversary of the wildfires up in the North Bay. Dozens of people killed, thousands of structures, destroyed homes, and there is a new report out today from the United Nations on climate change saying that these terrible changes to climate are coming more quickly than we thought. And they say it can't really be addressed without even like getting rid of coal altogether. So I'm wondering, you know, California has taken a lot of steps. Do you agree with those? What additional steps, Mr. Cox, do you think it should take or what were some of the mistakes we've made so far in enacting some of these environmental policies?
Cox: Well I'm not an ideologue on this. I'm a problem solver. I'm also not a climatologist. I've said in the past that I'm no,t but I'll certainly listen to climatologists on this. I believe the Earth is getting warmer and humans may well have an effect on it. And I want the air as clean as possible. I drive an electric car. I'm proud of that. The point is that are we getting enough of an impact on the world's atmosphere to justify the cost to the people of this state? India And China are dumping tons of carbon into the air.
Shafer: But they've also signed onto the Paris agreements...
Cox: Which they should because they—
Shafer: But we pulled out.
Cox: But we're doing a lot. We've done a lot in California to clean the air. Frankly the politicians like Gavin have failed miserably to police the forest and take care of the forest and manage the forest. The carbons that was released by the fires and it's one-year anniversary of those fires — the carbon released by those fires was comprised months of carbon from cars and trucks that we're working to try to reduce.
Shafer: So Governor Brown just signed SB 100, which requires the state by 2045 to get all of its energy from clean sources. Would you have signed?
Cox: No. Because what we're going to do then, is we're going to double electricity prices. I's a worthy goal. It's a wonderful, lofty goal to have. I certainly want the air to be clean, but we're going to keep pounding people of this state into poverty. Electricity prices in a state are already almost twice what Texas pays. The 100 percent renewable is a wonderful goal but it's also going to drive people further into poverty. We can't keep doing it to the people of the states.
Newsom: So, John Cox, celebrator, at least acknowledged enthusiastically that Donald Trump did the right thing when he pulled out of Paris. I reject that and I applaud the leadership in the state of California, particularly Governor Brown, to radically change the way we produce and consume energy. I applaud his effort to get to 100 percent renewables by 2045, to get to 60 percent renewables by 2030. And I believe California has a unique role and responsibility, not just nationally but internationally, to lead. Again, a stark contrast in this campaign for governor: someone who believes in climate change, believes that it's manmade. John still is not convinced it's manmade. Someone who's led as a former mayor a low-carbon green growth. Someone that will take the principles and goals and the objectives that have been outlined over the last few years and make them real. Substantively, the goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That is going to be a challenge. I'm up for that challenge. John is not. Again a stark contrast in this race.
Cox: Politicians like Gavin like to make these political statements—
Shafer: But it's a law. It's not just a statement.
Cox: And I think it's a wonderful goal to have renewable energy. I'm all in favor but we can't keep increasing the cost of electricity. I favor nuclear power. I think that can be done cleanly. Natural gas can be done cleanly. I believe we we could use technology to ultimately have cars that are much cleaner burning, but right now the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. We need to make sure that we have a backup power to survive.
Shafer: Mr. Newsom, Jerry Brown has been taking flak from the left from the Keep It In the Ground lobby about fracking and about drilling in California, not off the coast, but in the mainland of California. Would you reverse those policies that he's enacted?
Newsom: Yeah, I think we'll tighten them up. I think fracking's starting to fall on its own petard. Wall Street is the one leading this recognition. You're seeing interest rates rise. The fracking experiment is beginning to wane. So I think that's a natural opportunity for the next governor to get a little bit more aggressive as it relates to fracking. But, again, California is leading in almost every capacity. We're creating jobs. We're leaning into the future. This is California. Great. I think foreign policy is one that I'm very proud that Governor Brown has led. And boy, I really hope folks are paying attention. I would be very cautious to revert back to the normalization of deviancy as it relates to a lack of intentionality and leadership around climate change. California has a responsibility, has an important international role to play. I am committed and passionate about that. I want to lead.
Cox: That's wonderful except that people can't afford to live in this state and they're moving out and our electricity costs and our gasoline costs are pounding the average person, and it's all well and good to talk about this wonderful goal that we have. Let's work toward it, but let's not kill people in terms of their affordable lifestyles.
Shafer: OK we've got a few more minutes. I want to try to get a couple more topics in. Today's Brett Kavanaugh's first full day on the job at the Supreme Court. And both of you have young daughter daughters. You have four daughters. Mr. Cox, you have two daughters, younger. But I'm wondering what do you think. This is such a bitter confirmation battle. A lot of women are concerned, what it means for reproductive rights and that sort of thing. What's your takeaway from what happened. I mean, what would you tell your daughters if they ask you or if you were having a conversation with them?
Cox: You know, I regret all the divisiveness in politics today. If I have anything to say about it, I'm going to try to get reforms that reduce the divisiveness in politics. I think a lot of it has to do with fundraising. And I think you saw that with a lot of the politicians in Washington on both sides. Fundraising off their extreme statements. And frankly you see it in this discussion with Gavin trying to paint me as some you know as different on so many issues. And re-characterize my positions. You know I think what we need to do is we need to take a step back and try to get more comedy, more kindness and issue discussion into our politics. You know I take a backseat. As you'd mentioned, I have four daughters. My mom was a working mom. I think Dr. Ford needed to be heard and should have been believed.
Shafer: Would you have voted to confirm?
Cox: You know I'm not going to get get in the middle of that, frankly, I'm focused on the issues in California. But I wanted to point out that I led the recall of Bob Filner as the mayor of San Diego, because I think anybody who uses their position of power and authority to impose themselves on someone who is subordinate to them should be surcharged and should be removed from office.
Newsom: I think it's very relevant. You say you care about the issues of California. It's very relevant and Kavanaugh because you could have a profound impact on California and Californians, on their reproductive rights, which you do not believe a woman has a right to choose, regardless of whether or not they're raped or had a tragic incident of incest. Kavanugh will play an outsized role in that. You've been an advocate for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would have cost, and the Graham Cassidy bill, $138.8 billion by 2027 in the state of California and that also eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood. And that will impact reproductive right access for millions and millions of women, and not only this state, but across the country. These things are relevant. Issues of private property rights, issues of access to our beach and waterfront, issues associated with our Dreamers and our immigration policy. Kavanaugh is going to play an outsized role in all of those respective, including presidential power. For all those reasons, I opposed his nomination and I think it was a sad day yesterday when he got sworn in.
Shafer: Real quick response, if you have one. If not, we're going to move on.
Cox: I will certainly appoint justices in California who will respect the Constitution and respect the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution and try to keep the politics out of it. I think there's just too much in the way of politics involved.
Shafer: We're almost at the end. I want to give both of you an opportunity to just sort of summarize what's at stake in this election, and because of the coin toss we're going to start with you, Mr. Newsom and John Cox, you'll have the last word.
Newsom: I think there's an enormous amount at stake. I think you got a good sense of where we are on key positions. The question, I think, for the voters is who's got the best ideas moving forward? Who's got the practical experience who has the capacity to deliver on ideals and goals? My biggest issue again remains the issue of addressing the income and wealth disparities in the state. In a way that doesn't begrudge other people's success but addresses these issues in a systemic way. I've run a campaign that's been positive, our campaign commercials are not attacking my opponent. They're attaching themselves to attacking problems with policy solutions. And I think the most important thing, and I want to just reinforce it here today, the most important thing the next governor can do is reconcile this fact. Eight- five percent of the brain is formed by the time someone is just 3 years old. The most important investment we can make to address the issue of systemic poverty, addres the issue of criminal justice reform is to begin at the beginning. Invest in prenatal care, early headstart, nurse home visits, preschool. That is the architecture of life and that is a disproportionate bias that I want to bring into the work of Governor and we'll be a top agenda if I'm successful this November.
Shafer: Mr. Cox.
Cox: This election is about change versus the status quo. I represent change. My opponent is for the gas tax. He's for the train to nowhere. That's a waste of money for the taxpayers of this state. His answer for the housing crisis is more government spending. Mine is to reduce the cost of housing so that people can afford to live in this state. We didn't talk about education, but the schools are failing our children. That is a future that we are giving up. I've been in the the private sector for 40 years getting things done. Gavin has been in office for 16 years. He's been the lieutenant governor for eight years. Never had any of these things that he talked about and solving the problems. We need to solve the problems with the state. We need to get change we need to make sure that California leads the way on education, on affordability, on water. I am against water rationing, which he is for. So there's a lot of areas that people need to know that we are opposed. And I will make this state affordable and livable again.
Shafer: All right, thank you very much and I want to acknowledge you said we didn't really talk about education. Absolutely true. Didn't talk about pension reform, water, health care. Big topics we didn't get to. We had an hour, so I encourage people to go to your websites. Go to our website.
Cox: I'd be willing to have another one of these discussions, because I think it's important. I've agreed to five of these and I can't get my young friend to do that.
Shafer: Thank you very much, both of you. John Cox. Gavin Newsom. That concludes the KQED governor's debate. There will be coverage and analysis of the debate throughout the day on many of these stations. I'm Scott Shafer. Thanks to you for listening. Thanks to the candidates for being here, and have a great day.