Democratic candidates for California governor debated at the Jacobs Center For Neighborhood Innovation in San Diego on Feb. 22, 2018. From left to right, State Treasurer John Chiang, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Democratic candidates for governor agreed on the state’s major problems during a mostly friendly debate Thursday in San Diego, but the divide between the progressive and more moderate wings of the party was at times palpable.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the two front-runners, along with former Superintendent of Public Instruction and San Diego native Delaine Eastin and State Treasurer John Chiang fielded questions about the state’s high poverty rate, education, immigration and gun control on the eve of the state Democratic Party Convention meeting this weekend.

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“The issue of poverty is the issue of our time, particularly in California,” Newsom said, noting that the state is home to both the richest and the poorest Americans.

Villaraigosa touted his tenure as mayor, which included his efforts to improve educational opportunities for young children, as well as his record on “responsible gun legislation.”

Eastin said she thought “I was done politically” after leaving public office, but she grew concerned about the plight of education and skyrocketing housing prices. She drew cheers inside the packed room when she said, “We’ve got to get back on track when it comes to education and the care of our children.”

Health care remains a sticking point among the candidates, particularly among Newsom, who supports single-payer health care, and Villaraigosa, who said he supports the concept, but “we need a plan.” He also accused Newsom of being “all over the map on this issue,” depending on the group that he’s addressing.

Newsom countered that he doesn’t think other candidates are as committed to single-payer health care, though he offered few details on his plan.

“I want to defeat Trumpism, but I also want to defeat defeatist Democrats,” Newsom said.

Chiang said he supports U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” idea, but “I want to have single-payer with the money that’s available. We can’t overpromise.”

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, moderated the debate, co-sponsored by the San Diego County Democratic Party, at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.

State Sen. Ben Hueso, who was in the audience Thursday, praised all the candidates, but said he believes Villaraigosa would be best.

“I think he has a mastery of the issues,” Hueso said. “He’s somebody who’s been fighting for the little guy for many, many years.”

Democratic candidates for California governor debated at the Jacobs Center For Neighborhood Innovation in San Diego on Feb. 22, 2018. From left to right, State Treasurer John Chiang, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Earlier this week, California Senate President Pro Tem-elect Toni Atkins endorsed Newsom for governor after touring an affordable housing project with him in San Diego. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher is backing Chiang.

Convention delegates are expected to vote on endorsements for the governor’s race and other statewide races.

Republicans candidates running for governor, including Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox, former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose and Assemblyman Travis Allen, debated for the first time on Feb. 6.

The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, from the June 5 primary advance to the November general election.

Atkins Reacts to Mendoza’s Resignation

State Sen. Tony Mendoza  resigned on Thursday as his colleagues in the legislature prepared to expel him over a series of sexual misconduct allegations.

In reaction to the resignation, Atkins, who is preparing to take over leadership of the state Senate next month, said in a statement,

“Our first priority is to create a safe working environment for our employees, and accepting Tony Mendoza’s resignation is consistent with that goal. Going forward, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that our zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment are backed up with strong enforcement in order to guarantee that all employees are protected.”

Mendoza, a Democrat from Artesia, is the third state lawmaker to resign in recent months amid sexual misconduct allegations. Assemblymen Matt Dababneh and Raul Bocanegra, both Los Angeles-area Democrats, also resigned.

Voepel Pushes Series of Employment-Related Bills

Assemblyman Randy Voepel, a Santee Republican, has introduced seven bills, all part of a larger legislative package aimed at addressing issues like student debt, child care and workplace flexibility.

“Californians already face a number of challenges when it comes to building a better life, and in some instances, government rules make it even harder,” Voepel said in a statement. “This package of legislation is aimed at finding ways to make it just a bit easier for Californians to start a career, go to school, and raise a family.”

Here are the bills:

AB 2481 would establish a pilot program allowing parents at state agencies to bring infants to work.

AB 2483 revisits the state’s occupational licensing requirements and their oversight.

AB 2478 would exempt student loan repayment by employers from the tax code.

AB 2482 allows an employee to request in writing an alternative work schedule for up to ten hours in a 40-hour work week.

AB 2484 would expand access to compensatory time off instead of overtime pay.

AB 2479 would establish a pilot program in which students agree to use part of their future income to pay off student loans.

AB 2480 authorizes tax credits to individuals and corporations who contribute to groups that provide educational scholarships.

Faulconer Supports State Money to Address Homelessness

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined mayors from California’s largest cities and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers at the Capitol this week to introduce legislation that would allocate $1.5 billion to help cities address the state’s rising homelessness.

AB 3171 would authorize the money from the state’s $6.1 billion budget surplus to help cities fight homelessness and calls for the distribution of funds to cities on a matching basis.

Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, and state Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, both Democrats, will lead the effort.

“Homelessness is not just an issue. It is the most pressing issue facing California cities today,” Mayor Faulconer said in a statement. “Cities are responding to this crisis with more local resources and programs, and we need support from our partners in the Capitol too. We are asking State leaders to help us make a real difference on our streets.”

San Diego County has the fourth largest homeless population in the nation and it’s growing, according to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development released in December.

Last week, Assemblyman Todd Gloria  called on Gov. Jerry Brown to use $1 billion from the state’s budget surplus for affordable housing projects and homelessness programs.

Atkins Wants to Expand Conservancy’s Efforts

Atkins has proposed legislation that would authorize the San Diego River Conservancy to help restore and enhance three more rivers — the Otay, the Sweetwater and the Tijuana.

SB 1367 requires the conservancy to establish the San Diego Rivers Watershed Consortium Program, through which advisory groups will work with local cities, tribes and other groups to improve the three rivers. The advisory groups’ aim will be to pursue funding, developing strategic plans and remove invasive species and enhance public access to the rivers.

Golden State News

U.S. Supreme Court upholds the state’s 10-day wait for gun buyers. (Los Angeles Times)

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who is on leave due to allegations of sexual misconduct, says she is the target of a political smear campaign as accusations continue. (The Associated Press)

The dry winter has prompted state water regulators to consider making temporary drought-related fines (Mercury News)

San Diego State University says it has no more room at its main campus to meet growing enrollment. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

California drivers under the age of 21 could lose their license for a year if caught under the influence of marijuana. (Los Angeles Times)

Marisa Agha is a journalist based in Southern California.

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