Gubernatorial debate at USC addresses housing crisis, gun reform, immigration, harassment

March 27, 2018

Dean Knott, left, opens the debate with gubernatorial candidates (from right) Delaine Eastin, Travis Allen, Antonio Villaraigosa, John Cox and John Chiang on March 26 at USC’s Bovard Auditorium. (Photo by Tom Queally)

By Matthew Kredell

Affordable housing, immigration, gun violence, homelessness, sexual harassment in the state capitol and high-speed rail were among the wide range of topics addressed on March 26 in a televised gubernatorial debate hosted by the USC Price School of Public Policy in partnership with NBC4 Southern California.

Five candidates bidding to become the 40th governor of California discussed the issues in front of hundreds of people who filled USC’s Bovard Auditorium. The candidates who participated were State Assemblyman Travis Allen (R), State Treasurer John Chiang (D), businessman John Cox (R), former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin (D, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D). They fielded questions from NBC4 moderators Colleen Williams and Conan Nolan.

Criteria for candidate participation were determined by polling averages prior to Feb. 1. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who leads in the polls, was invited to participate in the debate but declined.

Photo by Tom Queally

In his welcome remarks, USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott stated that the school values its responsibility to the people of California to help everyone become better-informed citizens and voters by hosting this opportunity to hear from the candidates directly.

“Today’s debate comes at a very pivotal moment in time,” Knott said. “While there are challenges, there are also great opportunities. Our next leaders will have the opportunity to implement lasting policy solutions that benefit all Californians across all communities in the state.”

The 90-minute debate was webcast live in its entirety by NBC4 Southern California, with the final hour broadcast live on NBC4 in Los Angeles.

Perspectives on immigration

Photo by Tom Queally

Immigration and California’s position as a sanctuary state that limits its cooperation with federal efforts to enforce immigration law was among the most contentious issues among the candidates.

Cox and Allen indicated that they would repeal the sanctuary state law their first day in office, while Eastin claimed that the 10th Amendment gives California the ability to defend the rights of immigrants. Villaraigosa specified that he would stand up for immigrants because all the people who come here are the reason that California is the sixth-largest economy in the world.

Chiang noted that his parents were immigrants who came to America because it was the “most aspirational place on Earth,” so he would fight to protect immigrants and young dreamers.

How to handle California’s housing crisis?

Photo by Tom Queally

A question on the housing shortage focused on SB 827, legislation that would prevent local jurisdictions from imposing zoning requirements which mandate parking and restrict density when the development is done near mass transit. Only Eastin indicated that she supported the bill. The others spoke in favor of allowing communities to decide.

As ways to address the affordable housing crisis, Villaraigosa and Chiang said they would bring back redevelopment agencies. Villaraigosa agreed with Cox and Allen that the California Environmental Quality Act needs reform to keep it from holding up development.

Asked if homelessness is mainly a housing issue, Villaraigosa responded that a lack of affordable housing is the first cause of homelessness, but that mental health, drug rehab and job training are also needed. Eastin asserted that she would immediately declare a state of emergency in regard to homelessness. “I’ve never seen so many women and children on the street in my life, and they’re everywhere – in all sorts of little tiny towns in addition to the big cities.”

Allen called for statewide institutions to provide shelter, mental health and substance abuse services, but only for homeless people from California.

Agreement on harassment policies, split on gun reform

NBC moderators Colleen Williams and Conan Nolan with Professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe and students from her class (Photo by Tom Queally)

Two days after student-led gun protests across the nation, the Democratic candidates called for a ban on assault weapons to help keep students safe, while the two Republican candidates felt that the option of allowing qualified school personnel to carry guns should be explored.

Photo by Tom Queally

In addition, all five candidates agreed that they would support policies to eliminate public funds being used to settle sexual harassment claims made against state officials.

On the state’s construction of high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Allen and Cox said they would defund the project. The other candidates supported high-speed rail, though Chiang said he would seek private sources of funding.

The debate drew media coverage from news outlets including NBC4 Southern California, the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, NBC News Bay Area and Courthouse News Service.

The gubernatorial primary will take place June 5. Under the state’s top-two system, the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to be on the general election ballot on Nov. 6.