California is having no easy year, confronting raging fires, rising gas taxes, questions around immigration, and a dramatic Governor’s race. There was no better time for CCLP to co-host with the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics a political conversation with former Governor of California Gray Davis, who shared his expert insight into the challenges and opportunities for California in the months ahead. Davis served as the 37th Governor of California from 1999 to 2003 and he was responsible for impressive improvements in California standardized testing scores, authorizing the first foray into stem cell research, and signing the first state law requiring automakers to limit emissions. Unruh Institute Director Bob Shrum, who funnily enough consulted for the gubernatorial campaign of Al Checchi in the 1998 race that Davis eventually won, welcomed Davis on stage at Wallis Annenberg Hall on February 13 for the political conversation.
The night, not unexpectedly, kicked off with talk of the looming fight between Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom, predicted to be the two top candidates after California’s open primary on June 5. Both Shrum and Davis acknowledged the final days of the campaign would be a horse race. When Shrum asked Davis’ opinion on the candidates, he diplomatically sidestepped a direct answer and instead went on to reflect on who the big power players have been so far. According to Davis, “The nurses are leading the charge,” largely a result of Newsom’s support for single payer healthcare. Davis drew on his previous experience trying to balance the books to explain why he thought single payer, which is estimated to cost over $400 billion in California alone, might be unrealistic.
In addition to healthcare, Davis committed a lot of his time on stage to speaking about the infrastructure barriers California will face in the near future. Davis broached the subject by saying, “If you drive in California, you know the roads are in need of repair.” From the water shortages to the Twin Tunnels to road fixes, the two political experts touched on how sustainable a lot of the plans coming out of Sacramento will be. For example, Davis touched on the problems faced by the state’s High Speed Rail Authority, such as environmental regulations limiting construction and funding issues, and drew on his experience in bringing about the 2002 High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.
Shrum moved quickly from discussing concrete policy issues to asking Davis about the reputation of California elsewhere and the relationship between California and Washington. Davis said to Shrum that he thinks “California is really a libertarian state rather than a liberal state,” leading to a debate between the two about whether or not California voters are as deep blue as the rest of the U.S. perceives. On the topic of the antagonism between the Trump administration and California leadership, Davis argued that “We [California] have science and a lot of precedent on our side.” Climate change will be the breaking point for and the strongest case against the Trump White House.
The night concluded with questions from the audience about the hope for the California Republican party and about the potential of the city of Los Angeles. The audience of about 75 was eager to hear more words of wisdom from Gray Davis. Now, the California public will wait and see how right his predictions will be.
CCLP’s final event of the spring will be on Tuesday, April 10 in Wallis Annenberg Hall. Stay tuned!