Neel Kashkari: At least I get to debate someone.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari on Monday implied that if you aren’t okay with his plan to essentially circumvent school boards’ oversight of funding and curriculum, you’re okay with California’s schools being among the nation’s worst.

Kashkari at BANG editorial board 8-11-2014 (photo by Josh Richman)Kashkari’s “my way or the same old highway” moment came during his meeting Monday with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board. I sat in to ask a few questions and observe; as a reporter, I’ll not be involved in subsequent deliberations over an endorsement in this race.

The exchange led to one of the meeting’s best moments, just as we prepared to turn from this contentious point to another topic.

“At least I’m getting to debate someone,” Kashkari quipped with a wry smile.

Kashkari earlier Monday had issued a news release announcing he now has accepted five debate invitations – with the Sacramento Bee/Capitol Public Radio/KCRA; KGTV and KPBS in San Diego; Univision; KSEE and KGPE in Fresno; and KFBK in Sacramento – while Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet responded.

“Governor Jerry Brown is hiding under his desk,” Kashkari said in the news release. “Every voter in our state deserves to know exactly what Jerry Brown plans to do if he’s elected to an unprecedented fourth term.”

Dan Newman, a consultant to Brown’s campaign, replied later Monday that “we’ll respond with plenty of time – it’s early August and he’s got a demanding day job that is the top priority.”

Read a few highlights from today’s meeting with Kashkari, after the jump…

EDUCATION – As noted above, Kashkari’s plan involves giving each public school’s principal, parents and teachers more direct control of their own funding and curriculum choices with more freedom from state mandates and local school-board oversight, much as charter schools already have. “The defenders of the status quo come up with lots of reasons why these plans can’t work,” he said, though he acknowledged that “there are risks and … there are going to be growing pains” that come with such big changes in school governance.

HOMELESSNESS – Asked about his much-ballyhooed week of living among Fresno’s homeless, Kashkari said he doesn’t mean to imply that job creation alone will cure homelessness; he acknowledged the need for mental-health, substance-abuse and other services as well. But the point of his trip to Fresno, which he noted has the highest unemployment rate of any large California city, “was intended to be an exploration of the struggles of the working poor in California,” he said.

IMMIGRATION – Kashkari said that as a son of immigrants, he has a deep appreciation for what immigrants bring to the country. He said he favors updating our laws to prioritize the workers our economy needs, from high-tech jobs in places like Silicon Valley to farmworker jobs in places like the Central Valley. Immigration policy can be “a huge competitive weapon,” he said, “so let’s use it to our advantage.” He said he favors border enforcement, a robust guest-worker program, and E-Verify or something like it to ensure workers are legally authorized to be here. And he said that because the millions of undocumented immigrants already here are “here to stay whether we like it or not,” he favors a path to citizenship that brings them out of the shadows and has them paying taxes and otherwise contributing to society. But regarding the thousands of Central American children who’ve flocked to the U.S. border recently, he said “we need to send the kids home” in a compassionate and caring way so others will get the message that it’s fruitless to attempt the same voyage. “This is horrifying, what’s happening with these kids, but people respond to incentives,” he said, calling for changes to a 2008 law that allows children from these Central American nations to remain here at least while waiting for immigration court proceedings – and in most cases, permanently. Instead, they should be treated like immigrants from Mexico, he said, and be subject to expedited return to their home countries.

WATER – Kashkari said he favors abandoning the state’s high-speed rail project and instead plowing more funding into water-storage infrastructure. Conveyance projects like the twin Delta tunnels Brown has proposed could be important, but that particular project requires a lot more cost and environmental analysis while storage projects should move forward without delay. “Jerry Brown’s father got it… He got why water storage was so important, but junior Brown doesn’t get it.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.