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…
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CA17: Cunneen urges GOPers to vote for Honda

The last Republican to represent Silicon Valley in Sacramento has endorsed Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in his bid for an eighth term, and is calling for other Republicans to do the same.

Jim Cunneen, a former Assemblyman from San Jose whom Honda defeated in 2000 to win his first House term, said he’s proud to support Honda over Democratic challenger Ro Khanna.

Jim Cunneen“I’ve admired Mike for as long as I’ve known him,” Cunneen said in a statement issued by Honda’s campaign. “In the Assembly, we worked together on technology and education issues. Most of all, Mike’s integrity and good character have served our region well. His hard work and seniority has consistently delivered for Silicon Valley, including his bipartisan work to secure funding for the BART extension that is delivering thousands of jobs.

“As a previous supporter of Republican Vanila Singh, who is no longer in the race, I ask that other Republicans join me and switch their support to Mike Honda, who will continue working hard to represent all of us in Silicon Valley,” Cunneen said.

Cunneen served in the Assembly from 1994 to 2000; Honda served there too from 1996 to 2000. Honda defeated Cunneen in the 2000 House race 54 percent to 42 percent.

Cunneen later served as president and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and as an executive at Applied Materials and Cisco Systems. Now he’s a principal at California Strategies, a consulting, lobbying and communications firm.

Khanna campaign spokesman Tyler Law said “there’s a potential upside for the voters here: Jim Cunneen can now advise Rep. Honda to engage in frequent debates, something Jim demanded and the Congressman agreed to in the 2000 election.”

“Working families in the 17th district aren’t concerned by insider politics and influence peddling. If they were, Rep. Honda wouldn’t have failed to receive a majority of the vote in the primary after seven terms delivering for special interests,” Law said. “Ultimately, this demonstrates that the Congressman has become part of a political system that has to change if the people, not the insiders, are to get the representation they need and deserve.”

Unofficial results show Honda won 48.2 percent of the vote in June 3’s primary while Khanna, a former Obama administration official from Fremont had 28 percent; two Republicans, Vanila Singh and Joel VanLandingham, were eliminated.

Though Khanna generally is considered slightly more moderate than Honda, who is among the House’s most liberal members, a poll in late May showed 19 percent of the 17th Congressional District’s Republicans supported Honda while 18 percent supported Khanna. Other local Republican elected officials who’ve endorsed the incumbent include Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, Sunnyvale Vice Mayor Jim Davis, Santa Clara Vice Mayor Jerry Marsalli, Santa Clara Councilman Patrick Kolstad and Sunnyvale Councilwoman Tara Martin-Milius.

Yet Honda’s liberal supporters have blasted Khanna as being “Republican-lite.”

“Tonight, Silicon Valley voters decisively chose Mike Honda, the true, grassroots progressive in the race, over the billionaire-backed, Republican-lite Ro Khanna,” Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain said in an election-night email. “With the registered Republicans now out of the race, Democracy for America members look forward to continuing to make clear that Mike Honda is the only progressive Democrat in this race — a job we expect to be made considerably easier as Republican-lite Ro Khanna inevitably begins making the same right-wing pitch to voters that he used to ‘win’ the support of fringe-right millionaires and billionaires.”

Local Republicans who’ve endorsed Khanna include Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves, former Newark Mayor Dave Smith, former Cupertino Mayor Richard Lowenthal, former Sunnyvale Mayor Jim Roberts and Milpitas Councilwoman Debbie Giordano.

Cunneen ran in 2000 as a moderate Republican who was savvier to the tech sector’s needs, much as Khanna is running as a Democrat now. He and Honda debated a few times in the run-up to that election.

But 14 years later, as a seven-term incumbent, Honda’s campaign says he’ll debate Khanna only once.

“Congressman Honda is going to do a debate,” spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Wednesday. “It’s just been two weeks since the primary so we haven’t figured out the details yet.”

Khanna has been pressing Honda for months to meet for multiple debates. In his April 27 meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, Honda committed “to some debates” (at around 30:00):

Honda: “It’s part of democracy, I’ll be subjecting myself to it. I’m prepared to do that after June 3, there’ll be a one-on-one and we’ll have a nice vigorous exchange.
Q: “So whoever, if you make the November runoff – I’m asking right now – and we sponsor a debate for our endorsement meeting between the two runoffs, you will accept?
Honda: “We can sit down and talk about it. I’m not going to say yes right now, but…”
Q: “Why not?
Honda: I think it’s, it could be premature, but I can do that, I can sit down and talk, you or whomever from the editorial board.
Q: “But you’re not going to commit at this point.”
Honda: “At this time, I will commit to some debates.”

And at the only pre-primary event at which the candidates shared a stage – a League of Women Voters forum May 3 in Fremont – Honda said he would debate Khanna after the primary:

Q: “Are you going to agree to any other debates in the rest of the campaign, in the general?”
Honda: “I think that, that makes sense because it would be one-on-one.”
Q: “So you would expect after june 3 to have more…”
Honda: “…I expect to do that.”


Kashkari wants Brown to do 10 debates/meetings

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari on Monday challenged Gov. Jerry Brown to five formal debates and five town-hall meetings before November’s election, taking a page from Brown’s own campaign playbook.

Kashkari wants Brown to meet him for a debate and a town-hall meeting in each of five regions: the Bay Area, Sacramento, the Central Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego.

NEEL KASHKARI“The day after the June 2010 primary election you challenged your Republican opponent to 10 debates,” Kashkari wrote in his letter to Brown. “You said then that we must ‘tell people how we’ll manage their tax dollars, how we’ll hold down taxes, how we’ll make government work better and more efficiently, how we’ll fix our schools and how we’ll create jobs.’ I couldn’t agree more with those sentiments, which are as true today as they were four years ago.”

“Although you continually proclaim a ‘California comeback,’ the truth is that millions of families across the state are being left behind by the status quo you defend,” Kashkari wrote. “Governor, our state is ranked 46th in education, 47th in jobs, and 1st in poverty. In fact, your ‘California comeback’ has ignored the millions of Californians who are looking for work and whose children are stuck in failing schools. That you believe the status quo is acceptable underscores the need for a rigorous debate about the future of our state.”

Kashkari asked for a response by Friday “so we may begin the planning process.”

Brown campaign consulant Dan Newman said Monday afternoon that “we’ll certainly consider debating, providing we can work out the scheduling and details to offer something substantive and worthwhile to voters.”

Brown, seeking an unprecedented fourth term as California’s governor, got 54.4 percent of the vote in last week’s top-two primary. Kashkari, a former Treasury Department official from Laguna Beach, finished second with 19.4 percent, beating out tea party favorite Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, who had 14.8 percent.

Read the full text of Kashkari’s letter, after the jump…
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CA17: Khanna challenges Honda to debates

South Bay congressional candidate Ro Khanna on Wednesday challenged fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda to meet him for at least four debates before June’s primary election.

Khanna said the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, KPIX 5, and NBC Bay Area had all expressed interest in hosting primary debates, while other non-local outlets like The Huffington Post and TechCrunch might be interested, too.

Ro Khanna“The modest debate schedule I’m proposing will allow voters to make a fully informed decision about who will best represent them in Congress,” Khanna said in a news release. “Voters are tired of old-style politics and campaigns that consist of little more than sloganeering and demagoguery. With the challenges our nation faces today, the voters deserve better.”

Khanna, a former Obama administration official from Fremont, went on to say that 17th District residents will benefit from a public airing of the issues. “It’s one way to start restoring public confidence in Congress, which is at an all-time low.”

The current House calendar offers plenty of opportunities for Honda, D-San Jose, to return to the district for debates, Khanna said, but he also offered to debate on weekends if necessary. He said he’ll designate a campaign staffer to reach out to Honda’s campaign and local media to start talks on dates, venues and formats.

“Congressman Honda is focused on his work improving the lives of his constituents,” Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said via e-mail late Tuesday, after being asked whether Honda is open to debates. “Given how early it is (the full field of candidates isn’t set yet, and probably won’t be for a couple more months), the campaign has not made any decisions yet regarding debates.”

Debates – or the lack thereof – have played varying roles in a few recent campaigns.

It was at a 2012 pre-primary debate hosted by the League of Women Voters in Hayward where Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, made an unsubstantiated accusation of bribery against fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell – suddenly giving Swalwell a talking point and visibility he’d previously lacked. Further gaffes by Stark followed, and Swalwell eventually ended Stark’s 40-year house tenure.

That same year, Republican challenger Elizabeth Emken made much of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s refusal to meet her for any debates at all, accusing the incumbent of arrogance.

But Emken was running her campaign on a shoestring. “My opponent has virtually no campaign; her whole campaign has essentially been sticking her finger in my eye in one way or another,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the time, adding she wouldn’t give Emken’s “right-wing Republican views” a megaphone if Emken couldn’t find one herself. Most Californians apparently didn’t care – Feinstein won with 62.5 percent of the vote.

In this case, Khanna’s campaign had almost three and a half times as much money in the bank as Honda’s as of Sept. 30, so he can buy his own megaphone to capitalize on the public’s frustrations with Congress – including either a “he-won’t-debate-me” taunt, or whatever fodder a debate might yield.


PPIC: It’s time to reform the initiative process.

California voters want to see some changes in the initiative process to connect it with the Legislature, increase disclosure of campaign funders and re-engage citizens, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

“These reforms are likely to have an impact beyond the initiative process,” PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare, the report’s author, said in a news release. “They hold considerable promise for increasing citizen engagement, encouraging voter participation, and building trust in state government.”

The report, Reforming California’s Initiative Process, notes that in the decade since the gubernatorial recall election, voters have been asked to weigh in on 100 state ballot propositions, 68 of which were citizens’ initiatives.

There’s been a sense that the century-old initiative process has run amok, becoming a tool of the same sort of special interests it was supposed to sideline – in May, 55 percent of California adults polled by PPIC believed the process is controlled by special interests. Yet PPIC polls have found both broad support for the process as well as for improvements to it.

Californians like the idea of expanding the Legislature’s involvement in the initiative process, so long voters remain part of the decision-making. PPIC found overwhelming majorities favor having a period of time that an initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to seek compromise before a measure goes to the ballot. Overwhelming majorities of Californians also support a system of review and revision for proposed initiatives to try to avoid legal issues and drafting errors.

One way to set up such a system would be to revive California’s indirect initiative, in which sponsors bring their initiatives to the legislature after the required number of signatures has been gathered, the report suggests.

There’s also strong support for increasing public disclosure of funding sources; holding televised debates for initiative campaigns; having initiatives be renewable by voters after a certain number of years; allowing more time for volunteer-only signature gatherers to qualify a measure for the ballot; and creating an independent citizens’ initiative commission.


California voters already have approved ballot measures to create a top-two primary system and a citizens’ redistricting commission, to change term limits, and to allow budgets to be approved with a simple legislative majority.

“In the last five years, Californians have taken bold actions to reform their state government,” Baldassare said. “Initiative reform — if pursued thoughtfully — could result in a brighter future for the state.”


Jerry pitches town-hall tour, Meg says no

Democratic gubernatorial nominee and state Attorney General Jerry Brown launched the general-election season today by proposing that he and Republican nominee and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman hold 10 joint town-hall appearances around the state to talk about “job creation, schools and the state’s budget mess and to answer questions from voters.”

“Partisan bickering and attack-dog politics have created an awful mess in Sacramento, and I think Meg and I now have an opportunity to change the tenor of politics in California by conducting a responsible campaign that shows the politicians that there is a better way to do business,” Brown said in a news release. “I’m inviting Meg Whitman to join with me to run a campaign that will put the focus on town halls where each of us in an unscripted manner will discuss our positions and answer questions.”

Brown suggested starting in San Diego or San Jose, and then hitting Fresno, Anaheim, Oakland, Sacramento, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Francisco. “I think we should have a variety of formats. Some of the town halls could have a panel of reporters asking questions. Others might have local teachers. Some could have regular voters asking Meg and me whatever questions are on their minds.”

He said the meetings could give voters a “full picture” of the two candidates for governor and make TV advertising less important – thus negating the billionaire Whitman’s monetary ace in the hole, a tactic to which she surely would never agree.

“If I never see another political ad in my life, I’ll be happy,” Brown said. “And I’ll bet that most people feel the same way. The town halls will show the voters that we can act as adults and actually treat each other with respect. Meg and I may not agree on many issues, but we can at least tell the truth and explain how we would approach the job of governor.”

WhitmanNot gonna happen, Whitman replied this afternoon.

“There will be plenty of debates in the future,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “But in the present what I recommend to Jerry Brown, instead of playing political games, is to lay out his plan for California. His website has virtually nothing on it and he hasn’t told Californians much of anything. I put out a 48-page policy book and detailed the plans that I have to turn California around. Jerry Brown should lay out a plan for California, and then at least we’ll have something to debate about.”

Brown, lieutenant govnernor nominee Gavin Newsom and other Democratic nominees for statewide office will be at Solaria Corp., a Fremont solar-panel manufacturing plant – no, not the same one President Barack Obama visited recently – tomorrow morning while Whitman has a “homecoming rally” scheduled at the Tech Museum in San Jose.