It’s likely that more than a few Californians don’t particularly like Gov. Gavin Newsom, but don’t see an acceptable replacement running for recall.
After all, this is a strongly Democratic state, and all of the main candidates for the replacement are Republicans – and former supporters of former President Trump to boot. This is Newsom’s biggest asset as it tries to push back the GOP-led recall attempt.
But for what it’s worth – which should be a lot – the most experienced candidate to replace Newsom is a returning Republican: Kevin Faulconer.
He’s a guy who really ruled, not just gossiped about it. And he’s the kind of Republican who used to be elected to high office in California, like governors. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian.
Faulconer, 54, was twice elected mayor of San Diego – a post Wilson held – and before that he served eight years on city council in an increasingly Democratic stronghold.
He also reflects much of California in being a fiscal conservative and a social liberal – perhaps even more tax-conservative than former Republican governors who were flexible and pragmatic.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wilson, and Ronald Reagan all raised taxes and slashed programs to balance budgets when revenues lacked.
Faulconer made a commitment not to raise taxes. In fact, he proposes to eliminate state income taxes for people who earn less than $ 50,000 and couples who earn less than $ 100,000.
I asked him: Shouldn’t everyone have a skin in the game and pay at least a minimum income tax?
“California is just too expensive,” he replied. “It’s unbearable. And the people who are suffering the most are the middle class. People vote with their feet and leave the state.
Newsom and the Legislature recently agreed to provide one-time stimulus checks ranging from $ 500 to $ 1,100 for people earning less than $ 75,000.
“It doesn’t,” Faulconer said. “People need permanent tax relief.”
Under his plan, 99% of Californians – all earning up to $ 1 million – would benefit from some kind of tax cut. It would cost the public treasury $ 15 billion a year, he estimates.
It’s good when the state revel in a surprise windfall of $ 76 billion in revenue, as it is now. But a future economic downturn and the ensuing Sacramento red ink are inevitable. Second, a permanent $ 15 billion budget hole would lead to governors’ misery.
This is the conservative side of Faulconer.
But on several other issues, he veers to the left, as many Californians do.
It supports abortion rights, same-sex marriage and a path to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally. He opposed the border wall proposed by Trump. He agrees with California’s strict gun controls and doesn’t want to weaken or strengthen them.
Unlike Newsom, however, he supports the death penalty.
Overall, this is the kind of political positioning that might appeal to many Democratic and Independent centrists. Except that there is a sin – in their eyes – committed by Faulconer that they might find it difficult to forgive: he voted for Trump in November and expresses no regret.
“I voted for the president because of his stance on the economy,” Faulconer told me. “And I think it was the right choice.”
Would he support Trump if he runs for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024? “I have no idea who I will be supporting in ’24.”
His vote for Trump was a strategic about-face for Faulconer.
In 2016, the newly re-elected mayor said he “could never vote for Trump” and viewed his “divisive rhetoric” as “unacceptable.” And he kept his distance for four years.
Pressed on this, Faulconer quickly tried to change the subject.
“Newsom wants to make it a Republicans vs Democrats campaign because he has no file to run on,” the candidate replied.
The first half of this comment is certainly correct. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by almost 2 to 1 in California. And Californians rejected Trump and voted Democrat Joe Biden by almost 2 to 1.
Newsom is running against Trump, while Faulconer and other Republican candidates try to make the Sept. 14 recall election a referendum on the Democratic governor.
Politically, Faulconer made it clear that he had no choice but to tell me in a December interview that he voted for Trump.
If you are running as a Republican for Governor of California, you need to protect your right flank. About 6 million Californians voted for Trump. And they form the political base that any Republican candidate needs.
Never mind that no Republican has won a position in the entire state of California since 2006.
Give Faulconer credit: he presents himself as a political freak – even if that tends to annoy voters.
There is no star power like Schwarzenegger when he won the election when Democratic Governor Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, whose widespread unpopularity makes Newsom look like a ballroom king.
I asked Faulconer what his top priorities would be as governor.
“Homelessness and crime,” he replied without hesitation.
Faulconer would create more shelters across California and demand that homeless people occupy them. And he would enforce laws banning camping in public places, like he did in San Diego.
“Newsom called himself the ‘Tsar of the Homeless’ and look where we are,” he said. “And look at where we are on crime. These are the two big problems. “
In fact, Newsom and the legislature recently agreed to spend $ 12 billion on homelessness projects.
“My campaign is to come up with real solutions,” says Faulconer. “These are not gimmicks.
“It’s a serious time in this state – a time for serious discussion.”
A little serious repentance on Trump would also help.
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