Six of the major Democratic and Republican candidates for California met on stage at USC Saturday in a sometimes boisterous forum as the winnowing begins in the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown.
Their answers reflected the sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans, on issues from the state’s relationship with President Trump to the education system, but also divisions between Democrats and between Democrats and the two Republicans.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, running second in recent polls, had perhaps the most to gain or lose from the event as he tries to close a gap showing his political strength in Southern California and weakness in the north.
But other, lesser-know candidates had a chance to raise their profiles and position themselves before the June primary.
Watch a replay of the town hall here:
Questions for the candidates included those culled from over 1,000 suggestions from community members. They represented the many challenges facing the state.
California and Trump
Asked about President Trump’s recent remarks about Haiti and African countries and how they would work with him, the Democratic candidates were sharply critical, with Delaine Eastin and Gavin Newsom calling Trump a racist.
“How can I work with him? With great difficulty, obviously,” said Villaraigosa. He expressed the hope that Trump, whose critics have called for his impeachment, would not be president by the time the governor is elected.
Republican Travis Allen defended the president, saying the bottom line is the president is “trying to work with everyone to get immigration solved.”
Allen and fellow Republican John Cox, both supporting efforts to repeal the recently implemented gas tax and vehicle fee increases to fix roads and pay other transportation projects, criticized Democrats for the funding package.
The Democratic candidates generally supported the higher taxes and fees, noting California’s roads across the state are badly in need of repair.
“The poor quality of our roads are costing people time and costing people a lot of money,” Eastin argued.
Allen drew boos from the audience when he said that, among the solutions to homelessness, is getting tough on those on the streets.
That brought a retort from Villaraigosa, who said: “We don’t need to demonize the homeless. I think we have to remember that they are human beings.”
One of the few specific suggestions to address the problem came from Newsom, who called for an interagency body to address homelessness and coordinate services.
The town hall was presented by the Empowerment Congress, the civic engagement group founded by L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and USC’s Unruh Institute for Politics. KPCC and ABC7 participated as media partners.
Ridley-Thomas said in opening remarks: “If you don’t vote on Tuesday, June 5th, don’t complain on Wednesday, June the 6th.”
To see a replay of the event, go to KPCC.org/InPerson.
This story is being updated.