GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Policy Differences In San Diego
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we’re going to be talking more about that candidate’s forum featuring Republicans Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman. They spoke at the San Diego Economic Development Corporation yesterday. Now, it was not a debate. Both candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination spoke separately on panels that included local business leaders. The subject was how Poizner and Whitman would, if elected, stimulate job growth and economic development. KPBS senior metro reporter Alison St John attended that event and she’s here with us now. Good morning, Alison.
ALISON ST JOHN (KPBS Senior Metro Reporter): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: What appears to be, from what they said at this forum, their – the main priorities for each of these candidates?
ST JOHN: Well, they do have similar priorities, not surprisingly. I would say that Meg Whitman’s are very focused. She was very specific. I have three main priorities: jobs, spending cuts, education. Poizner, also jobs, tax cuts, education, immigration, water. So Poizner’s, I would say, are more across the board. Whitman is trying to be very, very focused about her priorities.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, let’s talk about their economic plans. How do they differ?
ST JOHN: Well, Poizner is talking about very major tax cuts. He’s talking about 10% across the board tax cuts in income tax, sales tax and corporate taxes, and a 50% cut in capital gains taxes. So everybody would get a tax cut if, of course, he managed to convince the legislature. Meg Whitman is talking also about tax cuts but more directly targeted to business that would stimulate jobs. So she’s, for example, talking about eliminating the start-up tax for small businesses, eliminating the fee to become incorporated, eliminating taxes for new equipment for companies trying to buy new manufacturing equipment, that sort of thing, very, very targeted tax cuts to try to stimulate job growth.
CAVANAUGH: Did anyone ask how it would be possible to cut taxes while the state faces such huge budget shortfalls?
ST JOHN: Well, exactly. Now Poizner’s argument is that he says other states that he’s observed have cut taxes and immediately tax revenue has gone up. So he believes that if he cuts taxes, within a year he would see almost a 2% increase in tax revenue. Whitman says that – Meg Whitman says that she doesn’t think the state can afford that amount of tax cuts, a $20 billion deficit. It’s not something that she is quite as optimistic about that she can swing that, so she is saying that basically you can’t do such large tax cuts. And, of course, both of them are talking about spending cuts as well, which they don’t talk so much about. But when pushed, they do both say, well, we’d have to cut a lot of welfare programs, MediCal program, and lose a lot of state jobs.
CAVANAUGH: Now what did the candidates say specifically about San Diego and ways to improve the economy here?
ST JOHN: Both of them praised San Diego for the high tech, biotech sort of innovation, entrepreneurial companies that are here. Meg Whitman talked about supporting partnerships that would help the universities here to get their ideas translated into business. When I asked about – what about lower-wage jobs, because I think one of San Diego’s problems is that many of the jobs that are created are in the tourist industry. You can’t live here on those kinds of wages. Meg Whitman said, well, you know, I think I would start trying to change the law so that employers could have a more flexible schedule for their employees, it wouldn’t have to work just a 40-hour week. Benefits that would benefit an employer in that sphere but probably not so much the employees in that sphere. So it felt like both of them were much more geared to supporting companies that would be creating the high wage jobs that San Diego actually needs.
CAVANAUGH: Now they talked about a wide range of issues, not just about taxes and the economy. One hot button issue in the state, of course, is illegal immigration. What did the candidates say about that issue? Is that a high priority for each of these candidates, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner?
ST JOHN: Steve Poizner is making it a high priority on his platform. And he is saying that, really, the state is losing taxpayers and the population continues to increase partly because of illegal immigration. So he sees this as a very big problem and he’s prepared to be fairly draconian about it. He would go after the employers who hired illegal immigrants. He said he would take away their business licenses. But the thing that perhaps distinguishes him most is that he says he would also try to abolish all benefits for illegal immigrants. Meg Whitman says this is really a federal issue. You know, we can work with the federal government on this, but it’s not one of her top priorities. And she, I believe, says that benefits like, for example, public education, would not be a good plan to deprive all the children of illegal immigrants of their education. But she’s also talking about holding employers accountable and working with the federal government on making the border more secure.
CAVANAUGH: I believe that you actually have some of what they said about illeg – immigration.
ST JOHN: That’s right. So let’s just have a quick listen to what Steve Poizner is saying about his views on immigration – illegal immigration.
STEVE POIZNER (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, State of California): And number one is, I want to stop all taxpayer funded benefits for people that are here illegally. The second thing is I want to enforce the rules on employers. If an employer in the state of California hires someone, they need to make sure that that person is legal. If not, as governor, I will revoke their business license in order to turn the jobs magnet off. And finally, we do need better border security.
ST JOHN: And then, you know, Meg Whitman was very much along the lines of, well, you know, this is not really one of my priorities but bearing in mind that it is a problem, here’s what she had to say.
MEG WHITMAN (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, State of California): But with regard to immigration, first of all, I am 100% against amnesty. Second, we can do more to secure this border. I want to hold employers accountable for hiring documented workers through an enhanced e-verify system, and then, last but not least, we have to eliminate sanctuary cities—the best known one is San Francisco—and we’re going to have to work with the federal government on this.
ST JOHN: And I think she brings up the point about amnesty. That’s one thing that Steve Poizner has tried to use as a wedge between the two of them and said that she supports amnesty. She denies that vehemently.
CAVANAUGH: Some people are saying by taking such a hard line on illegal immigration, Steve Poizner might be positioning himself well for the Republican primary but perhaps not so well for a general election.
ST JOHN: Well, I think there are a lot of employers, for example, here in San Diego County who have mixed feelings about illegal immigration and who would find it hard to keep doing business if the laws were to be clamped down in that regard. So, you know, it is – it’s a two-edged sword, that one, and I feel like he is going out on a limb and hoping that it will benefit him but it remains to be seen.
CAVANAUGH: Another big issue in California, of course, is water, and how to insure the state has an adequate water supply for the future. How do the two Republican candidates differ in their views about the state water policy?
ST JOHN: And this, of course, is a huge one for San Diego.
ST JOHN: I know that the forum was at the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and they made the point that this is a big issue. We’re at the end of the pipeline. So let’s just – Basically, the big issue is this bond. There’s a water bond that’s going to be on the November election, $11 billion of which San Diego would benefit for over $200 million. So let’s just hear what Meg Whitman has to say about the water bond.
WHITMAN: I am a fan, actually, of the water bond. It’s not a perfect bill by any stretch of the imagination, there’s $2 to $3 billion worth of pork in this bill. As governor, I will blue line as much as I can of that pork spending before it gets funded. But I think we are going to be very sorry if we don’t take this agreed upon plan and execute.
ST JOHN: Whereas here’s another place where Steve Poizner is definitely setting his platform as a very different one from hers. He says the state is already in too much debt. He doesn’t want to see another $11 billion. He says ten cents of very taxpayer dollar is already going to paying debt, so he’s not in support of the bond. Here’s what he has to say.
POIZNER: This water crisis is manmade. There’s one unelected federal judge that’s taken over the water supply of the state of California. I think that’s wrong. I think that’s illegal. I think we should be able to control our own water supply. As governor, I will appeal this decision all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
ST JOHN: So he’s really going out on a limb about the water. He wants to take it right back to the beginning and say, hey, this decision to protect the delta smelt is illegal, and he wants to get the water flowing and fewer restrictions on how Californians can use water.
CAVANAUGH: So the two candidates are really taking different positions on at least a couple of different policies. They both talked about education at the…
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.
CAVANAUGH: …end of the forum. How would Meg Whitman like to improve California’s schools?
ST JOHN: Yes, they both definitely have education as part of their top priorities, and she talks about putting 60% of state funding back into the classroom. She really, you know, when you ask, well, how are you going to take on the teachers’ unions because that is one of the things that Schwarzenegger also tried to do is take on the unions, she said, well, you can’t take on all the unions at once, you have to take them on and build relationships slowly and go step by step. But she has some ideas and so – and Steve Poizner, too, that really relate to – Steve Poizner puts it in terms of yanking control away from the legislators up in Sacramento and taking it back to the local level, making charter schools, for example, have far more opportunities, things which all – All of these initiatives that they’re talking about, not just in education but in tax cuts, for example, would require them to convince the legislature to make some very major changes. And as Julie Meier Wright, head of the Economic Development Corporation pointed out, you know, you’re going to need someone who’s a really good salesperson to get any of this legislation through. So I guess, you know, you might say which of them is a better salesperson, is likely to have a chance, if they became governor, to get any of these reforms through.
CAVANAUGH: Now, as I say, you attended this forum yesterday, Alison. Do you get the feeling that San Diego is measuring up as an important region for Republicans this year?
ST JOHN: Yes, I think the very fact that they both came down. Admittedly, they didn’t actually spar with each other. They were in separate forums. But San Diego, you know, is becoming more demographically, in terms of registered voters, more Democratic and so I think they both feel like they want to see who they can pick up in terms of support when they face Jerry Brown. So it’s important for them to come down here and do the rounds and convince people that they have good policies for this business community. And, of course, this business community’s made up of a lot of small businesses. Steve Poizner says he sold his last company to Qualcomm and he’s very familiar with the kind of problems small businesses in San Diego face. You know, Meg Whitman says she’s very impressed with UCSD and all the entrepreneurial work that’s going on. So they both, you know, made a point of saying that San Diego matters to them.
CAVANAUGH: I know the two of them have already had one debate. Is there any chance that they may have a debate down here?
ST JOHN: Hmm, I guess there’s still plenty of time so we shall see.
CAVANAUGH: Between now and June, right? Thank you so much, Alison. I really appreciate it.
ST JOHN: My pleasure, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking to Alison St John and we’ve been talking about the forum yesterday at the San Diego Economic Development Corporation which featured Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman. If you’d like to comment about anything that you’ve heard on this segment, go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, California moves ahead with plans for a high-speed rail line. That conversation is next as These Days continues here on KPBS.