Gavin Newsom and John Cox traded barbs Monday in what was likely the only gubernatorial debate ahead of the Nov. 6 general election, with Newsom chastising Cox as a Donald Trump-backed Republican with thin policy plans, and Cox countering that Newsom and his fellow Democrats have rendered California unaffordable.
“I hope that we can compare and contrast...our specific tangible plans, because there’s a profound contrast,” Newsom said during the hourlong debate aired live on KQED public radio, criticizing Cox for pressing for solutions to the state’s housing affordability and homelessness crisis without offering detailed policy ideas.
“He criticizes and identifies problems, but with all due respect, doesn’t have the details and the strategies to actually solve them,” said Newsom.
“I have a lot of specific plans,” Cox shot back at one point when discussing the state’s housing needs, without elaborating. He later denounced broader policy ideas Newsom has advanced, saying “all these plans don’t mean a thing if we can’ t change a lot of these laws that are adding to the costs that are driving housing prices an apartment prices through the roof.”
Cox, the San Diego businessman, said the former two-term mayor of San Francisco is to blame for the state’s acute challenges with homelessness and the high cost of housing. He suggested several times that questions about social issues, such as gay marriage, were a waste of time.
“My vision for California is where people can afford to buy a house or pay rent that’s affordable, they can afford gasoline, water, electricity...they don’t have to see homeless all over the street,” Cox said. “Gavin’s been part of the political class that has led this state downward.
“Gavin’s been in office for 16 years here in California and he’s not done much about this problem and it’s gotten worse and worse and worse. We’ve got to bring down the cost of housing,” Cox said.
Newsom has acknowledged the housing problem has grown far worse over the past eight years, under both his watch, and Democratic leadership. He has called the growing crisis — California has more homeless people than any other state in the nation, and the population is growing in coastal cities — “inhumane” and “unacceptable.”
He said during the debate that the issue of “wealth disparity” and “income inequality” are issues that define all others.
“We have to address the issue of cost of housing. We have to address the issue of affordability...we have to address the issue of homelessness,” Newsom said. “And we have to tackle the vexing issue of health care and the issues related to health care that are devouring the state budget.”
The debate gave voters the only snapshot since the June primary of where candidates differ on issues, including criminal justice sentencing, protections for undocumented immigrants, guns and gay marriage.
“The important issue in this race is affordability,” Cox said, adding that discussion about anything other than economic issues “is just to occupy time.”
Cox has been media shy during the campaign, and has narrowly focused his message on the state’s affordability challenges and repeal of the 2017 gas tax increase, refusing to discuss other issues that have arisen, such as climate change and abortion.
Newsom repeatedly blasted Cox for past comments Cox has made, including those opposing gay marriage, saying in the past that gay rights could “open the floodgates to polygamy and bestiality.” Cox responded: “I’ve evolved on those issues.”
Still, Newsom sought to paint Cox as out-of-touch with California’s electorate due in large part to his past comments casting doubt on human-caused climate change, and strong support of relaxed gun laws and the National Rifle Association.
Cox declined initially to go into detail on his views on guns, saying “I don’t know,” what California should do differently. He then said “We need to treat mental illness.” He later added that “Criminals don’t care about gun control...more laws aren’t going to do the job.”
Cox also denounced California’s “sanctuary state law,” suggesting it protects criminals, and said he’d work to overturn it. He also called again for construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and doubled down on past comments saying that California companies that employ undocumented workers should face legal consequences.
“I think we should not be hiring people who have broken the law and cut in line,” Cox said.
Newsom shot back: “Sanctuary counties are not more violent, more dangerous than non-sanctuary cities and counties... It’s about building trust. A victim of crime or a witness to a crime is more likely to come forward if they’re not worried about local law enforcement” turning them over to immigration authorities, Newsom said.
“I fear under a Cox administration working hand in glove with Donald Trump, that our policies — our progressive and enlightened policies on immigration — will roll back to the dark ages,” he added.
Newsom and Cox also differed on several laws California has enacted this year, including those that end the state’s cash bail system and put California on a path to acquiring 100 percent of its electricity from non-carbon renewable sources by 2045. Cox opposes both laws and Newsom supports them.