Dan Walters

Memo to California pols: Don’t let anti-Trump fury blind you to vital issues

There’s a common thread in the early skirmishing among Democratic candidates for statewide office next year, including the governorship – pledges of stalwart, even bitter, opposition to President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress.

From California’s standpoint, of course, there’s much in contemporary Washington to dislike, most recently a repeal of Obamacare by the House of Representatives that could affect millions of low-income Californians.

Moreover, there’s political logic in candidates posturing as leaders of the “resistance,” as it’s called, since the Democratic voter base is obsessed with Trump, et al.

However, it’s far-fetched for candidates for lesser offices such as lieutenant governor, treasurer, insurance commissioner or superintendent of schools to dwell on Trump, since they would have little or no role to play, unlike the governor or the attorney general.

And even the candidates for those two higher offices should be reminded that if elected, they will – or at least should – face myriad issues that have nothing to do with Washington’s current occupiers, but are vital to California.

While they may prefer just to chant anti-Trump slogans, we voters should demand that they – particularly the gubernatorial hopefuls – tell us what they would do about such issues as:

▪ A stubborn shortage of housing, particularly for low- and moderate-income families, that threatens the state’s economy. We are building only slightly more than half of the 180,000 units of new housing the state says we need each year to handle population growth and reduce an acute backlog.

▪ Urban traffic congestion that grows worse as the state’s population grows. The recently enacted bill to raise and spend more than $5 billion a year on transportation is focused on roadway maintenance and transit and will do almost nothing to relieve congestion. At the same time, however, we have a $68 billion bullet train project that, even if built, would have virtually no effect on roadway congestion.

▪ Ensuring that the state will have an adequate water supply not only for a population that continues to grow but for the nation’s most productive agricultural industry. We need more storage to capture precipitation, a modern water management system and a willingness to embrace new options such as desalination. We also need a definitive decision on whether the twin tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta really make sense.

▪ A K-12 education system that’s not adequately preparing youngsters for roles in society and a fast-changing economy. Gov. Jerry Brown’s program of giving school districts more money to educate 3.6 million poor and/or “English learner” students is in obvious disarray and, if not corrected, will become a cruel joke on them and a state that needs them to be productive.

▪ A higher education system that, we have been warned, is not producing graduates in sufficient numbers to meet workforce demands, is beset by turf wars that discourage flexibility and innovation, and is receiving declining portions of the state’s revenues.

▪ California’s shameful status of having the nation’s highest rate of functional poverty, largely due to crushing costs of housing, and its widest income disparities.

▪ Finally, tax reform because the state budget is dangerously dependent on how well a handful of high-income Californians are doing on their investments.

These and many other pithy issues will be waiting for next year’s winners, and what happens in Washington will have very little, if any, impact on them.