Bill Whalen

The seven E's candidates for California governor must address

Gov.  Jerry Brown speaks to reporters about the state budget at the Capitol on Jan. 10.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters about the state budget at the Capitol on Jan. 10. Sacramento Bee file

When I was young boy and obsessed by all things sea power, I wondered why certain American warships had the letter “E” on their smokestacks or superstructures while others didn’t.

The answer: it’s the U.S. Navy’s way of honoring vessels for sustained excellence or effectiveness in an operational environment.

This comes to mind when I’m asked what it’ll take to get Republicans back in the game in California statewide races – and how I’ll decide if forced to choose between two Democrats in the November general election.

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Bill Whalen

As mail ballots go out Tuesday, I’m looking for candidates who deserve an “E” for their ability to espouse an eloquent response (dare I say a vision) to the following topics that all just happen to begin with the fifth letter of the alphabet.


Economy: Since 1970, California’s middle class has fallen from 60 percent of the state’s population to 50 percent. In this barbell economy – heavily weighted on rich and poor ends, but thin in the middle – what’s the plan for creating higher-paying jobs? What’s government role — as an economic collector (single-payer healthcare) or free-market enabler (tax cuts and deregulation)?

Education: A recession isn’t a matter of if but when, or so Gov. Jerry Brown will warn us one more time in his revised May budget. When state government has less revenue, public schools will bear the brunt. With dozens of districts currently unable to meet their financial obligations over the next three years, what’s the plan?

Environment: Nearly a half-century after the first Earth Day, legislators may be first in line with environmental fixes, including proposals to declare war on plastic straws and microfibers. But where’s the candidate willing to take a chainsaw to the 100 million dead trees that will fuel California’s next monstrous wildfire?

Energy: Beloved by the climate-change crowd, Brown takes flack for issuing drilling permits and refusing to ban fracking. If you want to say no to oil, then what to do when a company wants to build a 29,000-acre solar-and-wind farm between Death Valley and the Mojave Desert? Before you reflexively hug renewables, President Donald Trump also wants to build, baby, build in the desert.

Ethics: Some stellar reporting by The Sacramento Bee reveals California’s bureaucratic struggle with #MeToo reforms. Is there a candidate willing to enforce a “one strike” firing standard for workplace harassment and discrimination?

Equality: There are words and then there are actions – asking candidates where they stand on a ban on “conversion therapy” to change sexual orientation, or basing endorsements on their positions. Equality California is backing Republican Assembly members Catharine Baker of Dublin and Brian Maienschein of San Diego, who both voted for the ban. In a better California, GOP and LGBTQ would be inclusive, not incongruous.

Engagement: A shrinking media presence and an apathetic electorate means that lawmakers – well, those not angling for another office or fighting for survival – can take a minimalist approach to campaigning. Brown is an exemplar of this. Before his post-Trump offensive on climate change, he rarely took to the bully pulpit.

So California’s elected leaders have to try harder to draw the public’s attention. I’d suggest more hearings beyond the state Capitol and bipartisan debates on the big issues of our time — sanctuary cities, single-player health care.

One final “E”: Is any of this even remotely possible in 2018?

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at