Selecting the person for California’s top job is now in your hands.
The next governor’s to-do list is not for the faint of heart. He or she will need to keep the budget in check, prepare California for environmental disasters (see: our year-long wildfire season and overdue great earthquake) and manage a deep housing affordability crisis that’s led to rising rates of homelessness. Supporting early childhood development — an issue that's been gaining more attention among the candidates — will be part of the job. There’s also the matter of navigating the Golden State’s complicated relationship with the Trump administration.
As Gov. Jerry Brown so cheerfully bid his successor in his final State of the State address: “What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession. So good luck, baby.”
Below are the gubernatorial candidates and where they stand on key issues. These are the six highest-polling candidates in the race, in alphabetical order, by last name. There are 27 candidates in total — you can read more about the others here. Unless a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Travis Allen, State Assemblyman (Republican)
Residence: Huntington Beach
The basics: He calls himself the “only true conservative” among the candidates, although he’s one of a handful of Republicans in the governor’s race. He’s represented Huntington Beach in the California Assembly since 2012. Before that, he worked at an investment firm and founded a financial planning business in 2001. Allen backed Trump in the 2016 election. Things he does not like: Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade program, California’s bullet train project, the 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase — which he’s vowed to get repealed.
On housing: California needs more housing, Allen says, and his plan is to get it by knocking down taxes and regulations on developers. But he says he’d focus on building more single-family homes, rather than adding density to urban centers. He also wants to reform the decades-old California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires builders to detail the environmental impact of proposed projects, saying it’s been weaponized to extract labor concessions from large developers.
On homelessness: He says California has to bring back state-run mental institutions to help homeless people with mental illnesses. He’s also vowed to “get tough” on what he calls “petty criminals that are choosing to litter, loiter, camp in our public places.”
On health care: He’s against a single-payer health care system, and against Obamacare, too. Allen says single-payer health care would raise taxes even further and drain the state’s coffers within months. If elected, he says he’ll “ensure that California is never a single-payer state,” and that he’d open up California’s insurance market to out-of-state insurance companies.
On immigration: Allen is not a fan of California’s so-called sanctuary state law, SB 54. He’s called it an “illegal concept” that violates federal law, and if elected, he pledges to put forward an initiative in a special election to take it off the books. He even advocated for the Justice Department to arrest Gov. Brown over it.
John Chiang, State Treasurer (Democrat)
The basics: Chiang has a background of serious state financial office cred, having spent two terms in the state controller’s office before becoming state treasurer. He’s a child of immigrants and positions himself as a fan of policy details, focused on fiscal discipline and pragmatic solutions.
On housing: Time to up our spending on new housing, he says. Chiang backs the $4 billion bond for affordable housing on the November ballot, but says he’d go even further with a $9 billion affordable housing bond and a $600 million increase in the state low-income housing tax credit program. He also proposes reviving and reforming redevelopment agencies — offices that once allowed city governments to divert a portion of property taxes toward revitalizing depressed areas.
On homelessness: He says he’d focus on early detection and intervention for those on the verge of becoming homeless. He backs a “rapid rehousing” program that would provide temporary financial assistance for expenses like rent, utility bills and emergency vouchers for motels.
On health care: He supports universal health care and a single-payer approach — but not all at once. He’s said that bringing in any new health care system requires telling the public how much it will cost, how we will pay for it, and what kind of services California can afford. In the meantime, he says his main focus is on preserving the Affordable Care Act — namely, making sure the California Covered system can withstand any potential subsidy cuts imposed by the Trump administration.
On immigration: California, as the world’s sixth-largest economy, needs more immigrants, he says. Chiang supported the state’s sanctuary law, SB 54, and says he would defend California against threats from the Trump administration to strip away federal funding. He also wants to protect immigrants under the DACA program, which allows young, unauthorized immigrants to work and live in the U.S. legally.
John Cox, Businessman (Republican)
Residence: Rancho Santa Fe
The basics: He’s a venture capitalist from Rancho Santa Fe who’s made unsuccessful runs for U.S. president and for Barack Obama’s Senate seat in Illinois. His main refrain: Get the special interests out of government. He’s a fan of free markets, fewer regulations and lower taxes. He made a big push to dramatically alter the way state lawmakers are elected, by creating as many as 12,000 “neighborhood councils” with their own representatives. They would in turn select a district representative at the state level. The proposal failed to make this year’s November ballot.
On health care: For Cox, it’s all about the free market. Cox says competition produces better results. He says a universal health care system would add a burden to the taxpayers, would affect the quality of care, and would attract an influx of newcomers seeking free health services. “[If] you want to make health care more expensive and rationed, turn it all over to the government,” he said at a gubernatorial town hall in January.
On housing: We need to get rid of burdensome regulations on home builders, Cox says. He wants to do away with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires developers to get projects assessed for their environmental impact. “It’s all a honeypot for trial lawyers to sue,” he said at a San Diego forum in March. He says he’d replace CEQA with reforms that will streamline the process of approving construction, and, if elected, he’d work to build 350,000 homes a year.
On homelessness: Tackling CEQA will also alleviate the homelessness problem, he says. But he also wants to use public-private partnerships with nonprofits or religious groups to provide services to homeless people. He also says the cost of prison operations is contributing to homelessness: “We can’t afford to keep people in jail, so we’re releasing them to the streets,” he said in January.
On immigration: No more sanctuary cities, Cox says. “We cannot have people who are here illegally committing crimes and being defended by taxpayer laws,” he said at a January forum. Cox supports Trump’s plan to build a border wall, but also says immigrants eligible for DACA should be protected.
Delaine Eastin, Educator (Democrat)
The basics: Education is her background. She served two terms as California superintendent of public instruction from 1995-2003 — the only woman ever elected to the role. Before that was a member of the California Assembly and a Union City councilmember. She hasn’t held public office in 15 years, but she’s remained active on education advisory boards. She’s running as a staunch progressive who wants to return education spending to the top of Sacramento’s agenda.
On housing: Eastin wants more housing — specifically, a million new housing units in the next four years, particularly near transit hubs. Though she said the legislation needed work, she backed SB 827, a bill that (died in committee but) would have allowed taller, denser development near public transit, regardless of city regulations. She’s also in favor of rent control and wants to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act which limits rent control for buildings built after 1995, and the Ellis Act, which allows property holders to evict tenants under rent control if the owners are getting out of the apartment business.
On homelessness: Eastin says California ought to consider approaches to homelessness that other cities and countries have tried, like tiny houses or emergency vouchers for motels. She also supports calling for a state of emergency on homelessness — something Gov. Brown has been reluctant to do.
On health care: She’s pro-single payer health care. She threw her support behind SB 562, the proposal for a Canadian-style single-payer health system that passed in the state Senate last year before it was shelved in the Assembly. She’s also said she would look at different revenue sources to fund a universal health care system — including a sales tax hike, gross receipts tax on some businesses and using some funds from her proposed public Bank of California.
On immigration: She’s for protecting DACA, California’s sanctuary state law and limits on state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. “I don’t think that this lavish scheme promoted by the president to wrench all these people out of their homes and their families is something California should go along with,” she told KPCC’s AirTalk.
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor (Democrat)
Residence: Marin County
The basics: He’s been second-in-command to Gov. Jerry Brown for the last eight years, and is a former mayor and district supervisor of San Francisco. He made his mark nationally in 2004 when, as San Francisco’s mayor, he began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That helped set off a maelstrom of debate around same-sex marriage that ultimately culminated in the 2015 Supreme Court decision to uphold the right of those couples to marry.
On housing: Build, build, build. Newsom touts a goal of building 3.5 million new homes in California by the year 2025 to address the affordability crisis. Newsom also supports the Gov. Brown-backed $4 billion bond for affordable housing projects on the November ballot. He’s also talked about the need to tackle the housing problem through regulatory reform and carrot-and-stick incentives for neighborhoods to produce more housing.
On homelessness: Housing is also a cornerstone of his plan to confront homelessness: “We need to recognize this fundamental fact: Shelters solve sleep. Housing solves homelessness,” he said at a gubernatorial town hall in January. On top of that, he’s called for a statewide interagency council to fight homelessness, overseen by a secretary of homelessness, as well as more aggressive advocacy of the federal Supplemental Security Income to help vulnerable groups.
On health care: Newsom has championed a universal health care program, akin to the Healthy San Francisco plan he helped roll out in the city when he was mayor. In an interview with KPCC in January, he called it a “bridge to the ideal,” referring to his support for a single-payer health care system for California. Newsom acknowledges legal hurdles the state would face to create Canadian-style single-payer health care proposed in the SB 562 bill, which stalled in the Assembly. Still, he told KPCC he wants to use SB 562 as the “corpus of the plan” to achieve single-payer in California.
On immigration: Yes to California’s “sanctuary” status and yes to comprehensive immigration reform. He supports SB 54, California’s sanctuary state law that limits when state and local law enforcement can cooperate with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws. He also says he will resist any efforts from the Trump administration to roll back DACA protections or strip away federal funding from cities.
Antonio Villaraigosa, Public Policy Adviser (Democrat)
Residence: Los Angeles
The basics: He made his mark as the mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013, serving as the city’s first Latino mayor since 1872. Before that, he was speaker of the state Assembly and a union organizer. As mayor, he headed the city through the financial crisis and championed Measure R, a $35 billion transit package that helped fund L.A.’s transit system. After terming out as mayor, he served as an advisor to companies like Herbalife and Cadiz.
On housing: Villaraigosa wants California to have 3.5 million new homes by the year 2025. One funding proposal: create regional trust funds to share the cost to build housing. Another big priority is bringing back redevelopment agencies, which used to allow city governments to collect a share of property taxes and use them for redevelopment projects. Villaraigosa acknowledged that the old system had “problems and some abuses,” but wants a reformed version that would provide more checks on how the money is spent.
On homelessness: He says the state ought to match local funds to tackle homelessness. “What the state has to do is say [to counties], we’re going to partner with you,” he said in January. “If you’re putting money up to address permanent supportive housing, services for the homeless, houses for the homeless, then we’ve got to match that money.”
On health care: He supports the idea of a single-payer health care system in California — but doesn’t think it should happen just yet. He’s said on multiple occasions that anyone trying to convince California to adopt single-payer now is “selling you snake oil.” It’s not a realistic proposal if California can’t get the federal waivers from the Trump administration, he told KPCC’s AirTalk last year. “Let’s focus first on backfilling, on making sure we’re keeping people whole from [proposed health care budget] cuts. Then let’s put a group of stakeholders together and look at how we can transition to a health care system that is smarter and better and could include single-payer.”
On immigration: Villaraigosa says immigrants are critical for California’s economy, and has decried President Trump’s approach to immigration as one that breaks up families. He’s against Trump’s border wall proposal, saying California should find more ways to partner with Mexico on trade and other mutually beneficial economic programs.
These aren’t the only candidates for governor. Here are the other people vying for the job.
Ready for Election Day? Get up to speed on what you need to know with KPCC’s Voter Game Plan. Read up on the candidates and ballot measures, find out about registration deadlines and ask us your questions.
This post has been updated.