California's political season ramped up Saturday at San Diego's third annual Politifest, hosted by Voice of San Diego. The event featured two of the state's prominent political figures: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor and former assistant secretary to the U.S. Treasury.
While attendees enjoyed the sun and beer garden, Atkins and Kashkari laid out competing views for California's future.
Jobs and the Economy
At the forefront of the agenda was California's economic recovery. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California added over 400,000 jobs in the last year, 2.8 percent higher than in 2012. That's also higher than the national average at 1.8 percent. While the state's economic prospects have trended upwards, Kashkari and Atkins painted different pictures of California's economic future.
Kashkari summed the election up as a simple choice for voters. He said:
"This election, in my opinion, is about a choice. If you think we're back, and if you think this is California at its finest, then stay the course. If you think we can do a lot better by fixing schools, growing the economy, and putting people back to work, then join me and let's go do this."Atkins believes California's recovery is headed in the right direction, but it would take some time for middle-class families to see results.
"Talking about business climate is yet again another discussion that gets reduced to political soundbites. California is still a $2 trillion economy, the eighth largest economy in the world. So something's working," she said. "But if you expect us to do it over night with respect to the business climate, that's not going to happen."
The 2014 election is California's second under the nonpartisan, top-two primary that was passed by a majority of voters in 2010. While the partisan dynamics are changing in Sacramento, party labels are still a factor for Neel Kashkari.
When asked what impact he felt "Top-Two" has had during the 2014 election, he responded, "I think long-term it's going to have a big effect, but I don't think it has had a big effect yet."
"I just made my own decision that I wasn't going to compromise my views in any way. That was independent of the primary process," he later added.
Atkins argued one way to resolve partisan conflicts, when it comes to regulatory reform in Sacramento, was to bring all sides to the table and promote a comprehensive dialogue.
“I think, and one of the things that I'm going to take a look at this year, is a process to actually start that discussion," she said. "Polarized positions make people very afraid to have the dialogue.”
Both Atkins and Kashkari agreed there was a need to work toward reforming California's regulatory landscape, but varied in the approach they would take. Atkins agreed there was a need to retool some of California's aging regulations, but favored a longer-term strategy where a dialogue amongst competing interests could develop:
"I actually agree that there are areas that we need to look at. CEQA is what? 40 years old now? Or thereabouts. I don't think it's a good idea to do late night, 11th hour changes to CEQA and the legislature has done it. We need to have a real dialogue about CEQA and what prevents that from happening is when you have folks that strongly support CEQA on one side of the spectrum and folks who think there needs to be a change; both sides get entrenched in politics."
On the other hand, Kashkari leveled criticism at the apparent 'fast-tracking' of environmental reviews that are required under CEQA. Most notably, a review of the Sacramento Kings' new stadium was expedited in 2013.
As a result, he argues, "Why don't we give all of our factories, all of our construction projects an expedited review so they can get on with business and they can put people back to work. That's a huge impediment."
Image credit: IVN News