All three women holding statewide offices in California say they’ll run for governor.
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer Fiona Ma and Controller Betty Yee — all Democrats — appeared together at a we’re-all-friends lunchtime panel discussion Tuesday sponsored by the Sacramento Press Club.
At the top of the Q&A, the first question came from moderator Carla Marinucci of Politico: “Are you going to run for governor?”
“I’m in,” Yee answered immediately.
I’m in, too,” Ma said.
“Well, I guess we’re all running,” Kounalakis said.
Despite the possible future political conflict, the three women came together in a group hug when it was all over, and posed for photographs with their arms around each other.
The person they’d like to replace, Gov. Gavin Newsom, is up for reelection in 2022 and, if reelected, serve through 2026. It is widely believed in the Capitol that he plans to run for president in 2024.
Kounalakis may have a leg up here: If Newsom was elected president and left for the White House, she is first in line to serve out the two years of his unexpired term. She could then run for governor in 2026 as an incumbent.
The press club luncheon lineup was unprecedented. Never before has California had three statewide offices held by Democratic women, two of them women of color. And never before have three candidates for governor announced their intentions at the same time.
All three said they are admirers of Newsom, and it was clear they had no intention of challenging him in 2022.
“Gavin towers over me, but he makes me feel like an equal partner,” Ma said.
Kounalakis said she will use her statewide perch to campaign for more dollars for all three branches of California’s public higher education system – 113 community colleges, the 23-campus California State University and the 10-campus University of California.
“That’s what I’m pushing for,” she told the near-capacity audience at Sacramento’s downtown Masonic Temple. As lieutenant governor, she is a member of the CSU Board of Trustees and UC’s Board of Regents.
The three said California needs tax reform, but mildly disagreed on how to do it.
Yee said a “split roll” tax proposal, in which business properties are taxed differently than homes, should be approached cautiously.
“We need tax reform and ending a split roll is not tax reform” she said. A measure to establish the split roll in California is on the November 2020 ballot.
Kounalakis said the current situation under 1978’s Proposition 13 provisions made for a “pretty severe inequality that needs to be addressed,” while Ma was more enthusiastic about ending the current situation.
If they were admirers of fellow Democrat Newsom, all three were emphatically not fans of Republican Donald Trump.
“He sticks his foot in his mouth every single day,” Ma said.
“He frequently takes a sledgehammer to our Democratic processes,” Kounalakis added.
The lieutenant governor waxed philosophical briefly while discussing the state’s social and economic outlook.
“We’re at a combination of the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment at the same time,” she said, “And we need to get ready for it.”