Republican candidate for governor Neel Kashkari on Saturday ridiculed 75-year-old Gov. Jerry Brown as a “caretaker” and defender of the status quo who is “half asleep,” saying he instead aspires to be a “transformational” leader in the mold of Pope Francis.
In an exclusive interview with Calbuzz at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, Kashkari, 40, also said his background as a Hindu is the source of his libertarian social views on issues like gay marriage and abortion, in which he would allow individuals to make their own choices.
“Religiously, I’m Hindu and one of the things I really like about Hinduism is that it really respects all other religions,” Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official, said when asked to explain how his views on social issues evolved.
“It’s saying there’s not only one right answer,” he said. “So maybe it comes back to my religious philosophy which is that you find your own path and you’re the only person who can tell you what that right path is. And that then bleeds into my views on social issues whether it’s marriage or choice et cetera.”
Wings and world views: Kashkari — or Kash and Carry as he’s know at Calbuzz — is one of two leading GOP candidates for governor: the other is Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino, a pro-gun rights conservative whose views on social issues are 180 degrees opposite from Kashkari’s.
While Donnelly’s world view is more in sync with the conservative wing of the party that generally controls primary elections, Kashkari has raised far more money and holds positions overall more in tune with California’s general election voting population. With California’s new top-two primary system, Kashkari’s immediate goal is to place second to qualify for a November run-off.
Either candidate would face a prohibitive favorite in Brown, who already has raised more than $17 million and who enjoys widespread popularity, after balancing the state budget and calming the atmosphere in Sacramento.
Nevertheless, Kashkari argues, Brown is vulnerable.
“Unfortunately, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ plays just as well in California today because we’re ranked 46th in jobs, 46th in education and No. 1 in poverty,” Kashkari said, referring to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign mantra in ousting incumbent President George H.W. Bush.
“Jerry Brown doesn’t even acknowledge the people that are in poverty in California,” Kashkari said. “So his poll numbers are 50 to 60 percent approval. But only about a third of voters think he should be re-elected. For a Democratic governor in a Democratic state, his re-elect number should be a lot higher. And that’s because every time he says ‘California comeback’ families are looking across the dinner table at each other and saying ‘What in the world is that man talking about? We’re not back.’ So he’s very vulnerable.”
So you think California is worse off than it was four years ago? Calbuzz asked.
“He has not made the big changes that are necessary to put families back to work. Sure, we were in an economic free-fall and the knife is no longer falling. But has he done the big structural things that need to be done to reduce unemployment, to really fix the schools, to break the cycle of poverty, to rebuild the middle class? No way.”
Is California better off than it was four years ago?
“I would say no. It’s number one in poverty – 24% poverty rate. For those families living in poverty, no way. You go tell them that they’re better off,” Kashkari said.
Francis and Benedict: Kashkari charged that “Jerry Brown is good at one thing – lowering expectations, convincing you that the status quo is all that’s possible, all you can do is make minor changes.
“Let me give you an example…I love Pope Francis, I adore the guy. I’m not a Catholic but I adore Pope Francis. Pope Francis has been a transformational figure in the first six months that he’s been pope. Pope Francis has the exact same authorities and powers that Pope Benedict had before him…And look at what a transformational, powerful leader has been able to do when they use the office to its full potential….
“Do either of you think that Jerry Brown is a transformational leader? No, he’s a caretaker,” Kashkari said. “Now I’m not saying I’m Pope Francis but I can guarantee you this, I’m no caretaker. I’m not running for governor to sit there and kick my feet up and just defend the status quo. Absolutely not.”
“The executive’s job is to provide leadership to the Legislature,” he said. “Jerry Brown is just a caretaker. He’s not providing leadership. He’s half asleep. A hundred pet projects come out of the Legislature, or hundreds every year, and they just fall on the governor’s desk and he signs 95% of them.”
Irony and hot water: There was irony in Kashkari’s comparisons, given that the iconoclastic Gov. Gandalf, a former Jesuit seminarian who once tended the poor in Calcutta with Mother Teresa, has vetoed about double the percentage of bills that landed on his desk than did the Late Great Republican Saint Ronald Reagan — 12% compared to St. RR’s 6% — and chaptered far fewer bills per year than Reagan or former GOP Gov. George Deukmejian.
Moreover, the assertion that it’s the governor’s job to lead and the Legislature’s job to follow landed former Gov. Gray Davis in hot water even before he arrived in Sacramento in 1999. His comments to that effect, as reported at the time by future Calbuzzer Rob Gunnison, were deeply offensive to Legislative leaders who for some reason see themselves as a separate branch of government with powers the executive branch must accommodate.
Kashkari identified himself as a libertarian on social issues and repeatedly insisted that on gay marriage and abortion rights, he would seek no changes in the law. But on gun control, while he is a gun owner himself, he has no problem with laws requiring background checks or controlling possession of assault rifles.
Oil and jobs: Asked about drilling for oil off the coast of California, Kashkari said, “I’m OK for absolutely expanding our natural resources development both onshore and offshore although I think onshore has shown much more potential in the near term and will really create a lot of jobs.”
So if an oil company wants to drill off the coast of Santa Barbara, we asked, are you OK with that?
“I’m OK with having that conversation. The people of Santa Barbara are going to want to weigh in. We have to find the right balance,” he said. “To me, you can develop our natural resources while protecting the environment. It’s not either/or, you can do both at the same time. So I am for the environmentally sound development of our natural resources. You can do both.”