This is the second in a series of occasional Calbuzz benchmark interviews with contenders to replace Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. The purpose of these posts is to give the wannabes space to express their views at some length. Our previous interview, with Antonio Villaraigosa, is here).
Delaine Eastin says she wants to be governor to fix public education, and criticizes Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic Legislature for “slapping themselves on the back” while California schools remain “terrible.”
“I’m fighting for kids, from pre-school to graduate school,” she said in a telephone interview from Berkeley with Calbuzz, stationed in our just-folks, pulse-of-California executive offices in Aptos and Santa Barbara.
The 69-year old Eastin was elected to two terms as State Superintendent of Public Education back at the turn of the century, after serving four terms in the Assembly representing a Bay Area district. Since then, she’s served on a variety of education non-profits and as a professor at Mills College.
As a political matter, her gubernatorial (ah, for a more graceful adjective) bid is a decided long shot, as she begins the race far, far back in fundraising and organization amid a pack of better-known pols, including the aforementioned Tony V, Prince Gavin Newsom and John “Star Wars” Chiang, not to mention a cast of thousands possibles, led by Calbuzz speculation pick Tom Steyer.
As a policy matter, Eastin’s approach is a good news-bad news deal: she’s obviously got major chops on education but, so far at least, offers little else; often giving the impression she’s seeking a third term as state schools supe, she risks orchestrating a one-note symphony campaign (Example: when we first asked her what California should do about immigration in the current atmosphere of crisis, her default answer centered on schools – “first and foremost we have to focus on educating every child…” Um, okay).
A quarter century after Difi. Still, an authentic feminist perspective in a field of blue-suit male lifer pols is an unmistakable asset, even if her Sacramento resume is a trifle out of date (at one point in our interview, Eastin boasted that she was “the first woman and the first member of the Assembly to win the MTC Legislator of the Year Award”).
“I think (running as a woman) matters very much and I’m going to make the case,” she said. “I believe very strongly that we’re overdue to have a woman as the governor of the state of California.”
So far Eastin’s most specific proposal is her crusade for a 55-percent threshold for local school bond issues, earmarked for staffing and operating classrooms – i.e. hiring and paying teachers. We’ll leave the legality of such a thing to Prop. 13 evangelists like the sly Joel Fox, but at first glance the argument that parents should be able to finance their kids’ schools by the by the same measure they decide to build them seems sensible.
It is her sternly earnest appreciation for policy complexities and one-foot-in-front-of-the other sensibility about substance that could be Eastin’s best selling point in a race now led by the smugly glib Newsom; after all, it worked for Hillary (oh, never mind).
Show me the money. While Delaine talks airily about raising big bucks online, ala Bernie, however, over the next six months she’d best at least collect table stakes in a campaign certain to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into the California economy.
So far she’s reported raising exactly zero dollars, compared to Prince Gavin ($11 million in the bank); Tony V ($2.6 M) and state Treasurer John Skywalker (who famously was introduced to last year’s state Democratic convention to the strains of “Luke’s Theme,” the anthem of the Star Wars saga), not to mention possible future rivals like Silicon Valley moneybags Tom Steyer or Peter Thiel, or potential Republican spoiler Kevin Faulconer.
“We’re going to do a lot of grassroots events, we’re going to do a lot of online things,” she said.
For true junkies, here is an interview transcript, edited for repetition and to make our questions sound less stupid.
My first love is education and I’ve been very frustrated by the failure to rebuild California public education. There’s a lot of people slapping themselves on the back like it was all better now and it isn’t.
We’re in the bottom ten of the 50 states in per pupil spending, 42nd if you adjust for the cost of living. Yet we live in the most expensive state in the union with the highest percentage of poor children and the highest percentage of English learners.
So first and foremost I don’t think that it’s acceptable to just kind of say well we’ve got what we’ve got (at Prop. 98) full funding formula now, everything’s been fixed…
The state of our schools is terrible. There are some other things broken as well and so while education is my number one priority, I’m very concerned about the lack of long-range thinking and long-range planning in the state of California.
WHAT’S THE ANSWER ON EDUCATION – MORE TAXES?
First it is reestablishing our priorities. I tell everyone who will listen that budgets are statements of values…
We were number one in per prisoner expenditures when we were number 50 in per pupil spending. That’s unacceptable – now we’ve dropped a little in per prisoner (spending) but we’re still in the top 10 and we’re in the bottom 10 of per pupil.
And so we let you build the buildings with a 55 percent vote but you have to have a 66 2/3 vote to staff the building and I say to every parent that I meet – if you could spend send your child to a beautiful school with a lousy teacher, or have your child taught by Socrates sitting on a rock, you ought to go with Socrates and a rock.
So first thing, we have to pass the ability to pass a local bond to staff the schools at the same level we have to build schools.
SO, PROP. 98 IS NOT WORKING – OR THE GOVERNOR AND LEGISLATURE ARE NOT FULLY FUNDING IT AND IT WOULD WORK IF IT WERE?
It’s not being fully funded. Remember the song, “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor”?
[Uh, no. – ed.].
Prop 98 was intended to be the floor under funding, but the state of California’s governor and legislature are treating it like the ceiling.
I will tell you I am very appreciative that Jerry Brown had a nimble response to the economic crash. I applaud that; I applaud him on the environment.
But I do not give him high grades on his attention to schools. He’s taken a lot of money out of child development and preschools and not restored it. He’s not in favor of mandatory kindergarten and that’s disgraceful – it ought to be mandatory and full day.
We have the largest class size in America. We ought to have a campaign to recruit and hire more teachers – they’re running out in droves because many of them can’t afford to live near where they’re teaching and we have a severe teacher shortage right now and he’s underestimated in community colleges, CSUs and UCs.
So I’m fighting for preschool to graduate school.
IF NOT 40%, WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE STATE BUDGET WOULD SHOW THAT EDUCATION IS THE STATE’S TOP PRIORITY?
This is a sleight of hand thing.
There are things that have been moved around that are not included in the potential budget for Prop. 98 considerations. So I would actually argue that we ought to have a task force of people that look at how we should have a major change in funding for schools.
WHY DO WE NEED ANOTHER TASK FORCE – SHOULDN’T THAT BE THE PLATFORM OF YOUR CAMPAIGN?
It is the platform of my campaign and I’m going to fight to lower class size and I’m going to fight for full day mandatory kindergarten and I’m going to fight for universal preschool. All of those things I’m going to do.
But I think …when I was the Superintendent – we got some wonderful ideas out of people that helped us to move ahead…And we have a bunch of people, not only in schools and education, but in labor and in business, non-profits and in the Silicon Valley who wants us to fix the schools.
I wish all kids would get vaccinated and we should try to educate all parents to get all kids vaccinated.
BUT WOULD YOU ALLOW THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL IF THEY WEREN’T?
I would. If everybody else is vaccinated we’re fine.
WILL YOU BE IN THE TANK FOR CTA?
I am with the CTA when they are for the kids. When they are for the grown-ups, I’m not with them. Example: when CTA had a bill that said they were going to exempt teachers from having to do lesson plans, I opposed them strongly and we defeated that bill. That was my final year in the Legislature.
There were other occasions when I stood up to them…and they know that about me. So the fact is I think most educators will vote for me, I have a lot of great teachers who support me.
Having said that, I don’t know if I’ll get CTA’s endorsement or not.
I’m with charter schools, as long as they follow the rules.
So I’m on the charter school board of SYATEC – System Integrated Academies for Technologies. This is a drop-out recovery high school…90% of these kids are emancipated, many of them have been in total train-wreck families, they dropped out maybe when they were 14, maybe to have a baby or maybe when they were 15 they were in a court and community school and never went back to their regular school because they weren’t welcome…
But we publish our agenda, we’re open, you can look at our books. We’re not doing what those crooks in Livermore were doing –charging $30,000 per child to Chinese families to send their kids to a public charter school. That’s illegal, that’s wrong, those people should go to jail.
WHAT SHOULD CALIFORNIA DO ABOUT IMMIGRATION?
First and foremost we have to focus on educating every child and the teachers do not want to be immigration naturalization police. Their job is to educate children and that should be our job. And you know perfectly well there are kids in our schools who were born in California whose parents are here illegally and so I don’t think it should fall on the backs of the children that we have an immigration problem.
I think the schools are not the problem and they’re not the place we should solve the problem.
BUT YOU’RE RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR – WHAT ABOUT THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA GENERALLY?
The state of California has to make sure that it does make everybody play by the rules. If you were living in this state, than you have to play by the rules. You’ve got to pay your taxes, you’ve got to make sure you’re abiding by the law and you’ve got to make sure you are doing all the right things by your own family and by everybody around you.
So if somebody gets arrested because they didn’t play by the rules, then that’s a different story, then we ought to bounce them out of here. But the truth is if you’re playing by the rules, I think we don’t have the time or the money to become the federal immigration and naturalization service.
(We interviewed Eastin a few days before his chaos theory executive order on immigration. Her #1 response below came that day; in fairness (stop laughing!) we later asked Andrew Acosta, her consultant, if she wanted to update her remarks; #2 is what he emailed us in response).
#1-I really and truly don’t want to get into a fight with Mr. Trump. I will tell you I support sanctuary cities, I support children in schools and I hope Mr. Trump, you know, someday grows a little patience and understanding and a little more composure. I find him very objectionable in the tone he uses and the words he uses.
#2- I fought Governor Pete Wilson when he wanted to target immigrant children in schools with Prop 187, and I will fight this latest assault on our immigrant families and religious minorities. What Donald Trump has proposed is un-American… Of course I will fight against proposals that threaten Californians and our core values.
WE GET $100 BILLLION OF FEDERAL MONEY – HOW AT RISK IS CALIFORNIA WITH TRUMP?
We already only get back less than 80 cents on the dollar of what we send to them, so California’s already being disadvantaged.
I do have some confidence in our court system and I hope that if he does try his thuggery, that our attorney general and our governor will respond in kind and take him to court.
I don’t think that the constitution of the United States says that you should be able to pick on people that don’t agree with you and withhold their own resources from them which we have contributed fairly and squarely and not even no are getting our fair share back.
SO YOU’RE NOT ALL CONCERNED?
I wouldn’t put words in my mouth. I’m very concerned.
I really believe that we will have to respond in kind, in court if he does more than bluster. And you know we don’t know right now whether he’s going to do more than bluster.
I certainly think that the governor of California has to be a representative of its people, all of its people.
And so I will certainly represent the people of California and I will stand up to thuggery from a president of the United States when it hurts our people who happen to be Latino, who happen to be Asian, or who happen to be Muslim. The governor has to be the leader of all the people, for all the people, with all of the people.
WHAT ABOUT THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT?
I don’t know what our solution’s going to be.
I’ll be honest with you, I hope that there is going to an active attempt on the part of the rational people in Washington to have some kind of a replacement. That we don’t really damage so many millions of Californians.
I hope the state will step up and try to fill some of the gap, if there is a gap…people with pre-existing conditions, people with cancers who would have been bankrupt if they hadn’t gotten care, people with children who desperately need to have some kind of care, and so having worked with people in foster care, as well as some of our kids who really are at the margins, this has been a lifesaver.
And I think the state of California has to continue to put on the Affordable Care Act cape and fight for these kids, and for these grownups, to have protection…
SO YOU WOULD USE STATE FUNDS TO MAKE UP WHATEVER DIFFERENCE THERE IS IF OBAMACARE IS ABOLISHED?
I don’t want to say anything in flat terms because obviously there’s so much federal money, we don’t have that kind of money…
I think the state will step up and try to fill the gaps but we have to see what the federal government does. But there are Republicans in California who want to see us continue the Affordable Care Act…
There are lots of people like that who may have voted for Mr. Trump but he said he was going to find a replacement. Hopefully we’ll be in a position to not come down with a hammer but they’ll do something that is generous and California can pick up some of the slack if there is some.
YOU’VE BEEN OUT OF OFFICE QUITE A WHILE – HOW ARE YOU GOING TO COMPETE WITH THESE GUYS?
First, having been out of office makes me not a career politician and second, you know me, you’ve heard me, I know what I’m talking about. I do my homework, I always have. I’ve never lost touch; I continue to be very well informed…
…nobody has more background in strategic planning than I do, nobody has better credentials when it comes to transportation, remember I’m the first woman and the first member of the Assembly to win the MTC Legislator of the Year Award.
I know what I’m doing when it comes to things like garbage and waste. I wrote the big landfill clean-up bill, the biggest ever written in the state…
WHAT ABOUT FUNDRAISING?
There is a grassroots donor movement, we know.
Why? Because Bernie taught us there was. And I believe I’m going to step up, and with my voice and my values and my articulate presentations, I think I’m going to get a whole bunch of folks that supported Hillary and Bernie but also that will be for me because I’m the best candidate to be the governor of the state of California.
We’re going to do a lot of grassroots events, we’re going to do a lot of online things, but it is true that everybody should have woken up and looked at Bernie…He was very competitive monetarily because he got a lot of small donations – that’s what I’m planning to do.
I don’t think you can say I’m not a firebrand. I actually do believe that I’m as good environmentally as any candidate, in terms of infrastructure and transportation as any candidate and better on education than any candidate and I really have a diverse background…
Nobody who knows me doesn’t think I get it. I understand these issues and I can move the needle. I did it.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THAT YOU’LL BE RUNNING AS THE FIRST WOMAN GOVERNOR?
I think it matters very much and I’m going to make the case. I believe very strongly that we’re overdue to have a woman as the governor of the state of California. I was only the fourth woman to be a constitutional officer and we’re up to a total of eight in the history of the state. We elect eight every four years and we’re up to a total of eight women
But you shouldn’t elect me because I’m a woman. You should elect me because I’m the most articulate, hardest working and frankly I’m very, very focused. When I get working, I work steadily, hard and long and I get it.
Because we can do better. We can do better.