Skelton: No winners in Newsom-Cox debate
If Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is elected governor as expected, he’ll keep building the state’s two contentious public works projects: the bullet train and twin water tunnels. But he’ll scale back both.
He’ll be more cautious, realistic and practical about the super-expensive projects than termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown.
Newsom will concentrate on completing a high-speed rail line from the San Joaquin Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area. The southern half of the ambitious project, from the valley into Los Angeles, will be delayed until the initial line proves to be financially feasible and can attract more money from taxpayers or private investors.
As for the beleaguered water project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Newsom will try to reduce its size to one tunnel. That would ease northern fears of a Southern California water grab.
The Democratic front-runner and his underdog rival, Republican businessman John Cox, competed in a debate Monday. But the train, tunnels and other vital state issues weren’t raised. So I called Newsom and he phoned back.
I also called and emailed Cox, but neither the candidate nor his staff responded. He previously has said he’d kill both big projects.
Who won the debate? No one. The event was so obscure it might as well not have happened. Unfortunately, it will be the only gubernatorial debate before Election Day. Tough luck for voters, who want to hear more from the candidates.
Newsom is adhering to the front-runners’ common playbook: Minimize debates and don’t give your underdog opponent a free public forum. And don’t risk a debate when you could say something really stupid and lose votes.
This debate wasn’t even televised. It was on public radio at 10 o’clock in the morning — after the rush when commuters might have been listening — on a Monday, Columbus Day. The radio station, KQED in San Francisco, made the debate available statewide for any broadcaster that wanted it.
Cox shouldn’t complain. He could have had a televised debate in primetime but screwed up. CNN wanted to host a Q&A, and Newsom initially agreed. But Cox demanded that the questions be limited to certain subjects. Newsom objected. And CNN pulled out.
The sole debate can be summarized this way: Newsom repeatedly accused Cox of being a lackey for “Trump and Trumpism.” Cox consistently charged that Newsom had “been in government 16 years and hasn’t done much.”
Actually, not doing much if anything is the official job description for lieutenant governor. Newsom also was San Francisco’s mayor for seven years, and Cox blamed him for the city’s homeless problem. Of course, homelessness is rampant in cities all over California where Newsom was never mayor.
Los Angeles Times reporters Phil Willon and Dakota Smith wrote a comprehensive story about the debate that appeared in Tuesday’s Press Democrat, and you can look that up. I wanted to ask the candidates questions that weren’t asked. Newsom agreed, Cox didn’t.
On the $77 billion bullet train, which is way behind schedule with a ticket price more than double original projections: The plan a few years ago was “unrealistic and we weren’t being honest and transparent about the project,” Newsom told me. But he thinks that has changed.