SACRAMENTO (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari on Thursday blamed Gov. Jerry Brown for what he sees as California’s decline over the past three decades, saying poverty and unemployment have climbed during the time that Brown was a member of the state’s political elite.
In some of his most aggressive remarks to date about the Democratic incumbent, Kashkari said Brown’s political legacy is “the destruction of the middle class of California.”
Citing U.S. Census figures from 1980, when Brown was last governor, Kashkari said the state’s poverty and unemployment rates have climbed precipitously since then, while its ranking in terms of a well-educated workforce has fallen.
“He says it’s the California comeback; we’re on top of the world,” the former U.S. Treasury official said during an appearance before the Sacramento Press Club. “Forty-sixth in education, 46th in jobs. No. 1 in poverty. Jerry Brown’s legacy is the destruction of the middle class of California.”
California had Republican governors for 23 of the last 34 years, but Kashkari said the comparison is fair because Brown is seeking re-election based on his 40-year political career.
“If he’s going to make his experience the anchor of his campaign, then we’re going to make him answer for his experience,” Kashkari said.
Brown’s political spokesman, Dan Newman, said just the opposite is true. He credited Brown with California’s economic turnaround after repeated years of multibillion-dollar budget deficits.
“California and the nation were in a pretty deep hole after President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger, and we had deep deficits, the economy was struggling and our schools were suffering,” he said. “Governor Brown came into office and in a few short years eliminated a $27 billion deficit, turned it into a surplus.”
Brown, 75, who has held elected positions including mayor of Oakland and attorney general since he left the governor’s office in 1983, campaigned to become governor again in 2010 on a theme that he had “an insider’s knowledge but an outsider’s mind.” In his announcement last week that he would seek re-election this year, Brown noted that he first ran for governor 40 years ago, but his letter to supporters focused primarily on the last three years.
Newman noted that Brown also led the campaign for Proposition 30 in 2010, which temporarily raised income taxes on the wealthy and temporarily raised the statewide sales tax to boost state revenues by about $6 billion a year. Some of that money is being dedicated to education, which had seen deep cutbacks in recent years.
Another change pushed by the governor and signed into law directs more money to schools with the highest need, defined as those with the highest proportion of low-income students, English-learners and foster children.
Brown “fundamentally reformed education funding so the schools that need resources the most are able to get them,” Newman said.
Kashkari, a 40-year-old political neophyte who is best known for overseeing the bank bailout when the recession hit in 2008, spent most of his speech Thursday focusing on education reform and what he said are the state’s failing schools.
Republican governors in other states have improved education for poor and minority children by embracing charter schools and allowing private school vouchers for children in poorly performing public schools, he said.
Those policies are strongly opposed by California’s powerful teachers’ unions, which are a crucial source of political fundraising for Democrats.
“There’s just sort of a level of absurdity for a candidate like Kashkari to be lecturing about poverty and income inequality,” said Newman, Brown’s spokesman. “This is a guy who is of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street, and he’s lecturing us about income inequality and poverty?”
Kashkari was asked whether he could offer any concrete proposals to address education, but he said it was premature to offer detailed plans because voters are not yet paying attention.
He also slammed Brown’s continued support for a $68 billion bullet train project despite waning public support and a series of legal setbacks, calling it “the most egregious example we have of misplaced priorities of this governor and of Sacramento.”