Neel Kashkari will be the Republican candidate for governor of California against the incumbent, Jerry Brown, in November. The primary, on the GOP side, was largely interpreted as a battle between moderate Kashkari and the far-right candidate, Tim Donnelly. Now that the moderate has won, it’s time for him to change his campaign to deal with the prospects in November.
Those prospects are not good: Brown finished with 55% of the primary vote, Kashakari with 19%. According to the L.A. Times, “…Brown is poised to all but ignore Kashkari.” The article quotes Brown advisor Don Sipple: “The best mode of campaigning for him (Brown) is to govern the state…and not even give rise to the notion that there’s a competitive election.”
What can Kashkari do so that Brown cannot ignore him? One thing is for sure- Kashkari will spin his wheels and waste our time if he campaigns now the way he did in the primary. Coming on the scene in January as a hopeful dark-horse, Kahskari made an immediate name for himself with positions accepting gay marriage, gun control and abortion. With his win over Donnelly- who of course opposed these positions- Kashkari created a referendum on Republican social views, validating many poll findings that Republicans are not uniformly social conservatives- in fact social conservatives are a minority even within the GOP. Kashkari deserves credit for demonstrating this, but the problem with the primary campaign was that Kashkari did not confront anyone, did not make anyone or any faction uncomfortable. There was no mention of his social positions after the first announcement in January (not a word about it at his state GOP convention speech). Not many in the state know about his social positions, and no major newspaper has mentioned them since January.
Discretion about social issues might have made strategic sense in the primary campaign, but it will be the end of Kashkari if he remains evasive about his positions in the general campaign. It is the natural tendency of politicians to duck tough issues, because every time you take a side, you lose votes on the other side. But the numbers are in: social conservatives represent about 30% of the electorate, and severely alienate the other 70%, across party lines. Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign thought he would keep that 30% by not attacking his opponent Rick Santorum’s social positions, and it clearly cost Romney (he did not gain the 30%, and lost many in the 70% who opposed the 30%). Kashkari has no choice: if he wants to win, he needs everyone to know that he is not a social conservative.
Kashkari should court the far-right where it meets the middle and the left, as with the widespread opposition to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) violation of the 4th Amendment’s protections against government spying on citizens. Brown is vulnerable on this because, as a Democrat, he will be uncomfortable criticizing Obama’s defense of the NSA’s violations. That’s an opening for Kashkari and he should hammer it hard.
Brown is also vulnerable on Obma’s Common Core Standards (CCS), which no Democrat will attack. Brown is paying $2 billion from Prop. 30 (our taxes) for CCS, and getting much mindless praise for it. Kashkari should educate himself on CCS, which almost no politician understands, and attack on two fronts:
1. CCS is pork. California already has strong standards, for which it paid a few billion the last time the publishing and testing industries needed a quick cash infusion. These now discarded standards, described by everyone in the field as “world class,” had little impact raising test scores or general literacy, not, as the CCS propaganda has it, because they were deficient, but because standards, by themselves, don’t accomplish much- they’re just guidelines. CCS is the same. That might be a bit esoteric for a public message, but Kashkari can certainly point out that in its rush to get the check in the mail to Pearson Publishing et al, the state passed and Brown signed AB 484 which revoked the entire testing program of the state at least two years before CCS can be implemented, so that for hundreds of thousands of students there will be no assessment data of any kind for at least two years, an outrageous outcome and the exact opposite of the accountability we were promised. So far no one is pointing this out. It’s on a silver platter waiting for Kashkari.
2. CCS “data mining” – i.e. the collection of vast amounts of personal data on children entailed in the CCS testing. There is a burgeoning national movement against CCS data mining, very much in play in California, and Kashkari should recognize the movement and benefit from it. It spans the political spectrum from left to right, promising many Democratic votes (Brown has agreed to “consider” a request from Kashkari for ten televised debates. If they happen, one of them should be devoted to education- if Kashkari could play it smart with CCS he would outright win the round).
Kashkari will have a chance to court the Hispanic vote by opposing SB 1174, a bill making its way through the state legislature that would put an initiative on the 2016 ballot revoking California’s Proposition 227, which established, in 1997, that immigrant children have the right to learn English. The timid among the party will worry that Hispanic voters will be turned off by opposition to SB 1174, as they were in 1994 by the GOP endorsement of Prop. 187, which would have denied school and health services to undocumented children. However, 227 did not deny services to anyone- it re-instated English instruction after so called “bilingual” programs mandated Spanish only lectures and textbooks (in LA Unified, only 30 minutes per day of English was permitted, as long as there was no grammar, spelling or academic English involved). Prop. 227 passed by a wide margin- 63% to 37%- across party lines, and was upheld by all courts. A smart campaign by Kashkari, characterizing 227 as upholding the right to learn English, would bring in Hispanic votes (in 30 years of teaching I have never heard a Hispanic parent oppose English instruction), and a majority of non-Hispanic votes. Brown will be evasive and unconvincing in his responses, as he is beholden to teachers unions that are motivated to protect the millions paid for “bilingual” programs.
Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School, speaking to the Washington Times, said, “The next governor is not going to be a Republican unless something truly groundbreaking happens.” It might be too much to hope that Kashkari can be “groundbreaking” to the extent that he will win, but he can at least make sure that Brown pays attention, and that Kashkari presents the Republican party as an evolving organization that is able to compete. Kashkari’s performance in this campaign will be of great interest to people who are following the GOP’s evolution as the major races of 2016 approach.