In today's column in The Star (free to subscribers), I write about Neel Kashkari, the son of parents who emigrated from India, the former Treasury Department official who ran the bank bailout program and the unlikely candidate for governor who many GOP officials around the state believe could help advance the cause of repairing the Republican Party's dreadful brand in this Democrat-dominated state.
I spoke with Kashkari on the phone for 40 minutes this morning. His accessibility is refreshing, especially in contrast with the recent past. It will be four years ago in March that the previous GOP candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, famously held a press conference and then ran from the press without taking questions.
In any event, there was much that Kashkari had to say that couldn't make the cut in writing a 750-word column. It was an engaging and informative discussion, marked with only one testy exchange when he took offense after I asked whether it might be considered arrogant for someone with so little experience to suggest he could do a superior job of tackling such complex and intractable California policy issues as prison overcrowding and water policy. More on that at the end. Here are some notable outtakes from the interview:
ON EDUCATION POLICY: Although Kashkari said he is not yet prepared to release his policy prescription on education, he offered some clues. He suggested he will advocate a renewed emphasis on what he called "vocational education," eschewing today's more politically correct term, "career-tech education."
"We're sending a message of college, college, college. What if we brought back real-world skills?" he asked, citing welding as an example.
In addition, although he declined to rule out the possibility of including some sort of school-voucher plan in his proposals, Kashkari indicated that his plans will be much more expansive than simply calling for vouchers, charter schools or other alternative approaches to schools. "We have to fix traditional, core public schools," he said.
ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Although, as noted in the column, Kashkari said he finds the science on man-made climate change "compelling," he is agnostic on AB 32, the state's landmark law requiring a rollback in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. His concern is that unless the still-developing economies of China and India take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, California's law will have no effect on climate change.
"We have to develop technologies that are both cleaner and cheaper so that China and India adopt them. AB 32 is a very crude way of dealing with that. It's designed to increase the cost of power and encourage investment in alternatives."
But if, as a result of increased power costs, companies leave California, he said, "We've done nothing to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. "Funding research makes a lot more sense."
ON THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: He called it the settled law of the land, but said there are "fundamental problems that need to be fixed. But if it's beyond fixing, Washington needs to replace it with something better." He added that any replacement would also have to attempt to expand coverage to the uninsured.
ON GOV. JERRY BROWN: He called the governor "an honorable man" and says he much admires the fact that although Brown was born into a life of relative privilege, "he's chosen a life of service."
But the compliments ended there. He asserted Brown should go get no credit for the fact that the state budget situation has improved from massive deficits when he took office to one in which annual surpluses are now forecast into the foreseeable future -- "no more than I should take credit for the stock market going up. He's patting himself on the back for the fact that the stock market went up." He said there is a "huge disconnect between the self-congratulatory rhetoric" coming out of Sacramento and the day-to-day struggles of everyday Californians.
ON HIS LACK OF EXPERIENCE: "How much experience did I have when I went to Washington, D.C.? Everyone said, 'My gosh, Washington is so complicated.' We figured it out. We worked with people. I think it's good training. If experience was all that mattered, Gov. Brown would have fixed these problems."
He cited California's Ronald Reagan, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Indiana's Mitch Daniels as individuals who had no previous government experience but turned out to be effective governors.
I cited the more recent California example of Arnold Schwarzenegger, someone else without experience who became governor but then left office after seven years with very low public approval ratings and the state suffering from huge budget shortfalls.
At that Kashkari turned defensive. He asked whether, after having talked with him for half an hour, it wasn't apparent that he was more thoughtful than Schwarzenegger.
It wasn't my place to be argumentative, but it should be pointed out that -- whatever faults Schwarzenegger may have had -- no one I know who dealt with him while he was governor ever questioned Schwarzenegger's intellectual capacity.