UC Berkeley is supposed to be a very politically engaged school. The numerous protests, the ultra-liberal leaning student body, the history of activism: Berkeley l is supposed to be the hotbed of young political movement in the United States.
What I’ve realised, however, is that the reality is quite different. Berkeley isn’t much different from the real world; there’s a very vocal minority of students who care passionately about politics, and a majority who don’t care. That to me isn’t surprising- it’s just how the world works.
But I did find surprising that even smaller number of students care about California’s politics. People always pay attention to presidential elections. They’re exciting, and they generate a lot of buzz. But a lot of the heavy lifting of government happens at the state level, rather than the federal level. That’s why I think that students should care more about this year’s midterm elections, which include the California governor’s race. California has recently surpassed the UK to become the world’s fifth largest economy: its elections should be a big deal.
I’ve had a chance to listen to two of the gubernatorial candidates in person: John Chiang and Delaine Eastin. I was impressed by Eastin; she was an excellent speaker who articulated bold progressive ideas, and I was glad to see her full support for education and housing in California, two pressing issues.
I was even more impressed by Chiang, whose speech I wrote about here. After a couple more months of researching him and other candidates for governor, I believe he has the vision, experience and integrity to be California’s next governor.
Chiang is a progressive- there’s no doubt about it. He believes in narrowing income inequality, public investment and fighting climate change. But these things are basically a given for Democrats in deep-blue California. So what sets him apart?
Firstly, he has the experience to serve as California’s next governor. He is the only person in California history to have held three of the state’s financial offices: the Board of Equalization, state controller and state treasurer. Seeing the damage that is done by having a political novice in the White House, voters should ensure that the governor’s house is filled by someone who has extensive experience in public service. The world’s fifth largest economy deserves to be run by someone who can manage it.
Second, he has the right focus. Chiang is prioritising education, which is critical. I’m not just saying this as a UC student. It’s ironic that Californian voters don’t care more about the state of higher education; it wasn’t a fluke that California became one of the most innovative, forward-thinking places in the world. Chiang is right to call for rolling back tuition fees and to significantly increase state investment in higher education. He’s also right to prioritise homelessness, California’s biggest crisis.
Third, he is a pragmatic progressive. Fiscal responsibility is important (although Jerry Brown may have a little too much of it). Chiang understands that we cannot simply spend and spend, and that while progressive visions are important, it’s also critical to think about how to pay for them. Jerry Brown has long predicted that California may soon face a recession, and a governor who will know how to steer the ship through hard times will be exceedingly helpful.
Chiang’s campaign has found difficulty in gaining traction- unsurprising for a policy wonk without much buzz. But California has an interesting primary system where the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, proceed to the general election. Does Chiang have a chance? I’m not sure. But a general election contest between Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Chiang would be an interesting race between two different flavours of progressive Democrats.
Full disclosure: I’m not Californian, nor am I American. But as I am living here and will live here for at least three more years, I care about this state. California has great potential, and it deserves a governor who will run it well. Elections matter, and democratic participation matters. Regardless of who you vote for, you need to make your voice heard.