An interview with Poizner

Poizner

Feb. 2, 2010

Editor’s Note: The GOP gubernatorial race has turned particularly contentious, as Steve Poizner accused Meg Whitman of trying to muscle him out of the race. Here is an interview CalWatchdog recently had with Poizner. We are trying to arrange interviews with the other candidates.

By KATY GRIMES

Whose company developed the GPS trackers for cell phones, taught American Government to 12th graders, is one of the creators of the Charter Schools movement in California, worked in the White House Fellowship Program during 9/11, defeated Cruz Bustamante in an election, and is excited about running for governor during an economic meltdown?

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner knows there is an “economic meltdown” (his words) in this state, and thinks that it’s the best time to bring about big changes and reform state government.

Recently I sat down with Poizner to talk about his run for governor.  A self-described “in-the-trenches” kind of guy, Poizner wanted to get right to the issues when I asked how he was managing a campaign and still working as insurance commissioner. Poizner said he has 25 full-time campaign employees who he says are crucial to maintaining balance.

Since water is on everyone’s radar screen in California, I asked Poizner what he would change about the recent water bills’ inequitable provisions requiring that Sacramento and Central Valley cities reduce water usage 20 percent by 2020, while coastal cities need only reduce usage by 10 percent. Poizner said he was not specifically aware of the issue, but would research it. “I strongly support above-ground water storage and updating California’s infrastructure,” he said. “I oppose the blatant pork-filled water bill package.”

On education, Poizner said he and his 18-year old daughter are busy filling out applications for college right now. A few years ago he spent a year teaching 12th-grade American Government in order to get  experience in the classroom, as well as understand the myriad issues surrounding education in the state. Poizner described teaching in a poor school district “was made even more challenging by the school’s  leaky roof and bad lighting, conditions that students and teachers live with every day.”

Poizner was vehement when he said he “wants to yank control of schools from the state and give it back to local districts” (Poizner is co-founder of the Charter Schools Association, the largest charter association in the country). He said that during the last 30 to 40 years, the Legislature has taken control over California schools, trying to run all 5,000 California schools under the state education code. Poizner wants parents to have school choice through offerings of charter schools, home schooling, public and private schools as well as move school decisions to local districts.

Poizner believes that since the Department of Education is, he said, “the largest of the state’s bureaucracies, it also eats up the most state cash with 5,000 schools, 1,000 school districts, 58 county boards of education and 2,000 pages of education code.” Poizner added that he wants to “flatten the thing,” referring to the need for dramatic reform to the department.

When asked about the need for public pension reform, Poizner launched into a financial explanation of pension anomalies in the state. “Pensions need to be funded, and California’s public pensions are not,” he said. “The unfunded liability Californians will be exposed to in the future is a debt that will be paid by our children’s grandkids. Pushing the debt down the road, and down to a few more generations cannot continue.” Instead, he wants to see the state move toward a defined contribution structure, in which the level of contributions are fixed and most of the contributions come from employees, instead of being paid by taxpayers.

Asked what sets him apart from the other Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman, Poizner pointed out that she has Democratic strategists in her camp, as well as moderate political views. Poizner reiterated his conservative values, and insisted that he does not deviate from these regardless of the group he is addressing.  “I use ‘conservative’ in every speech I give,” he said.

Poizner is originally from Texas, a state that is actively luring California businesses away with lower tax rates and fewer business regulations. “California needs to reduce the tax structure to be competitive,” he said. Poizner explained that Silicon Valley “transformed the world” but now California is out of sync.” Yet Poizner acknowledged that “California still has an advantage because people want to be here for our climate and life style, unlike so many other states.”

Poizner has lived in California for 30 years, ironically moving here during when current gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown was governor. Poizner points to Brown as responsible for the start of the demise of the Golden State, and relishes chances to contrast their differing ideology. When I asked him why state employees need labor union representation, Poizner said simply, “Ask Jerry Brown. Jerry Brown is the governor who signed the law enacting the state employee’s labor union 30 years ago.”

Poizner supports enacting the paycheck protection act, prohibiting public employee unions from deducting political contributions from employee paychecks.

“California needs tort reform, and labor laws to be in sync with federal labor laws instead of more restrictive to the state’s employers,” he said. Poizner also insisted again that the business permitting process in the state must be simplified and streamlined.

Poizner stressed that while liberals ask how he will pay for his reforms, he said that “tax reductions always result in overall increases in spending as well as creating more tax revenue to the state through the additional spending. The loosening up of regulations and taxing on all businesses – large and small – results in dramatic increases in state revenue, while increasing regulations and taxes on business only serve to strangle commerce in the state.”

And how does he plan to implement such changes? “I will use the full powers bestowed on the governor from day one,” he said.  He plans on making use of the line-item veto as often as is necessary “to prevent the kind of spending the Democrats keep presenting.”  Poizner said he will make conservative and thoughtful appointments and if the Legislature proves uncooperative, he will take his message directly to the voters through initiatives.

CalWatchdog has also asked for interviews with candidates Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown, but as yet, they have not replied.

PHOTO: INDIAN WELLS — SEPT 26: Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner at the CRP Convention, Indian Wells, California, September 26, 2009. (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)


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