by John | January 22, 2014 4:28 pm
Republican Neel Kashkari launched his campaign for governor on Tuesday, promising that, if elected, he’ll focus on two issues: jobs and education.
The former assistant U.S. treasury secretary, who is best known for his role in the controversial 2008 Wall Street bailout, criticized Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown for a record that has left millions of Californians unemployed and in poverty.
“Jobs and education. Jobs and education. That’s my platform, ” Kashkari said in a keynote address to the Sacramento Business Review at Sacramento State University. “Our schools, employment rate, and small business climate are ranked near the bottom, and we have the highest poverty rate in the country. The status quo our leaders defend is absolutely devastating for millions of our neighbors.”
Kashkari has never held public office and spent 2013 making the usual rounds meeting with the state’s prominent political leaders, elected officials and donors. But it’s his unconventional focus on poor and working class Californians left behind in the economic reovery that has many Republicans excited about Kashkari’s prospects.
“I’ve spent the last year talking with Californians about the challenges facing families, communities and small businesses across the state to determine how I can help give others the same opportunities America has given my family,” said Kashkari, who has spent a night in a homeless shelter and days with farm workers. “Today, the gift of a good education and the opportunity it creates are out of reach for millions of struggling Californians.”
Kashkari has repeatedly pointed to the state’s poverty rate, the country’s highest, as evidence of Brown’s failed record. In November, Brown downplayed the state’s record poverty rate in an interview on National Public Radio’s, “All Things Considered.”
“California is a magnet,” said Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian. “People come here from all over the world — close by from Mexico and Central America and further out from Asia and the Middle East. So California beckons and people come. And then, of course, a lot of people who arrive are not that skilled and they take lower paying jobs, and that reflects itself in the economic distribution.”
Brown added, “So, yeah, it’s there. But it’s really the flip side of California’s incredible attractiveness and prosperity.”
Some political analysts say Brown’s overly rosy picture could be his biggest vulnerability in 2014.
“Californians think the state’s economy is stuck in neutral and that the prospects for future economic growth are dim at best,” writes Bloomberg columnist Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “And if he continues to ignore Californians’ interest in real plans to improve the jobs picture, Brown may find himself fighting for his political life later this year.”
Kaskari’s authentic style has distinguished him from previous GOP statewide candidates. 
“Kashkari is packaging Republican issues in a way that’s designed to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally vote for Republicans,” observes UT San Diego columnist Steven Greenhut, who was impressed by Kashkari’s passion in a recent interview.
The son of immigrants from India, Kashkari grew up in Akron, Ohio, before attending the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Kashkari to the Department of Treasury, where he helped write legislation to address the 2008 financial crisis. It’s Kashkari’s role as an architect of the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $700 billion bailout to Wall Street bankers, that has already become a central criticism of his candidacy.
A spokeswoman for conservative Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, a Republican also running for governor, welcomed Kashkari to the race with a jab at his record as “the bailout chief.”
“Neel Kashkari was responsible for taking nearly $1 trillion of taxpayer money and giving it to his cronies in the banking industry,” said Jennifer Kerns, manager and spokeswoman for the Donnelly campaign. “We’ll be educating voters about the impact that Mr. Kashkari’s policies have had on Californians. There isn’t a ‘tarp’ big enough to hide his record.”
Donnelly’s criticism was echoed by a similar attack from Brown’s campaign — perhaps the only issue on which the Tea Party favorite agrees with the incumbent Democrat.
“He was a banker at Goldman Sachs, and then his one public policy act was to hand $700 billion to Wall Street banks,” Dan Newman, an advisor to Brown, told Capitol Public Radio. “So it’s hard to imagine how that makes one qualified to be governor of California.”
While his opponents believe he is vulnerable on the issue, Kashkari doesn’t think so. The Kashkari campaign is quick to point out that the Wall Street bailout program recouped all the money spent and earned a $13 billion profit for taxpayers.
“If we could break the back of the worst economic crisis our country has faced in 80 years, then I know we can break the back of the crisis that is destroying opportunity for California families and kids,” Kashkari said in a statement.”If we could get Republicans and Democrats to work together in Washington, D.C., then I know we can get them to work together in Sacramento.”
Last week, the GOP primary field winnowed as former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado suspended his campaign. No matter which Republican candidate makes the November run-off, he is unlikely to defeat the Democratic incumbent. According to a Field Poll in December, Brown enjoys a 58 percent approval rating. By comparison, Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, left office with an approval rating of just 22 percent.
In addition to the major party candidates, author Luis Rodriguez and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan are candidates representing the Green and Peace & Freedom Parties, respectively.
This will be the first gubernatorial campaign under the state’s new Top Two rules. Although candidates can identify themselves with a party, they don’t have to. The June primary will reduce the field to just two candidates for the November ballot. Assuming Brown gains one slot, the second slot will be fought over by Kashkari, Donnelly, Rodriguez, Sheehan and other potential candidates.
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