The State of California: Grappling With Multiple Crises

Doug Sovern
June 01, 2020 - 11:48 pm
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    After a weekend of protests—both peaceful and violent—around California, state leaders are juggling a number of overlapping crises.

    Governor Gavin Newsom gave an impassioned plea on Monday afternoon asking for an end to the violence and looting, while amplifying the message coming from protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    For Monday’s “The State of California,” KCBS Radio news anchors Jeff Bell and Patti Reising co-hosted with Sonoma State Political Science Professor David McCuan (in place of KCBS Radio poltical reporter Doug Sovern, who had the week off).

    The state is currently grappling with a pandemic, civil unrest, and extensive job loss all while working toward an economic recovery. How is the state balancing these competing challenges?

    David McCuan: Right now, what we’re seeing is a focus on the budget and what that looks like, but more broadly this really reflects what’s happening in terms of the fundamental value of American politics. 

    It’s fiscal stress. There’s never enough money to do in the public sector what we ask the public sector to do, framed by uncertainty with discretion.

    So when we talk to policy makers or politicians, as we’ve done in this series, we’re going to ask them how they deal with fiscal stress uncertainty and discretion in these times.

    For more on all of this, California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, joined "The State Of California."

    Lt. Governor, what was it like for you to watch what was happening across the state, as California’s second-in-charge?

    Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis: Thanks for asking. I’ll tell you, I’m a mother and when I watched that video and I heard George Floyd call out for his mother, my heart broke. The emotions that video has stirred up in everyone who watched it have been tremendous, and the fact that we’re having a massive outpouring of grief and anger and demanding change is appropriate. It has to lead to real change.

    I think what the governor emphasized today, what Mayor Breed emphasized in San Francisco today, is that trashing our neighborhoods, breaking into our businesses and looting, that is not going to help, particularly when our economy is struggling so much with COVID-19.

    As we look at this, and when we look at the upheaval of the pandemic and what’s happening across the country American cities, you talked about the grief and anger that’s out there. Maybe you could talk about the links between inequality, race and poverty, and how we see these things crop up continually in America. What can a Lt. Governor and politicians do about these things?

    EK: So when I ran for Lt. Governor, I visited all 58 counties. I wanted to really have an opportunity and get out there and hear stories. It’s evident that even here in California—the 5th largest economy in the world—there is a divide, and that divide has a correlation in race.

    In the Central Valley, there were neighborhoods that didn’t have clean drinking water, people let me go into their homes and see the water that came out of their tap, and we have debates over water in the state all the time, but how often do we really get to see the personal impact of inequality when it comes to something like the ability to get clean water?

    We are primarily a democratic state for a reason. The reason is I think politicians do see inequality and do have representation in Sacramento that represents those communities and cares about trying to close this divide. But as the professor said, there is such a thing as scarcity. We do have to make choices when it comes to our budget. I think California does a very good job at understanding the problem and trying to serve the underserved, but boy when you have an economic crisis, it all just comes home, and you realize how much more we have to do. 

    Such a full plate of such heartbreaking crises. Let’s talk short term, what do you focus on in the next week or two?

    EK: I think right now we need to get this very, very difficult national trauma of seeing a man, on all of our TV screens, dying right in front of our eyes. It’s so traumatic. It’s so horrible. Not to mention it comes after a string of incidents that were similar. We have to get through this trauma, and we will. But when we come to the other side, the question is: where is Congress on policies that will really, in a meaningful way, deal with police brutality and what can we do to make sure that people of color have every bit of access to higher education and good jobs?

    Again, I think we do a pretty good job in this state, but there’s more we can do. I sit on the CSU and UC boards, you may have seen we did away with the SAT as a requirement. We recognized this was keeping students out who deserved a chance at higher education. That, I think is going to continue, but we also have to deal with the cost of higher education as an issue of accessibility, but education is key at a more basic level.

    People need food on the table, so we’ve gotten very innovative through the COVID-19 crisis and the Food to Families Program and using schools as food banks to try to get nutritious food to families. I think we’re going to have to double down on those efforts, as well.

    When we look at government response and policies, dealing with those things in a very divisive era is really tough. So, as we kind of drill down into this, how we provide hope for individuals as these protests or this divisive nature of our politics is going on, how do we provide hope? As an example, what should law enforcement be doing better and what can law enforcement do to provide that hope, especially with communities that feel victimized in this environment?

    EK: I think the level of trauma of this incident is such that rebuilding hope is going to be a part of this process, as well, because we’ve been here before, and we’ve heard leaders give helpful visions for the future. And yet here we are and it's happened again in such an extraordinarily heartless and brutal way, so I think hope has to be rooted in the real possibility of change.