California

California’s 2022 primary election is on Tuesday, June 7.

GAVIN NEWSOM for Governor

Governor Gavin Newsom has disappointed me. He’s been lukewarm on housing bills that would achieve the ambitious goals he ran on, and his budget this year calls for an atrocious $11 billion in vehicle subsidies, between cutting the gas tax (which I’ve fought) and giving money to vehicle owners (which I’ve researched). Unfortunately, I wouldn’t trust any of his 25 challengers with managing the world’s fifth-largest economy.

The closest is Michael Shellenberger, who describes himself as a “Homelessness Policy Advocate” on the ballot, but who is probably best known as a nuclear energy advocate. In the 2018 primary, I would have voted for Shellenberger on the issues, but instead chose to vote strategically for the number-two-polling Democrat to ensure a Democrat won the general (it didn’t work, but Newsom won handily anyway). Back then, Shellenberger won me over by being the only candidate to support SB 827, the failed state bill that would have legalized apartments near transit, and taking on special interests by advocating reforms to CEQA, pensions, and teacher pay.

Today, Shellenberger has, let’s say, leaned into controversy. His latest project was a book titled “San Fransicko”, about crime and homelessness in the state’s densest city. His campaign website riffs on these themes too, with tropes about us inviting homeless people, but fundamentally I think blaming homelessness on anything but our housing shortage is empirically wrong—by a large margin. Focusing his ire on the state’s densest city also risks implying that density itself is the problem.

As Scott Alexander said in his review of all 26 candidates, I am really split on this guy. From a pure consequentialist perspective, even if all Shellenberger did was keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open, it would plausibly have a larger positive impact than the marginal homelessness policy changes a governor can make (it’s mostly local, except funding, which has to go somewhere). If he could also deliver on more housing, streamlining, public finance, and educator incentives, it would be well worth basically any other problems he might cause. But I doubt he could deliver on all that, and I worry his demeanor would get weaponized by those who oppose his goals. His shift from pragmatist to anti-lefty may feel justified, but it makes me wonder how he could evolve in the future.

To be clear, none of this matters. In November, Newsom will face a Republican, either GOP-endorsed Brian Dahle or high-fundraising Jenny Rae Le Roux, and Newsom will win. The ideas of 2018 Mike Shellenberger (he’s still in there) deserve more attention. But this state is too important to risk; go with the known quantity.

ELENI KOUNALAKIS for Lieutenant Governor

I voted for now-Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis in the 2018 primary, while suggesting that California join the seven other states without a Lieutenant Governor office. Since her election, I haven’t really heard anything noteworthy about her (again indicating that we’d be fine without the position), but now that she’s running for re-election, she has no serious Democratic opponents.

SHIRLEY WEBER for Secretary of State

Governor Newsom appointed Shirley Weber to fill Alex Padilla’s spot when he filled Kamala Harris’s Senate seat. As GrowSF has described, Weber has an impressive career and a record of valuing performance in the public sector. Re-elect her.

LANHEE CHEN for Controller

As GrowSF described, multiple candidates are qualified to fill the shoes of Betty Yee (whom I voted for in 2018). Yee has endorsed Board of Equalization member Malia Cohen (whom I also voted for in 2018) and Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin. State Senator Steve Glazer has the strongest legislative experience, and I personally admire his commitment to a renters’ tax credit expansion he’s proposed in multiple sessions.

However, given the Controller’s role as a fiscal watchdog, I’m voting for the leading candidate who promises to hold Sacramento’s Democratic supermajority to account—maybe even challenge them. Chen, a Republican, worked at the Department of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, then as policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, then was appointed by Barack Obama to the Social Security Advisory Board, and is now a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. I prefer Democratic Party policies, and so I almost always vote for Democrats for policymaking roles, but Lanhee Chen will provide the necessary independence for this non-policymaking role.

FIONA MA for Treasurer

Fiona Ma is the incumbent, sole Democrat, and most serious and qualified candidate in the race. I voted for her opponent, Vivek Viswanathan, in 2018, but she faces no similar challengers this time around.

ROB BONTA for Attorney General

Since his appointment, Rob Bonta has used the powers of the office to address the housing crisis by taking action against cities that flaunt state housing law. This has earned him YIMBY Action’s sole endorsement for statewide office this election, and it should earn him your vote.

RICARDO LARA for Insurance Commissioner

I basically agree with GrowSF here: incumbent Ricardo Lara isn’t great, especially his move to force insurance companies to cover high-risk properties (he also wrote legislation around this in the Assembly before becoming Insurance Commissioner). In fact, I think I made the wrong call voting for him over Steve Poizner in 2018. But nobody else is better this cycle.

MICHELA ALIOTO-PIER for Board of Equalization, District 2

As I wrote in 2018, the Board of Equalization ostensibly doesn’t do much and I’d prefer if it were abolished, but the election can be important to the extent that members move on to other political office. Indeed, the candidate I endorsed then, Malia Cohen, won her seat and is now running for Controller.

The two Democrats running are former San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier and former Assemblymember Sally Lieber. While they seem similarly qualified on paper, Lieber doesn’t seem to be running a serious campaign; her website doesn’t even list her endorsements (given the absence of policy impact the role involves, this is the main signal).

TONY THURMOND for Superintendent of Public Instruction

In 2018, I voted for Marshall Tuck for Superintendent, a reformer who narrowly lost to Tony Thurmond. Thurmond supports childcare subsidies and teacher housing over charter schools and rewards for high-performing teachers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any serious liberal challengers, and so he’d be most qualified for the job.