The great 2018 Assembly District 16 debate

I watched this debate and came away very impressed by both the candidates and the moderators. The questions were direct, specific, and the candidates responded appropriately. Unlike most of our national debates, it was refreshing to watch this and actually learn something. 

For those who didn’t have time to watch, I’ll give the play-by-play below and my two cents. 


Bauer-Kahan opened by describing her experience as an environmental attorney, a mom of three children, a law professor, and a descendant of refugees. She describes how her grandparents fled Austria during WW2 and made their way to the US. A stranger took her family in and Bauer-Kahan explained how she continues to strive to pay that forward in her professional and volunteer work. The Trump election triggered her to step up, particularly after the administration’s first travel ban of predominantly Muslim countries. Bauer-Kahan concluded by touting her endorsements and described her platform in broad strokes.

Baker said her family inspired her to run for state assembly for the first time in 2014 and continues inspire her to remain in public office. She believed her kids, family, and community deserved better representation in Sacramento. She strives to reach across the isle, will listen to any good idea, and work hard for good policy regardless of party. She’s been in office for four years now and believes she has been successful at implementing this approach. She gives the example of passing legislation that forces the University of California to put in-state applicants ahead of out-of-state applicants. She touched on another theme of making sure local governments have control over development decisions, particularly around BART. 


Baker said she has an identity that’s deeper than her party affiliation. She listens to good ideas regardless of where they come from. Baker’s brand of Republicanism stems from presidents Lincoln and Reagan. It includes a restrained government that defers as much as possible to the local level, embraces free market ideas, and treats people as individuals. For example, Baker voted for the state’s cap-and-trade legislation to combat climate change because it is a market-based approach rather than command-and-control from a bureaucratic agency in Sacramento. She points out that the first governor to embrace cap-and-trade was Ronald Reagan. She concluded by mentioning that she has broken with her party’s platform around gun control.

Bauer-Kahan said she is a lifelong and proud Democrat with especially strong knowledge of climate change. She said she’s endorsed by the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. She critiqued Baker’s voting record and said she too hopes to get back to a bipartisan approach in Sacramento, particularly when it comes to budgeting issues. Bauer-Kahan said she believes we can push for progressive policies while still maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Baker requested a one-minute rebuttal and explained that she’s proud of her environmental voting record. She explained that she’ll never get a Sierra Club endorsement because she won’t fill out their questionnaires. She said Bauer-Kahan should share her answers to those questionnaires. Bauer-Kahan continued to critique Baker’s voting record. 


Bauer-Kahan acknowledged that traffic is a big problem: roads need to be fixed and transportation needs to be funded. She said she supports SB 1 which originally imposed the increase in gas tax and vehicle license fees and is currently funding transportation projects here. She opposes the repeal of the SB 1 fees (Prop 6 on the November 2018 ballot).

Baker opened by saying that she opposed SB 1 not because it’s a tax but because the state should spend its existing funds more wisely. She objected to SB 1 not reforming Caltrain, not having an independent inspector general, and indexing the tax to inflation, allowing it to increase automatically. She said that SB 1 funds can’t be used to expand and widen roads, as Bauer-Kahan said in her statement. Baker finally said that SB 1 funds aren’t restricted for use on transportation. She said billions of dollars a year will get diverted to other uses. 


Baker explained AB 2923, stating that it gives BART exclusive control over land within a half mile of its stations, which would impact many cities in our assembly district. She mentioned her partnership with Senator Glazer in opposing the bill. She says AB 2923 is unconstitutional: local cities and counties are the exclusive bodies that decide housing. Further, she says our local cities are already building plenty of housing. She says cities are better at doing it and BART should focus on running its transportation system, not doing housing projects. Finally, she said that one of the authors of the bill and a key ally are strong supporters of Bauer-Kahan and donated to her campaign. 

Bauer-Kahan says she also is opposed to AB 2923 but acknowledged her friendship with the bill’s co-authors. Bauer-Kahan says we create one unit of housing for every seven jobs but local cities ultimately need to make these decisions. Bauer-Kahan explained that her relationship with other Democrats who support this issue will help lead to better policies. 


Bauer-Kahan opposes the twin tunnels because it’s too damaging to the environment and also is fiscally irresponsible.  She opposes Prop 3 because the state recently passed a water bond already and believes that money should be spent before requesting additional funds. Instead, she says the state should support water conservation, improved water capture, and prevention of water pollution.

Baker also opposes the twin tunnels because it will not save water and will not help the environment. Baker mentioned that she was a key Republican vote in getting the water bond passed in the primary. Baker supports more local water storage including the raising of a local dam. She said we also need to promote water recycling at the local level. Baker supports “smart desalinazation” that produces water in an energy efficient way and helping to put new pipes in where needed. 


Baker said this is an area of contrast between her and Bauer-Kahan. Baker believes in pension reform in a way that preserves the pensions already earned but changes pensions going forward. She said you can’t fix unfunded pension liabilities with taxes. She suggests public employees have the option to have a 401k. She said pensions should also be pre-funded. 

Bauer-Kahan acknowledged the problem. She says the largest issue is that pensions are overly optimistic of their estimates for future growth and that leads to them not being fully funded. 


Bauer-Kahan said she has children in the public schools and is a product of the public schools herself. She acknowledged that not all teachers are great but also said that teachers are often underpaid and not able to live locally due to housing costs. She explained that there is a process to remove teachers but principals need to be educated about how to do it. 

Baker said she supports teacher tenure reform and has voted on Democratic and Republican bills to do this reform. Baker said that the removal process Bauer-Kahan mentioned costs about $500,000 per teacher and is broken. Baker said it was teacher tenure reform that got her to run in the first place. She disagrees with the current process for teacher removal and the seniority system currently in place regarding which teachers must be let go first in a budget crunch. Baker said bills that she pushed for didn’t pass because the California Teachers Association doesn’t want to change the status quo. She says she hasn’t received any money from them but they have supported Bauer-Kahan. 

Bauer-Kahan asked for a rebuttal and said that she’s proud to supported by the teachers. As a teacher herself, she said she’s sensitive to the fact that all teachers get critiqued and she doesn’t want to see teachers removed because of one angry parent. She said she won’t be beholden to special interests and pointed out that Baker is supported by oil companies. 

Baker then rebutted as well. She said that the CTA gives endorsements also by questionnaire and will only support candidates who agree with them on certain policy issues. She asked Bauer-Kahan to release her answers to those questions. She said that Bauer-Kahan can’t be truly independent if she won’t release her answers. 


Baker said she opposes high speed rail and has carried legislation to end it. She said money can go into better places or not take it from Californians in the first place. She said the project is over-budget and under-funded because none of the private money promised for the project has materialized. Baker sits on the transportation committee and said she knows it will not actually be high-speed. Baker says her position is in contrast to Bauer-Kahan who has supported this project. She tied this back to the gas and car tax because she believes the high speed rail project absorb this money. 

Bauer-Kahan opened by saying that she supports alternative transportation. Bauer-Kahan said that the budget problems are new and therefore should be put back out to the voters to decide. 


Bauer-Kahan said that it’s time for the legislature to acknowledge the movement. She pointed to Baker’s opposition to whistleblower bills and said she’s glad those bills passed and will protect women in the workplace. 

Baker said she was actually a co-author of the whistleblower bill and co-author of another bill to extend the statute of limitations of sexual harassment claims. She said she opposed some other bills due to technicalities around privacy. She said her own campaign had a sexual harassment policy. Finally, she said she co-authored a bill that prevented politicians from paying off sexual harassment lawsuits using taxpayer money. 


Baker said wildfire vulnerability is not just for the mountain areas, but also for the Oak plains at elevations throughout Contra Costa County. She said she has been a leader in her party to have rigorous aggressive climate change goals. She noted that one week of the Napa fire emitted enough carbon for one year’s worth of transportation emissions. She said we need to have better forest and fuel management throughout the state. She broke with her Republican colleagues in supporting funding for healthy forests. She said she also passed legislation supporting local fire departments . She concluded in saying that our tree forest density has more than quadrupled in past 150 years. 

Bauer-Kahan lamented the impact of forest fires. She said that forest and fuel management is important. She also said it’s also important to allow fire departments to pre-position teams so they can get in place ahead of the fires. 

Baker added that $25-60 million per year is already allocated to pre-positioning due to her support of legislation that funded it. She mentioned that the groups supporting Bauer-Kahan opposed this bill and if Bauer-Kahan is expected to vote with them 100% of the time then she would not have supported it. Bauer-Kahan replied that she is running to represent the community, not any particular special interest groups. 


Bauer-Kahan opened by saying that she believes firmly that there should be no guns whatsoever on school campuses and mentioned that Baker doesn’t support that position. She described her volunteer work to promote safe storage of guns. 

Baker described her record. She said she has supported and co-authored four-dozen bills to promote gun safety and common-sense gun control. She co-authored legislation to set up the gun violence research center at UC Davis. She said she’s the only Republican in the State of California and possibly the country who has carried legislation sponsored by the Brady campaign and supported by Democrats and signed by Governor Brown. She said she has an “F” grade with the NRA and has never taken money from them. She said she is very proud of her record. 

Bauer-Kahan rebutted and pointed out that she wants no guns on campus 100% of the time and said Baker voted against SB 4246, the large capacity ammunition ban. Baker responded that regarding the high capacity magazines, they’ve been banned in California since 2000. Baker voted for the bill written by Senator Glazer that got rid of them but it was a violation of the Dickens Clause and hasn’t yet been decided by the Supreme Court. She said she voted against another on gun violence restraining orders bill that was ultimately vetoed by Governor Brown due to a lack of data. She said she’ll support it now. 


Baker said that transportation infrastructure, education system, and funding schools in a way that is sustainable is most important. However, pension costs are a dark cloud over our state budget. Pension liabilities could be anywhere from $250 to $500 billion and this will affect schools, fire, transportation, and everything we do. She also said housing and environment can be addressed with bipartisan support.

Bauer-Kahan said that transportation, housing, and education funding show we’re not spending our money where our values are. We need to support students after they graduate from college. More globally, Bauer-Kahan said that protecting a woman’s right to choose is important to protect at the state level. 

Baker said that she agrees with Bauer-Kahan on education and wanted to emphasize that she voted for every one of the bills that Planned Parenthood sponsored this year. Bauer-Kahan agreed that we need to check facts and emphasized that Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List are supporting her rather than Baker. She said that Baker did not support the FACT Act or the update to sex education in schools. Bauer-Kahan said she will vote for these issues 100% of the time. 


Baker said that she contrasts with Bauer-Kahan on education policy, pension policy, high-speed rail, and Prop 13. She said the two most different points between them are that Baker has a record of being the most bipartisan legislator in Sacramento. She said it’s hard because you get beat up on both sides and as a result she’s been endorsed by Democrats and Republicans. Second, she said she’s independent. She said some groups will endorse a candidate because they’ve promised to vote a certain way in exchange for the endorsement. Baker said if you do fill them out, share the answers with the voters. Baker concluded by saying that she’s proud of her endorsement by the East Bay Times. 

Bauer-Kahan said that everyone should vote and should vote with a lot of knowledge. She said there’s some misrepresentation about her on Prop 13. Bauer-Kahan said that she will never touch it. She said it’s important that voters understand how she was raised and the values she’s held since she was a little girl. She said she has nothing to hide and cares about her community and wants representation that also cares first and foremost about the community. 

MY $0.02

I thought Baker won the debate. She gave stronger answers with more detail and clearer positioning. I came away from the debate with an understanding of what makes Baker tick. I get it. I don’t agree with all of it, but I get it. Bauer-Kahan, in contrast, gave comparably bland liberal positions without illuminating an underlying philosophy. Bauer-Kahan repeatedly said that she’s running in order to represent her community, but which community is that? There is no majority party in Assembly District 16. Democrats have more registrations but there are a lot of independents. So saying she’ll “represent” her community is not going to help her make tough decisions. Especially since a majority of the voting community agrees with and has voted for Baker. 

Let me be clear — I’m a Democrat and always have been and always will be — but that doesn’t mean I always need to vote Democrat. I wrote this post primarily to force myself to analyze this debate in gross detail. Although I don’t agree with everything that Baker said, I thought she presented herself better than Bauer-Kahan. Baker clearly had a deeper grasp of the policy details and the context and history to put policies into perspective.

Additionally, while I disagreed with Baker on Prop 6, the repeal of last year’s SB 1, I commend Baker for having a spine. Polling has Baker on the wrong side of this issue — a survey released by the PPIC shows Prop 6 trailing by 13 points — but Democrats (myself included) like to say that politicians shouldn’t choose sides based on polls. I respect Baker for choosing the unpopular position even though I disagree with it. 

In contrast, I thought Bauer-Kahan’s response to this question rambled and she failed to hammer Baker for opposing SB 1. Bauer-Kahan spoke first on this question and didn’t mention Baker’s vote. It could have been a solid debate hit but she missed it.

I give Bauer-Kahan credit for getting into the ring with a formidable opponent. I recognize that she did a better job than I could have done and I don’t know anyone else in our county who could have done better. Baker has the advantage of doing this professionally for four years now. Baker is very good at debating and that’s all the more reason for Bauer-Kahan to have come in better prepared. 

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