LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A town hall meeting featuring the California gubernatorial candidates in the 2018 election took place at USC Saturday morning.
The event featured four Democrats and two Republicans running for office. Democratic participants were Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Treasurer John Chiang and former state Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin. The Republicans on stage were Assemblyman Travis Allen and attorney John Cox.
Hosted by The Empowerment Congress and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the debate was held at the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. It got underway at 9 a.m.
As KCAL9/CBS2’s Laurie Perez reports, immigration was a hot topic and the candidates held nothing back on the first question — reacting to President Trump’s recent reported comments on Haitian immigrants.
“Clearly he’s a racist,” said Eastin.
“I don’t have the luxury of calling somebody a name and then deflecting the issue,” said Cox.
The candidates also explained how they’d work with the president.
“How can I work with him? With great difficulty obviously,” said Villaraigosa.
“We’re gonna challenge President Trump on the issues that are critical to all Californians,” said Chiang.
Their responses drew a mix of applause and boos.
“The question for all of us — are we gonna be the center of the resistance or are we gonna be a positive alternative to the agenda being pushed by the Trump Administration?,” said Newsome.
“All the Democrats on the stage want to deflect from the true issue, which is illegal immigration,” said Allen.
With questions from how to fix the state’s transportation problems and helping the homeless to how they would be different than Governor Brown in handling natural disasters like the recent wildfires, the pack divided mostly along party lines, but not always. The biggest distinctions and the most shouting from the crowd came while answering if they support single payer healthcare.
“Single payer won’t work unless we get significant contributions from the federal government,” said Chiang.
As for whether the candidates are doing enough to distinguish themselves, it depends on who you ask.
“I hear a lot of politicians just repeating the same thing,” said L.A. voter Elizabeth Vanach. “We want to improve this or that but they don’t really have a plan.”
“I thought it was great,” said high school senior Anthony Hidalgo. “I got to know all the candidates and I feel more informed and ready to make a decision.”
A small group of protesters were outside the town hall asking candidates to support the closure of the controversial Aliso Canyon natural gas facility, the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history.
Starting in October 2015, a ruptured well spewed 109,000 tons of gas, forcing roughly 8,000 families in Porter Ranch from their homes. Many complained of health issues that included cancer, nausea and nosebleeds. The leak was not capped until February 2016.
The facility was largely out of service until July of last year, when state agencies cleared the way for the Southern California Gas Company to resume injections of natural gas to store at the facility.
June 5 is the state primary. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November election.