Kevin Faulconer on Covid Mandates, Housing and the California G.O.P.
Kevin Faulconer, a former San Diego mayor, says his collaborative approach to government will resonate with Californians weary of partisan tribalism.,
This G.O.P. candidate’s hopes may rest with California Democrats.
By Jill Cowan
- Sept. 10, 2021, 8:27 a.m. ET
He was the mayor of San Diego, California’s second-largest city, for the better part of a decade until he reached his term limit last year, praised in some quarters for being an increasingly rare moderate Republican in a state where the G.O.P. has struggled.
But many Californians could not pick Kevin Faulconer out of a lineup.
That has been a bit of a problem for Mr. Faulconer, who is one of more than 40 candidates vying to take Gov. Gavin Newsom’s place in Tuesday’s recall election. One recent poll shows Mr. Faulconer at a very distant second place to Larry Elder, the conservative radio host and Republican front-runner.
Unlike the other candidates, though, Mr. Faulconer has experience in government. In recent weeks, Democratic strategists and The Los Angeles Times’s editorial board have urged Californians to vote no on the recall question, and — rather than leave blank the question on which candidate should replace Mr. Newsom if he is recalled — “hold your nose and select” Mr. Faulconer.
Mr. Faulconer’s candidacy in the recall has been widely viewed as a chance to get his name in front of voters before running in the regular race for governor next year, which he announced early this year that he would join — regardless of whether a recall took place.
Mr. Faulconer said in an interview he was adamant that his collaborative “common-sense” approach to governance and focus on policy will resonate with Californians weary of partisan tribalism. And that, he said, is what he hopes will set him apart.
“My one goal is continuing to get out my message of someone who’s ready to lead, has the experience and will actually bring real solutions to California,” he said. “And somebody who knows how to bring people together.”
Here’s what else he had to say, lightly edited and condensed:
I’ll jump right into it: If you’re elected governor, would you keep mask, vaccine or other pandemic-related mandates in place?
I would say, first of all, I want everyone to get the vaccine. Every opportunity I get, I stress that — my family is vaccinated. That is the best way for us to get on the other side of this pandemic.
But you can’t mandate your way out of Covid-19. So I do not support mandates or bans, either way.
You have to let local health officials make those determinations based upon the facts on the ground in their area. Los Angeles is going to be different than Sacramento, which is going to be different than the Bay Area. So my policy is one of education, education, education.
So would you be in favor of lifting vaccine mandates for educators?
I’m a big believer in letting the local facts on the ground dictate the proper steps to take based upon the health conditions in that community.
You would leave that up to district officials or local public health officials?
I would leave that to local public health officials. I think we saw 90 percent of educators had gotten vaccinated without a mandate. Again, I think that speaks to the power of education.
What would you say to people in communities where public health officials have been threatened for doing their jobs and imposing restrictions, and where residents opposed to mask mandates have successfully pushed back against them?
I would say the science doesn’t change based on politics. And I again urge you to trust the science and the local conditions in that community.
So would you immediately reverse all the mandates that apply to state workers?
I would allow local officials to make those decisions for themselves. I believe that testing is a responsible solution. Again, I want everyone to get vaccinated, and I absolutely believe that helps reduce the vaccine hesitancy if you’re not mandating everything.
You’ve talked a lot about better addressing homelessness than Governor Newsom. What would your priorities be?
We took very significant action in San Diego to change the dynamics. It was compassionate and it was firm. I did not allow tent encampments on the sidewalks in San Diego and in our public spaces because I believe if you let somebody live in an unsafe, unclean, unsanitary environment, you’re condemning them to die there. And we’re better than that.
We were the only big city in California where we actually reduced homelessness by double digits. I set up a series of shelters in San Diego, and I made a deal with the community. I said, “It’s going to be cleaner and safer with this shelter than before it was there.”
I created a new division of the San Diego Police Department called the Neighborhood Policing Division and it made a dramatic difference. These were officers, so our police officers, but in khaki pants and blue polo shirts. They became the No. 1 entity to refer people to the shelters.
I’m going to lead by example as governor and do the same thing. I believe that every human being has a right to shelter. I also believe that when we provide that shelter, you have an obligation to use it, and I enforced that.
During your tenure as mayor, San Diego pushed forward some of the most aggressive laws in the state for creating accessory dwelling units on single-family lots. And the state’s Senate Bill 9 just passed, which allows duplexes in single-family neighborhoods. Do you think the state should go further? Do you support S.B. 9?
We need to produce more housing, period. And one of the things that this governor has completely ignored is reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, which is used to stop housing projects in California. It takes too much time. It takes too much extra dollars. It makes it more expensive.
But really quickly, what’s your stance on S.B. 9?
I believe our best opportunity is in our multifamily zones. What you don’t want to do is eliminate all single-family zoning, as some in the Legislature are advocating. I think our biggest opportunity to have the density where you want it is along our transit zones. And that’s exactly what we did in San Diego, with our Complete Communities that we passed.
So do you support S.B. 9?
You can’t eliminate single-family zoning. No.
In 2016, you opposed former President Donald Trump. In 2020, you supported him. Where do you stand now?
I did in 2020, and my vote was based upon the economy. I haven’t interacted with him since I was mayor.
I think Gavin Newsom wants to make this campaign all about the former president. I think what Californians want is a governor who’s going to focus on California. The former president didn’t call himself the homeless czar like Gavin Newsom. It’s not the former president who’s not moving forward on water storage in California, wildfire reduction. This recall is really a referendum on Gavin Newsom’s failures.
The former president, as you said, is not in charge of California. At the same time, he is clearly influencing the Republican Party across the country. What do you think the Republican Party stands for now? And what do you align with, if not former President Trump?
I believe we need to make it more affordable for families in California. That’s why I put forward the largest middle-class tax cut in California history.
People are voting with their feet. They’re leaving our state because it’s too expensive. I believe we need to make it easier to build and start a small business. It’s not having a carbon copy of the national party. I call myself a California Republican.
What does that mean to you? Democrats have a huge advantage in terms of registration in California — how does the California Republican Party need to shift?
The registration in the city of San Diego mirrors that of California as a whole. How do you win in California? You win by focusing on issues and common sense. You have to build coalitions. That’s exactly what I did as mayor.
That’s what this campaign has been built on, which is if you’re a Republican, I want your vote. If you’re a Democrat, I want your vote. If you’re an independent, I want your vote. And I think nobody else who’s running has also had to work with a legislature or, in my case, a majority-Democrat City Council.
And so all of the housing reforms that you and I have just talked about, all of the homeless action that we took, all of the action on public safety, which I was very proud of, all of my budgets — every single one had to be approved by a majority-Democrat legislature.
How did you feel about extending pandemic aid to undocumented workers, many of whom were essential. And would you reverse any legislation that gives undocumented people access to health care or driver’s licenses?
My focus would have been obviously on Californians.
You don’t think undocumented residents of California are Californians?
I do, but like I said, legal citizens would have been my focus.
I think that our immigration policy is completely broken at the federal level. And I’ve supported comprehensive immigration reform very loudly for a very long time. As governor I would advocate for that, because we know that the effects of a broken immigration policy affect us so incredibly much here in California.
If you don’t become governor in the recall, you’re planning to run again next year.
I was absolutely planning to run in 2022 when I started. I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think that California was ready for a change, that we should have a competition of ideas. We’ve had one-party rule in California now for over a decade. And I believe that that has led to just a state going in the wrong direction.