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Kevin Faulconer on wildfires, Jan. 6 and crime

Republican recall gubernatorial candidate Kevin Faulconer was San Diego mayor from 2014 to 2020. There he built a record as a tough-on-crime but at times socially moderate mayor. As talk heated up about running for governor in 2020, he worked to burnish his conservative credentials. This included a well-reported photo op with President Trump.

In the recall race, he has continued to court strict conservatives including speaking at Devin Nunes’ Freedom Fest fundraiser in May, which is discussed below. There Nunes called on Republicans to not speak to 95% of media outlets who aren’t professed allies of the conservative cause. So we appreciate Faulconer for not heeding that advice and talking with Sacto Politico on a wide range of issues.

This Q&A also concludes the Sacto Politico’s series with the top GOP recall candidates. You can read Doug Ose’s Q&A here and John Cox’s here. We’ve also offered – and will continue to offer – Gov. Newsom the same opportunity to answer questions in this space.

SactoPolitico: In about 30 days, mail-in ballots for the recall vote will mail out (Aug. 15). How likely will there be a debate among the top recall candidates?

Kevin Faulconer: I think the person who should debate is Gavin Newsom, and I doubt he will because I think he wants to continue to hide from a debate and tough questions. I am eager and focused on debating him, and I think that is what Californians would want to see.

S/P: In the absence of Newsom agreeing to a debate, will you debate with the other top recall candidates?

Faulconer: I will. I will.

Are any plans solidifying yet for that debate?

Faulconer: No, not yet.

S/P: Wildfire season has started early again. Where do you differ with Gov. Newsom on how you would limit damage from wildfires that climate change has increased in quantity and severity?

Faulconer: We got some rather shocking news just a couple weeks ago where the Governor exaggerated the number of acres that had been treated [with fuel breaks] for wildfires. Then we also found out that he actually had defunded part of CalFire’s budget. So he misled the public. We can’t have that. He’s actually treated less acres than his predecessor.

I fundamentally differ with him in that we actually have to treat this as an emergency. We have to get all of our acres treated. We have to use all legal means at our disposal to do so, and not hide behind environmental regulations. We have to treat this as a matter of life and death like it is. I also believe we need to put the dollars behind CalFire to give them the tools and the resources they need. You cannot decrease funding for CalFire and expect a better result.

S/P: Are you looking to get back to a previous funding level or do more?

Faulconer: I believe we need to do even more. I really think the focus on prevention and forest management has to be a greater focus in this state. And it has to be a war footing. It has to be sustainable. You cannot have it ebb or flow. This is a life or death situation, literally.

S/P: Given your time as San Diego mayor, you were considered the GOP’s top recall candidate when it came to substantive ideas for reducing homelessness. But John Cox recently stole some of your wind by coming out with a homeless proposal first. He also has criticized your hotels-for-homeless tactic. Where does his homeless plan go wrong, and where does yours go right?

Faulconer: I have a proven plan that has worked, and I think that’s the difference. My plan is based on reality and experience in the second largest city in our state. We were the only big city in California to reduce homelessness by double digits. So my plan we’ve unveiled is detailed and based upon the successes we had in San Diego.

I am the only candidate in this race who has actually reduced homelessness. Our plan is “streets to shelter,” and I fundamentally believe that every human being has a right to shelter. I also believe that when we provide that shelter [the unsheltered] have an obligation to use it. I enforced that obligation as mayor of San Diego. That is the exact same approach I will take as governor and lead by example.

S/P: It seems most of the plans unveiled take either a “shelter first” approach or a “treatment first” approach. Where does your plan fall?

Faulconer: In San Diego, we called our shelters “bridge shelters.” They were a bridge from the streets to that apartment of your own. I think that was incredibly important. That was the model that proved successful to get people off the streets, to get them stable, to get them the help and support they need – whether that’s mental health, substance abuse, housing navigation. All of these were services that we provided in our bridge shelters. That is why that holistic approach worked.

But it also worked because I did not allow tent encampments on the sidewalk in San Diego. That is a fundamental difference with how we approached it in San Diego versus what we are seeing across our great state. You can throw all the money in the world at this issue, but if you don’t have the political will to make a difference on the street, it is not going to change.

(For analysis of the homelessness plans of all four top four recall candidates, click here.)

S/P: Many Republicans believe the 2020 elections were fraudulently run. So do some in California about California’s elections. Do you have any reason to not be confident in California’s election procedures for the recall?

Faulconer: Voter integrity is always important. In fact, if you look at the last cycle, Republicans picked up several [U.S. House] seats here in California. So I am confident in our campaign. I am confident that we’re going to win this recall. I am confident that Californians’ voices will be heard, and votes will be counted.

S/P: So no concern that mail-in voting is flawed in and of itself?

Faulconer: No. The recall is a referendum on Gavin Newsom. So, I believe you are going to see people from across the political spectrum voting for change, whether it’s at the polls or through their mail ballot.

S/P: It has been six months since the deadly Jan. 6 riot in D.C. Where were you when you heard what was happening, and what were your thoughts about the state of our democracy?

Faulconer: We had just launched our exploratory campaign at that point, and I was in the office in San Diego. Look, what you saw was wrong. People marching through [the U.S. Capitol] with a Confederate flag and assaulting our law enforcement officers. That attacked our very identity as Americans. It was an assault and attacked one of our fundamental institutions of our republic.

S/P: I’ve noticed some of your GOP recall opponents are reluctant to call Jan. 6 a “riot” or an “insurrection.” What do you call it?

Like I said, it was wrong. That’s why those who did that must be held accountable. Actions matter. With people attacking our capitol police, there is no place for that, ever.

S/P: In terms of Covid, have you been vaccinated? And what is your recommendation Californians?

Faulconer: Yes. I received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at Operation Collaboration at Cuyamaca College. I believe it’s important for everyone to consult with their doctors and choose the best option for them. I chose to get the vaccine, and everyone who can, should do it.

S/P: You have praised and congratulated former San Diego Superintendent Cindy Marten for being appointed Deputy Secretary of Education under President Biden. But one of the criticisms of Marten is San Diego public school students were kept out of school for 10 months. Was she right to close classrooms for that long?

Faulconer: I worked with Superintendent Martin on a variety of learning programs while I was mayor. That just shows how you have to work across the aisle.

But the person who is responsible for keeping our schools closed is Gavin Newsom, who allowed us to be among the last to reopen. And it has been a total failure, and there’s no guarantee our schools will be open in the fall. He put local educators, local teachers, families in an impossible position. I say this not just as a candidate for governor, but as a parent of two kids in public schools. The fact is our private schools were open those teachers were safely teaching and students were safely learning. Why? Because those schools reported to parents, but our public schools that ultimately report to Gavin Newsom remained closed. That was absolutely shocking.

S/P: In May, I tuned into Devin Nunes’ Freedom Fest. You were his guest and a featured speaker, but Nunes in his speech talked about “left-wing shock troops who on a near nightly basis physically assault Republicans, conservatives, and just innocent Americans.” Do you agree with such rhetoric, and how do you work with Democrats when you associate with such purveyors of verbal mortal combat?

Faulconer: Look, we are a big party that has room for folks from all over, with different views, opinions and different styles of rhetoric. That’s okay. Again, what the recall is really going to come down to is where we are right now in California. I don’t think Californians care if you have an R or D next to your name. I think they want somebody who will roll up their sleeves and actually get results.

I’m a proud Republican who got elected twice in a deep-blue city, in a deep-blue state. Why? Because I was able to get results. I think that is what they want. What we have now is clearly we have a governor who is in over his head and is failing.

S/P: But back to Nunes. On the one side, you have his extreme rhetoric, and on the other side, you have individuals like, say, Maxine Waters going too far with some of her rhetoric. Don’t you think most voters are sick of both types of extreme rhetoric?

Most of what we have talked about today is not about partisanship. It’s about leadership. Reducing homelessness is not partisan. Reducing crime is not partisan. It’s all commonsense. And that’s what’s lacking in Sacramento nowadays.

S/P: Regarding reducing crime, please share some of your approach there.

Faulconer: First and foremost, I did not defund the police as mayor of San Diego. Incidentally, I had protesters out front of my house for nights on end. Hundreds of protesters yelling at me and my family every name in the book to defund the police. But I did not defund the police. Why? Because if we want the best and the brightest men and women who wear the badge protecting us, we better damn well give them the tools, resources and the training to be successful, and that costs dollars.

So when Gavin Newsom supports all these mayors who are defunding the police, that just shows a fundamental difference between our two approaches. Crime is skyrocketing under Gavin Newsom. So we need to have a governor who understands we have a problem and is going to support law enforcement. You cannot defund police departments and reduce crime.

S/P: What exactly was the enabling action by Newsom that led to police budgets being defunded?

Faulconer: Because he supported all of these efforts that were happening in these cities and did not oppose them. He came out and enabled all of these cities across the state that were supporting defunding the police. This is not what Californians want. Democrats, independents, Republicans should all have safe neighborhoods, but guess what we are seeing now? All the cities that defunded their police are now putting money back into the budgets. They realized it doesn’t work. Gavin Newsom should have stood up just like I did and opposed it. He didn’t.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Evidence Newsom supported defunding the police was not found, and Faulconer’s campaign did not provide examples when asked after the interview. In June 2020, Gov. Newsom was directly asked about defunding the police at an Oakland event. According to the Mercury-News, he said, “If you’re calling for eliminating police, no… If you’re talking about reimagining and taking the opportunity to look at the responsibility and role that we place on law enforcement to be social workers, mental health workers, get involved in disputes where a badge and a gun are unnecessary, then I think absolutely this is an opportunity to look at all of the above.”

S/P: Is there a last topic we haven’t covered that you would like to address?

Faulconer: I have rolled out several policy initiatives because I think it is very important if you are going to replace a governor, you better communicate clearly what you would differently and how you would do it. So this is a very substantive campaign that is based on reforms and changes.

For instance, our state is too expensive. A lot of what we talked about today is about affordability and livability. We have to reduce the burden on Californians because people are voting with their feet. They are leaving our state, and you name the state that they are going to it’s because it’s more affordable. Which is why I have rolled out the largest middle-class tax cut in California history. We have to make it more affordable to actually live and work here in California.

S/P: Two big parts of the affordable housing problem are the millions of low-income workers who pay more than half their paychecks for housing and the middle-class younger adults who are priced out of home ownership. Earlier this year, San Diego experienced the third-highest rise in home prices in the nation (14.3%). What are your ideas for addressing these affordability issues?

Faulconer: I think allowing Californians to keep more of their hard-earned dollars in their pockets is incredibly important. If you equate my tax cuts, they’re enough to allow a family to pay eight months of utilities, or eight months of groceries, or 92 tanks of gas. We have to make California more affordable. If we do not, people will continue to leave our state.

This is not about one-time help where you have Gavin Newsom going up and giving people $600 checks. I’m talking about lasting, permanent tax relief for thousands of dollars every year. We have to give Californians their money. Let them keep their money in their pockets, or they are going to leave.

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