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Kevin Faulconer on Running for Governor, Tackling the Pandemic and Voting for Trump

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Then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer speaking at the 2015 Lincoln-Reagan Dinner in San Diego.  (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons )

On Monday, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his run for governor, challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom either in 2022 or sooner if a recall effort qualifies for the ballot.

KQED caught up with Faulconer a day after his big announcement, to ask the moderate Republican about his record as mayor of California's second-largest city, a position he held from 2014 to 2020, and why he’s throwing his hat in the ring to be the state's chief executive. What follows are portions of that conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

Let's start with your campaign slogan: “Get ready for a California comeback.” And yet, over the past few years, California has been responsible for more than our share of jobs created. We sent more tax revenue to the federal government than we got back. So what are we coming back from?

Well, it is time for a California comeback to get our state back on track. And I feel pretty strongly and passionately about that. The fact that we have had so many of our jobs that are leaving our state for other states, the fact that our state continues to see a dramatic increase in homelessness in virtually every city in our state. And yet we were able to do the exact opposite in San Diego the last couple of years where we reduced homelessness by double digits. It's really about coming back for our quality of life, our neighborhoods and our state, to get people proud of our state.

That slogan “California comeback” — some might think, “Oh, that's kind of like, 'Make California Great Again,'" Donald Trump's MAGA slogan. What would you say to that?

A California comeback is the time for us to unite everybody. It's about Republicans, Democrats, Independents and people that understand that there is a sense of urgency for a change in our state right now, who are very frustrated at the direction our state is going.

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So, how would you get the schools open? What would you do?

As mayor of San Diego during the pandemic, I worked with our firefighters union, our police officers union, our librarians, our refuse collectors. We wanted to get people back to work safely, have that conversations to make it happen. And we did. The fact that in virtually every state, every state across this country, schools are reopening. But California isn't — that’s a lack of leadership.

The foundation of your campaign is the governor's mishandling, as you would say, of the pandemic. But San Diego County hasn't done any better than most other California counties. In fact, it's doing worse than some Democratic-controlled counties like San Francisco and Alameda when it comes to per capita case and positivity rates. So how do you make the case that you can do better as governor when you didn't necessarily do better as mayor?

Well, the foundation of my campaign is (that I'm) a mayor that got results in the second-largest city in our state. I think it's incredibly important that we follow the science, and what we have seen with our shifting metrics coming out of the governor's office, shifting virtually every other month, is that a lot of it was not based on science.

The fact that we closed outdoor dining down with absolutely no science behind outdoor transmission was occurring. The fact that the governor came out several months ago and shut down playgrounds for kids and families before he changed his mind a week later. That's not science. And then the fact that the governor's office doesn't share the reasoning, the data behind some of these decisions with folks like yourself in the media and the public, because they said it was too complicated for people to understand — that's the wrong approach. I would take a dramatically different approach.

Even though there's lots to criticize when it comes to how the governor has handled the pandemic, there isn't really a playbook for how to do it. A lot of states are struggling with this. And when you look at the case rates per capita and positivity rates per capita in San Diego, they're not really better than other parts of the state. So, why should people believe that you'll do a better job as governor?

We all have the same goal: Let's keep Californians safe. And we all have the same goal: Let's get Californians vaccinated. And yet, as the most entrepreneurial, innovative state in the country, we were almost dead last ... The fact that our great state is at the bottom of vaccine distribution is unacceptable. That's what needs to change.

When you were mayor, there was a big outbreak of hepatitis A — I think the biggest outbreak in 20 years. There was a grand jury investigation that said the crisis was mishandled by the city and the county. So, what did you take from that, and what should voters take from that?

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I tell you, we had a hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County and it hit us in the urban portion in the city particularly hard. It changed everything. It changed how we look at what was not happening in terms of bureaucracy. And I had one goal: get people vaccinated. We did an all hands on deck and we had folks out in the riverbeds. And the fact that we stopped it in its tracks, I think spoke volumes about the city and the county and the partnership, with one goal: keeping people safe.

Gov. Newsom just signed a bill extending the moratorium on tenant evictions, in part to prevent homelessness. Would you have signed that as governor?

Yeah, strongly supported the eviction moratoriums in San Diego. Again, we want to protect folks. We want to keep people healthy.

The Republican brand has been damaged in California for some time. A lot of voters will be wondering: What kind of Republican are you? You’re more moderate on some things. You support abortion rights and LGBT rights. But at the same time, you voted for Donald Trump in November. And that's after all of his lies about the rigged election, his policy of forced family separations at the border, and so on. So why should voters believe that you'll be a moderate as governor when you voted for Trump?

I think I'm known as a Republican who brings people together. I'm a big believer and you're going to have a difference of views and opinions and parties, and that's fine. But I treat people with dignity and respect, even if we disagree on some of the issues. That's the type of approach that I would take as governor. And I think that's the approach that's been lacking right now in Sacramento.

If you had known that the president was going to encourage his supporters to storm the Capitol to disrupt the confirmation of the election, would you still have voted for him?

Look, I was very vocal that what happened with those folks that stormed the Capitol was wrong. That was a very dark day in our nation's history. Absolutely wrong. And they need to be held accountable. And like I said, I know that Gavin Newsom wants to make this election about Donald Trump, but it's not Donald Trump's failure on the vaccine rollout that's happening in our state. It's not Donald Trump's failures that Gavin Newsom has allowed $31 billion of fraud from our economic development department. It went to criminals, not California families that are hurting and can't get their unemployment benefits. 

So while he wants to make that about Donald Trump, I want to focus on California and what I think we should be doing here and now. And I think that's what Californians want to hear.

One more question. It's a little odd to end on this, I'll admit. Newsom enacted a moratorium on executions in California, would you reverse that if you were governor?

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Well, I tell you, I strongly support the death penalty in California. I think it’s incredibly important. I would reverse it. It should never have been changed.

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