There are two candidates on the June 7 ballot for the newly drawn state Assembly District 77, which runs from Carlsbad south through Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, University City, coastal San Diego neighborhoods from La Jolla to Point Loma, and the city of Coronado. Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath, a Democrat, and CEO/financial adviser Dan Downey, a Republican, will automatically advance to a Nov. 8 runoff election. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board sent each a 13-question survey and is publishing their responses here.
If you have comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates after reading this interview, please email Editorial and Opinion Director Matthew T. Hall at email@example.com.
Below are Dan Downey’s responses and a link to other responses.
Q: From wildfires to sea level rise, the climate emergency is increasingly affecting California. What immediate steps should California lawmakers be taking to address it?
A: Whatever your beliefs about climate change, it’s hard to argue that anyone has done more than Californians to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Sadly, other countries have failed to follow our lead, and as a result, many scientists believe that we will fail to prevent a 2 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures (the main goal of the Paris Accords). Countries like China, India and others must participate in emissions reduction for our actions to have a global impact. It is simply false to say that the solution to climate change is for Californians to sacrifice more. However, given our status as the largest U.S. state economy ($3.4 trillion GDP in 2021), California has economic power on par with many nations. Therefore, I challenge Gov. Gavin Newsom to use his clout and connections with the Chinese Communist Party to influence their behavior. Before agreeing to any additional trade deals with Chinese firms, Gov. Newsom (or his successor) should insist that China significantly reduce its use of fossil fuels.
Q: The governor’s pleas to reduce water use have been widely met with indifference. What, if anything, should state lawmakers be doing to address drought conditions?
A: A recent Fox 5 San Diego article highlighted how San Diego’s performance during the recent drought stands out from the rest of California. Part of this is luck, as San Diego has experienced only moderate drought conditions. However, the article also credits the work of the San Diego County Water Authority in the 1990s with reducing water use per person by about 43 percent. The article cites adoption of appliances that waste less water as “low-hanging fruit,” as well as grass-free landscaping. The Water Authority also acted early to diversify its supply of water, and San Diego County now has access to plenty of water. Gov. Newsom’s recent executive order allows for “locally appropriate actions,” meaning that San Diego County will not be held to the same strict standards as the rest of the state. Since we are a relative success story, I suggest taking lessons learned at the San Diego County Water Authority and sharing them with officials from other parts of the state to combat the drought by adopting best practices statewide.
Q: What would you do to address the surging gas prices in California?
A: California has long had some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation. Many people know that the California state gas tax is a major culprit. At a staggering 51 cents per gallon (soon to increase to 53 cents), the gas tax costs Californians $8.8 billion per year. This is a highly regressive tax that hits working families much harder than everyone else. Fewer people realize that our high gas prices are also driven by the lack of a gasoline pipeline coming into California from large oil-producing states in the middle of the country. Now, rising inflation has further compounded the problem, resulting in $6 per gallon gas at some stations.
Gov. Newsom’s proposal to send each driver a $400 debit card is a nice gesture, but it fails to address the larger issue of the punitive gas tax and the lack of a pipeline. He has also proposed a “gas tax holiday” which would essentially delay the 2 cent per gallon increase.
These measures are positive but insufficient. Now is the time to repeal the gas tax for good, putting money back in the pockets of hardworking Californians.
Additionally, the Legislature should begin a longer-term study of the feasibility of a gasoline pipeline to supply Californians with the gasoline they need from domestic U.S. producers.
Q: How do you strike a balance between reducing the state’s dependency on fossil fuels and addressing energy affordability issues, including the high cost of gasoline?
A: Californians have been among the most enthusiastic adopters of electric vehicles, regardless of the price of gasoline. The free market has done an excellent job of producing competitive alternatives to gasoline-powered engines, and I expect this trend to continue. While vehicles are the biggest source of fossil fuel emissions, electricity generation is also to blame. Here, we should consider increasing the use of nuclear plants in our energy mix, along with wind, solar, hydro and legacy plants that use natural gas. Nuclear is still considered one of the safest, cleanest, cheapest and most productive sources of power. And new generation IV plants will represent another huge leap in the safety of nuclear power generation, with a reactor meltdown becoming nearly impossible. France is an example of a country that has successfully used nuclear in its energy mix and stands in stark contrast to Germany, which shut down its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Much like California, Germany has since experienced electricity disruptions related to the intermittency of wind and solar power generation. France’s use of nuclear, which is not intermittent, provides it with an inexpensive, safe and reliable source of energy. California should follow France’s lead.
Q: How would you bring down the high cost of housing, both for homeowners and renters?
A: The affordability of housing was already at crisis levels before recent inflation drove prices up even further in many markets, including San Diego. This is an issue which affects everyone, young and old. Many families see less of each other because their children and grandchildren have moved out of state to find affordable housing. Our current leadership has utterly failed to address this crisis. Their preferred solutions include rent control, which tends to create winners and losers, without reducing the overall cost of housing for most people. Similarly, subsidized housing has not made real estate more affordable for the vast majority of Californians. I find it interesting that Canadian officials have proposed a two-year ban on foreign home buyers to take some of the speculative pressure out of the housing market. This is not a particularly conservative idea, but it is an example of creative policymaking, something which has been severely lacking in Sacramento when it comes to the housing crisis.
Q: Homelessness is growing dramatically across the state. How would you address it?
A: I prefer an approach to homelessness that is balanced, providing resources and compassion for the homeless population but also consequences for those who break our laws. First, we must acknowledge the “housing first” philosophy employed throughout California has failed. Providing permanent housing for the entire homeless population is expensive and unrealistic and comes at the expense of building more shelter beds. We should spend our precious resources on shelter beds, which provide a key first step in getting people off the street. Secondly, we must address the twin issues of mental health and addiction in the homeless population. The fact is, when people have untreated mental illness and addiction, it exacts a cost on everyone around them. Localities have laws against public intoxication, public defecation and misuse of public property, which often go underenforced. Individuals who are arrested and deemed to have addiction and mental health problems could be diverted to mandatory treatment, rather than added to our prison population. In this way, we could begin to get individuals into substance rehabilitation or mental health treatment. This concept is not dissimilar from the CARE Courts proposed recently by Gov. Newsom. However, I suggest that treatment should be mandatory in some cases, especially when public safety is at risk.
Q: What, if anything, should the state do to make mass transit a viable option for commuters?
A: In a state as large and diverse as California, mass transit is an issue best left to the cities and counties as a practical matter. However, whatever mass transit strategy is chosen by the localities, we should make sure that we take advantage of federal funding when it’s available. That’s why it is so scandalous when the state of California misses out on $12 billion of federal public transit funding, as it has recently under the Biden administration. The state was deemed ineligible for this funding due to changes in its pension law. The U.S. Department of Labor decided that these changes improperly reduced pension funding and blocked the transit funds. Gov. Newsom called the Labor Department’s decision “concerning,” yet nothing has been done to address it. Restoring the rights of state workers and thus gaining $12 billion of federal funding would go a long way toward making mass transit a more viable option in California.
Q: How will you balance public health with economic and educational concerns going forward in this pandemic or the next one? What specific steps and strategies, from lockdowns to mask mandates, would you recommend or rule out if there is a new surge in deaths and hospitalizations?
A: A December Politico article ranked all 50 states on their response to COVID-19 across four metrics: health, economy, social well-being and education. A key finding was that states that imposed more restrictions did experience lower rates of death and hospitalization, but also tended to have worse economic and educational outcomes. California was one such state. As a result, Politico deemed California’s COVID-19 performance as middle of the pack, despite good health outcomes. I would suggest that our pandemic response leaned too heavily in the direction of lockdowns, which largely came at the expense of our small businesses and students. Gov. Newsom himself has said that COVID-19 is now endemic, meaning it will remain in circulation in the population. Yet he has not ended the state of emergency. I believe this is inappropriate. The state of emergency, and the special powers that go with it, should be lifted. If a situation arises where our hospitals are nearing full capacity, then I believe a renewed state of emergency and geographically limited quarantines could be considered.
Q: California has the strictest gun laws in the nation yet has had some of the nation’s worst mass shootings this year. What more, if anything, should be done to reduce gun violence in California?
A: Not all mass shootings are the same, and so the measures we take to reduce gun violence should account for this. For example, the recent Sacramento mass shooting is thought to be gang-related. Interestingly, this event came roughly six months after Gov. Newsom signed into law a bill which limited the use of gang sentencing enhancements, among other reductions in punishments for crime. So, clearly there are other factors at play aside from California’s gun laws. I would suggest that criminal justice reforms that went into effect in 2021 have emboldened criminal gang members. These reforms came on the heels of the “defund the police” movement and the early release of as many as 17,600 inmates from overcrowded prisons as part of our COVID-19 pandemic response. Add it all up, and we have sent a message that California is soft on crime. People respond to incentives and would-be criminals are no different. When you reduce the penalties for crime, you will get more of it. California should stop the trend of reducing penalties for crime and pass legislation which sends a strong message that criminals will be held accountable.
Q: California has adopted a number of criminal justice reforms in recent years. What would you change and why to ensure justice is equitable and effective?
A: A key question is “equitable for who”? For the criminals or the victims of crime? Many of our recent criminal justice reforms have focused far too much on the rights of the criminal, at the expense of public safety. For the record, I am against Proposition 47, which increased the felony threshold for petty theft and shoplifting from $400 to $950. I also oppose Proposition 57, which expanded parole eligibility. The state’s recent surge in organized smash-and-grab crime indicates the need for more deterrence. Reinstating tougher standards would send a strong message to would-be criminals. San Diego County has the good fortune of having a competent district attorney in Summer Stephan, unlike those in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties. However, we are reminded that public safety also depends upon who is interpreting and enforcing the laws. Strengthening protections for victims of crime helps ensure a more equitable and effective criminal justice system across the state.
Q: What single change would you make to improve California’s K-12 public school systems?
A: I believe that local parents should largely be responsible for decision-making that affects their community. It is quite telling when a very liberal school district like San Francisco votes to recall three members of the school board over their misplaced priorities. In San Francisco, the school board spent precious time and resources debating the renaming of several schools, while in-person learning remained on pause. Too often in recent years, K-12 schools have become dysfunctional ideological battlegrounds, whether it has been due to our COVID-19 response or debates over curriculum. Currently, we have at least two proposed bills which would negatively impact parents’ rights around vaccination. For the record, I am opposed to Senate Bill 866 and Assembly Bill 1797, which would restrict parental rights when it comes to all childhood vaccinations, not just for COVID-19. The single biggest change I would make to improve K-12 education is to give more power to local parents. I believe this will result in schools teaching skills that will help the next generation to succeed in life, which is what they should be doing.
Q: Should taxes in California be increased? If so, which ones?
A: Ha! I love that the U-T has a sense of humor! In all seriousness, the answer is “absolutely not.” California already has the highest top state income tax bracket in the country at a staggering 13.3 percent. As mentioned previously, our gas taxes are among the nation’s highest. California’s taxes are simply too high. And nearly two-thirds of Californians agree with me, as shown in a recent UC Berkeley Insitute of Governmental Studies poll. Many Californians are voting with their feet, as evidenced by a decline in state population in recent years. And the demographic shift has been so dramatic that it has caused California to lose a seat in Congress. In this time of rising inflation, it is more urgent than ever that we reduce taxes in California. We must make the cost of living in California more manageable, so we stop losing our greatest resource (our people) to neighboring states.
Q: What is the most important issue we have not raised and why?
A: This questionnaire touched upon the cost of housing and gasoline, but not on the larger picture of inflation. Just recently, national inflation hit 8.5 percent, the highest level recorded in over 40 years. This impacts the cost of food and everything else that we buy. It is important to remember that the inflation we’re now experiencing began before the war in Ukraine and is in fact a direct result of the trillions of dollars pumped into the economy during the response to the pandemic. Our elected officials on the state and federal level took a huge gamble by shutting down our in-person economy (something which had never been done before) and printing money to keep us afloat. We are now facing the reckoning brought upon us by panic and short-term thinking. Voters should demand that the leadership that created this situation be held accountable and ensure that lockdowns and wildly irresponsible government spending never happen again in our lifetime.