Eleni Kounalakis for Lieutenant Governor

California June 2018 Primary

I have to be honest here: this was by far the most disappointing and boring race I investigated. The Issues pages of the three main Democrats running — businesswoman and former U.S. ambassador Eleni Kounalakis, lawyer and former U.S. ambassador and commissioner Jeff Bleich, and State Senator Ed Hernandez — each read like unamended boilerplate California Democratic politician platforms, down almost to the section logos. The most controversial item I saw was Hernandez touting his vote for SB 1, the controversial 2017 gas tax hike. Ultimately, I decided to support Kounalakis, the only candidate who emphasizes what I believe to be our most pressing challenge: housing.

While the websites for Bleich and Hernandez omit any mention of housing, Kounalakis devotes a section of her Issues page to the topic. While light on details, she focuses on building more affordable homes, and cites her experience in the housing industry (she worked at her family’s housing development firm for 18 years, most recently as president).

I know the answer to California’s housing crisis is building more affordable homes for California families. — Eleni Kounalakis

“Affordable housing” means different things to different people, though it often refers to subsidized housing rather than making housing so abundant that market rates are affordable. In its most counterproductive definition, it means the share of housing that is subsidized; setting this too high can lower the total amount of subsidized homes. For this reason, Kounalakis’ use of the phase “building more affordable homes” is important: it could demonstrate commitment to expanding the supply, which is the only solution to our four-million-home deficit. As a member of commissions involving housing decisions, including the UC and CSU boards regarding student housing, the Lieutenant Governor should have a pragmatic view on the matter.

All that said, the candidates’ blandness makes me question the importance of the office. Before Gavin Newsom sought the office, he said it has “no real authority and no real portfolio.” Since assuming it, he has missed over 40 percent of meetings for each of his top commissions, and continued to joke about its purpose. With California’s proclivity toward long ballots, including citywide and statewide ballot measures, we could consider joining the seven other states without a standalone Lieutenant Governor office.

But as long as we’re voting, we should vote for the sole candidate to recognize such a core issue as housing.

Written by

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

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