‘Populist’ candidate gets a head start on 2018 rivals with campaign stop in Chico
Andy Holcombe didn’t know much about Delaine Eastin when he arrived at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library on Saturday (April 29) to see the gubernatorial candidate speak.
“I knew she worked in public education in California, but I wasn’t even sure when,” he admitted afterward.
Eastin served two terms as state superintendent of public instruction, from 1995-2003—leaving the year before Holcombe got elected to the Chico City Council.
Eastin’s appearance, just over 13 months ahead of the June 2018 primary, is a rarity for Chico, oft bypassed by candidates for major office. That’s why it was so significant when presidential nominee Bernie Sanders held a rally at Chico State last June.
“Chico is often a backwater when it comes to national politics for sure, and even state politics,” said Holcombe. “It feels early for me [to campaign for governor], but that’s probably what it takes today to get the word out when in some ways you don’t have recognition as a politician.”
In fact, that’s precisely Eastin’s thought process. She’s been crisscrossing the state, speaking at various types of gatherings. Following her town-hall-style event in Chico, which filled the library’s meeting room with 60 attendees Saturday afternoon, she headed to Red Bluff for the Tehama County Democratic Central Committee’s annual dinner to deliver the keynote speech.
“When I was superintendent, I went to all 58 counties; I visited schools in Chico more than once,” Eastin told the CN&R. “I’m a big believer that people shouldn’t just come to you, and you shouldn’t just talk to them in 30-second sound bites. You should go listen to them, hear what their concerns are, hear what their thoughts and ideas are. For me, it’s not all about hiring some speechwriters and buying some television ads.”
Eastin made a stump speech, but that took only about a third of the time. For the next hour she fielded questions and comments from the audience. Topics included free college tuition, single-payer health coverage, vocational education and affordable housing—all of which she supports, under the rubric of “budgets are statements of our values.”
A self-described Sanders supporter asked how she would differentiate herself from Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor, who is among the half-dozen other prominent Democrats already in the mix to try to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown. (They include California Treasurer John Chiang and former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.)
Eastin responded that “there are lots of ways that we agree on public policy,” but that voters should look at her record, watch debates and decide “who gets the job done, who moves the needle?” She cites accomplishments as an assemblywoman on transportation and consumer protection committees, along with education.
Her candidacy for governor matches in some respects her earlier runs for office. Eastin told the CN&R that she had the same campaign treasurer as Phil Angelides, the state treasurer who lost the 2006 governor’s race to Arnold Schwarzenegger. That campaign treasurer laughingly told her, “I should be charging you twice what I’m charging Phil,” because even though Angelides raised twice as much money, she attracted twice as many donors.
“I think I was Bernie before Bernie,” Eastin said, referencing Sanders’ grassroots appeal and small-amount contributors in 2016. “I’ve always been a populist candidate, and I always will be.”
Robin Keehn agrees. She invited Eastin to Chico after hearing her speak and organized the event on her own initiative.
So, what impression did Eastin leave on others? As they left, multiple attendees said she’d won them over. That includes Holcombe.
“I’m very encouraged by Delaine Eastin and what she had to say,” he said, adding: “I probably came in as a default Gavin Newsom supporter … and I think I’m teetering on being an ardent Delaine Eastin supporter now.”