Jovanka Beckles, one of two Democrats in next month’s 15th Assembly District race, used a candidates forum in Berkeley last Tuesday to make her most fulsome imitation yet of Bernie Sanders’ brand of progressive populism against opponent Buffy Wicks.
“I”m so disappointed to see billionaires, the charter school lobby, and big PACs from across the country put over $1 million in this election. These billionaires know what they’re buying,” said Beckles. “They’re buying a promise to delay and block Medicare for all. They’re buying a promise to oppose Prop. 10 and the movement to win universal rent control. They’re buying policies that work for them, not for us. That’s why we need a representative for people, not profit.”
The statement was the most pointed yet against Wicks, who has not only dominated the race in campaign contributions, but has also been the beneficiary of numerous Independent Expenditure Committee, some heavily funded by supporters of charter schools.
Beckles’ talking points were often met with rousing applause among the roughly 500, mostly seniors, in attendance at Berkeley’s Community Theater. But when Wicks twice declared a pledge not to accept contributions from corporate backers, the audience snickered.
Wicks’ statement is not false, but also not an entire depiction of her campaign’s reliance on large contributions from some of the most powerful people in the Democratic Party.
The forum also additionally highlighted the analogy between this intra-party race and the often divisive battle in the 2016 presidential primary between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
But more surprisingly was the growing number of disagreements between Beckles and Wicks when it comes to various policy points. In nearly every East Bay Dem-on-Dem General Election for the state legislature since the top two primary was initiated in 2012, the difference between the two Democrats have been minute, including the 2014 race in this district between Tony Thurmond and Elizabeth Echols.
Throughout, Beckles repeatedly channeled Sanders-like screeds against the rich, while touting for a government more in tune with the people and less with corporations, She called for a public takeover of Alta Bates Hospital, in the event health care giant Sutter Health goes through with its plans to shutter the Berkeley hospital.
She also issued strong support for rent control, taxing oil drilling, weaning the public off gas-powered vehicles, and affordable housing, as long as it benefitted “people over profit,” she said.
Wicks advocated for a Medicare-for-all plan in the state and added any possibility of a single-payer health care program would likely have to wait until after 2020—and only if President Trump is not re-elected—because a federal waiver is required. The Trump administration’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act would make granting such an accommodation to the state unlikely. Beckles also supports single-payer health insurance.
Much of the disagreement between the candidates revolves around housing and charter schools. Beckles supports Proposition 10, the repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Act which prohibits rent control on single-family and same newer apartment buildings, Wicks does not.
“We need to build more and I think that’s the root cause of the housing crisis that we’re in,” said Wicks. But when it came to upzoning for density in neighborhoods and building new housing around BART stations, Beckles’ refrain each time was to question the profit-driven motives of developers over the public.
In many ways, 15th District race appears like to be a proxy fight for public versus charter schools. Money from IEs supporting charter schools has already flowed in favor of Wicks for months and appears likely to continue over the final five weeks of the campaign.
Wicks, though, muted her comments on the subject, only saying she supports greater transparency of charter schools and for unionizing their teachers. Beckles countered by calling for a blanket moratorium on the approval of any new charter schools in the state.
But even when the candidates agreed, their stances veered from state party orthodoxy, at least among current and past members of the East Bay’s legislative caucus. For instance, both oppose two of Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy projects–state high-speed rail and the twin Delta tunnels water projects.