Last month, Neel Kashkari announced his candidacy for governor of California. Kashkari, a Republican, jumped in after a year touring the Golden State, meeting with citizens of all political and economic stripes and deciding now was his time to climb into the arena.
The climb will not be easy. California is sky blue and Gov. Jerry Brown has amassed a hefty war chest. But that is not the reason why I support Neel's candidacy. It is far simpler than that.
Neel Kashkari, the son of Indian immigrants, born and raised in Ohio, is what the future of the Republican Party should look like in California and nationally. Frankly, Neel is what everyone else, here and everywhere else is starting to look like.
He represents not only the best ideals of what we hope for in a candidate - solid middle class and middle-American roots, but also someone who understands the economy and (whether you agree or not) likely helped to save ours in 2008 while at the Treasury Department during the financial crisis.
Now out of the private sector and on the campaign trail, Neel's background is unique, his message is simple and his vision forward looking. "Jobs and Education - " That's It" is his tagline. And those are far and away the most important issues about which we should talk in 21st century California.
While California's economy has grown and tax receipts are up, the widening disparity between rich and poor, between coastal and inland and between whites and minorities is reaching yawning proportions. It is great that a tech company with 13 employees can sell for $1 billion - but that doesn't help the broader economy and relying on these sorts of shooting stars to prop up our annual budget is beyond negligence.
Our educational system, currently receiving nearly $50 billion annually, is not nearly where it should be. Our dropout rates are too high and our achievement levels are too low. Experimentation and fundamental change are needed in the educational space if we ever hope to return to the sort of true social mobility we saw during California's truly golden years.
In June, Kashkari will not only face Gov. Brown on the ballot but Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. With our relatively new top-two primary system, only the first and second place finishers will go on to the November general election. And that is the second reason why Neel's candidacy is so important this year.
Donnelly, while a patriot, is a march backward into history. Representing a quickly-shrinking part of both the electorate and the state, Donnelly's views are anathema to almost all Democrats, too many Independents or those with No Party Preference.
While support for the 2nd Amendment is a key tenet of many Republican campaigns, proudly boasting that you were arrested at an airport with a loaded pistol in your bag ventures far beyond any reasonable support for firearms. That truly shows either stunningly poor judgment or a terrible memory - neither an asset in a statewide candidate.
There are a sizable proportion of Republican primary voters in California who agree lock, stock and barrel with Donnelly's positions on everything - abortion, gay marriage and the like. But California is a blue-state with 17 million voters - now less than 30% self-identifying as Republicans. Many of them pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. Donnelly's campaign is the vestigial tail of a bygone era in California.
Tim Donnelly serving as the GOP standard-bearer in November will likely spell the end of, for most of my life anyway, any recognizable Republican party in California. Without the ability, and apparently the desire, to reach out to anyone but white Republicans over 55, Donnelly will tilt at windmills in Palm Springs as his candidacy is crushed under the weight of old ideas and outdated thinking.
What's more concerning, though, is how some tea party or very conservative Republicans are already approaching Kashkari's candidacy. Combing through some early Facebook comments, I already found at least one example of blatant racism. I won't dignify its utterance by repeating it here.
This is absolutely unacceptable and Tim Donnelly's campaign should immediately foreswear any such language or beliefs. They are fundamentally un-American.
When Californians - and California Republicans go to the polls in June, they have a simple but important choice to make when they vote for governor. They can vote Kashkari, and march into the future for California, or they can vote Donnelly and march into the past, and likely into political oblivion.
Reed Galen is a political consultant in Southern California. Galen worked on both the 2000 and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaigns and spent 2002 in the White House. He also served at the departments of Treasury and Homeland Security. Galen was deputy campaign manager for Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 reelection and worked for John McCain's campaign until July 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @reedgalen.