Lt. Gov candidate Ed Hernandez on making healthcare and higher ed more affordable

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Ed Hernandez is running against fellow Democrat Eleni Kounalakis to be California’s next lieutenant governor. He’s an optometrist and state senator representing parts of the San Gabriel Valley. He terms out of that position this year.

Hernandez said in an LA Times piece, “My success will depend on what he — he being the next governor — allows me to do.” So how will Hernandez convince the governor to let him take on high profile issues?

Hernandez: I want to be, number one, a partner with him to try to make sure that we accomplish things together for California, being both Democrats.

But a number one priority would be to restore the budget that it used to be — back in the day when Cruz Bustamante or John Garamendi had — to allow me the resources to be able to have the staff, to be able to do things that are important to me. That would be health care, and obviously education, and then obviously sitting on the various boards that I would be sitting on.

Health care priorities

Number one is the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Access to care, the most vulnerable, and controlling health care cost.

…What I can bring to the governor is the relationships that I’ve built over the last 12 years with the stakeholders — to continue to do that work to achieve universal coverage. But more importantly, to control health care costs and get access.

On stopping rising health care costs

An example is a bill that I ran numerous times. It finally got through the legislature, got passed by the governor. SB 17, which brings transparency to our pharmaceutical drug industry. It’s now becoming a national model.

Other things we need to do is looking at …monopolization of markets. Since the Affordable Care Act and its implementation, there’s been a lot of market consolidations, like hospital systems that are charging a lot more up in northern California compared to southern California.

We just have to have the political will to be able to have that conversation.

What if Hernandez wins as lieutenant governor, and Republican John Cox wins as governor?

If he does, I can guarantee my budget would probably be zeroed out or next to nothing… I would have a job. I have a constitutional obligation to be lieutenant governor. I would still sit on the UC board of regents, the CSU board of trustees, the Lands Commission, the Economic Development Commission. I might have maybe one or two staff… I would still go to the Senate floor, and lobby and talk to the members that I’ve had a relationship over the last 12 years. I’d work with the pro tem. I’d sponsor bills. I’d preside over the Senate. I’d go to a caucus.

…I’d still govern. The only difference is I’d have many many less resources, and make it a little bit tougher. Because, you know, it’s a big state.

When Gavin Newsom was lieutenant governor, he admitted he didn’t have much to do, except scan the newspaper to see if Governor Brown was still alive. The L.A. Times found that he missed scores of meetings. Will Hernandez attend all those meetings?

Well of course I’ll commit. And the only thing I would say is look at my record as a public servant in my entire 12 years in the legislature. I think I’ve only missed maybe one to two days. And I can count them on one hand. And I can guarantee that’s because I either got a cold, or got sick, or something personal happened with my family.

I’ve literally been at every committee hearing. Read all the bills. Listened to testimony. I take my job very serious. And I’d do the same thing.

California’s biggest problem in higher education

I think the biggest issue facing our state of California is getting middle income and low income students the ability to go through college. But more importantly, the affordability of college.

We now need to start looking at costs, for example, like food, transportation, books… housing… babysitting for families.

…We have to look at our master plan. The last time we addressed our master plan was in the 1960s. It was a much, much different California. We had a population of 20 million people. It looked different, sounded different, and acted different.

We are now pushing 40 million. It’s much more diverse. I really believe that the economic success of the state of California is through our middle class, but more importantly, through higher education, whether it’s community college, career tech, CSU, UC.

…I also use my personal story as an example of what I went through to get through college… As a young parent working full time, taking full time classes, working 35 hours a week, community college, Cal State University, then eventually getting accepted to optometry school.

How exactly will he make college more affordable?

It’s hard to roll back tuitions. And if you look at what happens in our budget… right now, fortunately we have good economic times… We’re actually fighting to try to restore and get more money into our CSU and our UC systems, as well as into our community college system.

But here’s what could happen… We probably will have another recession. And if we do, we’re going to be making tough budget decisions, especially when it comes to higher education, K-12, health care.

…That’s why I said we need to look at the master plan. Because we have to look at bringing in an additional revenue source outside of the general fund to make an investment in higher education. And that could mean going to the people of the state of California and… whether it’s an initiative to increase sales tax, whether it’s property tax. But there needs to be discussion to see if the public is willing to have that.

Whether it was a mistake for the UC and Cal State system to accept foreign students to pay higher tuitions because of state cutbacks

I don’t know if it was a mistake. But I believe that if we have a CSU and UC system, I think the number one highest priority should be California residents. We should make it more affordable obviously, and we should make sure that there’s as many spaces available.

But I think what happened, as I mentioned, there was a recession not too long ago. And cuts were made. And you had to balance the budget. And you had to bring in resources… That was a decision they made.

And I think in the future, hopefully we won’t have to make those decisions if we can figure out how we’re going to get additional resources.

Will he run for governor?

I’m running to make sure that I become a very effective lieutenant governor. …I never ever imagined that I’d ever run for office. The only thing I ever did politically was I voted on a regular basis. Because my dad instilled those values in me. I read the newspaper. And I watched TV in the news.

I wasn’t a poli sci major. I’m an optometrist. I got angry because of our healthcare system, and I wanted to make a difference… As long as the voters of this state allow me to be a public servant, I’ll continue to do so. …I’m interested in only one office right now, and that’s becoming lieutenant governor.

Listen: Our interview with Hernandez’s opponent, Eleni Kounalakis