The Santa Rosa Press Democrat is the largest local newspaper in the district. I love local news, always have since I was a kid. I interned one summer at WABC Eyewitness News in New York City; that was a highlight of my early work experience. So tbh, I was more than a little sorry when I realized that so much of the work that the tech industry has done in the last two decades has resulted in the destruction of local news business models all over the world. These are great questions, and I wanted to answer them thoroughly and openly.
This playlist of videos is kind of a first draft set of informal answers, with a short written summary answer in the description of each video.
1. Why are you running?
I know this is a cliched answer, but I'm running for the future of my children and all of us who are concerned about the future of our state, our country, and our world. I worked in business for a quarter of a century under the mistaken belief that doing well for myself was good enough. But in 2020, about to hit 50 years old, feeling abjectly miserable about our divisive politics and our fragile world - I realized that all the material comforts in the world are meaningless without a country that my children would feel proud to devote themselves to as citizens. Too many good people that I know have simply given up on politics. I want my children to know that their father did everything within his abilities to make the best world possible for them.
2. Have you held office, or run for office, previously?
I have never held public office. I worked in government a couple of times as a young man, but didn't make a career out of it.
I know that this is sort of irrelevant, but the only times I've run to be elected for anything was student council, in 8th grade and 12th grade. But I think about those times because now I realize that I ran back then for the wrong reasons - I wasn't trying to help others so much as help my own resume. This time, I'm running for the right reasons - even though it destroys my resume, as I don't think my industry will welcome me back after this political effort!
3. What qualifies you for this office?
This depends on how you view this office. I think if it's about just doing the same as what's been done for the last few decades in the Legislature, then I don't know how to do that. But I think we're at a critical time in this state, this country, and this world. We are in the midst of huge societal disruption driven by enormous disruptions in technology, media, economic systems, and geopolitics. Ideally, the qualifications for this office include an ability to handle disruptive change and create innovative solutions in these critical times.
If I'm elected, I'm going to approach this job in a different way than others who've held the office. I have a long track record in tackling very difficult projects that other people viewed as unlikely or undesirable. In doing the dirty work for others, I've made millions of dollars for myself, tens of millions for people I've worked for, and billions of dollars of value for their companies. But financial success is a poor measure of qualifications. I've never worked for the money, never cared about titles or promotions. I only wanted to work on things that truly mattered because of the difference that could be made in people's lives.
I don't put much stock in academic qualifications, but I have those so I might as well mention them: I was valedictorian of my high school, went on to study politics at Princeton University, and then law at NYU, where I was Articles Editor on the NYU Law Review. I learned about high finance while working in New York for Kirkland & Ellis, the most profitable law firm in the world. In California, I've worked in game-changing startups like Airespace and Linden Lab, as well as the dominant tech giant of my time in tech, Google. At Google, I was responsible for ads integrity and privacy, reporting directly to Susan Wojcicki, currently the CEO of YouTube who was then head of the Google Ads business - I believe that in terms of reporting distance to Larry Page, I'm the most senior former Googler to run for political office.
This track record qualifies me for the job of State Senator, IF you believe that this job requires training and experience in law, policy, finance & economics, management and negotiation, and vision & innovation. If this job is only about fundraising, party politics, and servicing big donors - then I'm not qualified.
4. How do you differ from the incumbent and the other candidates?
The incumbent is a lifetime politician, and a local native. Whether these are good qualities are in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. It may also be relevant that this office would be his last term in the Legislature, so some voters might wonder what job he's got his eye on next, especially since he has had no other jobs outside of politics.
Beyond the business experience and academic achievements I've already mentioned, I have had the experience of raising three children here in California, two of them to adulthood and one still in middle school. I've been married and I've been divorced, and though that may have been personally difficult for me and my children, I know that many people in California have these same kinds of difficulties, so I think I have personal empathy for more kinds of experiences.
In terms of personality, the incumbent strikes me as a nice person and I appreciate that. I'm known among my industry colleagues as someone who is fantastically determined, creative, and hard-working - but those qualities probably preclude my former colleagues from thinking of me first and foremost as "nice."
5. If elected, what are your top three priorities?
My top three priorities are very clear, and posted on my website as follows:
Problem: POLITICAL DIVISION
Our country is torn apart into sides that don't recognize each other as American.
Solution: BRING BACK CIVICS
Our kids barely study U.S. government. Let's teach them - and ourselves - more civic virtue.
Problem: SYSTEMIC INCOMPETENCE
Our politicians serve their biggest donors first, putting real people last.
Solution: STOP STATE GRAFT
Ban contributions to state politicians from any organization that does business with the government.
Problem: BROKEN CAPITALISM
Our largest companies dominate our lives and ignore the value of real people.
Solution: PUT PEOPLE FIRST
Capitalism produces human progress when everybody has a chance, not just big companies.
6. Pick an issue that you think has been inadequately handled by the Legislature and describe solutions you would pursue.
There's so much to choose from here, when it comes to our economy, crime, homelessness, water, wildfire ...
But a good current issue to look at today is high gas prices. Our Legislature seems to treat this as merely a tax issue, but it's much more than that. High gas prices are a result of some good ideas (e.g. cleaner gas), as well as some old ideas that are obviously not working (e.g. cap & trade). The excessive tax burden is not only unpleasant, but fundamentally unjust.
Gas taxes are regressive, and I'm surprised that a progressive Legislature doesn't see that. People claim that we need gas taxes for the roads, and since drivers are the ones who use the roads, they should pay for them. But that makes no sense - automobile infrastructure benefits everyone, drivers and non-drivers alike, because our economy depends on people and goods and services getting to work and school and stores and hospitals. Gas taxes are disproportionately levied on working people, relative to the owners of companies who profit so much from everyone else getting to work.
But the real opportunity here is in what's called the "mystery surcharge" on gas in California. This refers to almost a dollar per gallon of extra cost to consumers which no one can explain - because no one is willing to look at it, at least not in the Legislature. Instead, our political leaders seem determined to pay out "rebates" that would dump up to $11 Billion into the economy. That's just a transparent attempt to buy votes. That seems crazy to me, especially in a time of inflation, when we should be concerned that a sudden influx of money into the economy will result in more inflation!
You can pick apart almost any longstanding issue in California and see the same thing: a problem that has gotten worse and worse over the years because our Legislature does not seem at all interested in actually solving problems. All we ever hear about is new programs announced, more money spent, more self-congratulatory praise - never any real progress.
My solution is simple: I would actually work on the problem rather than just trying to buy votes.
7. Have you signed any pledges put forth by any organization or political group? If so, please attach.
No, none other than the state form about fair campaign practices. I generally think the political practice of demanding "pledges" is overly simplistic, and probably stands in the way of coming to good solutions.
8. Have you ever been sued, arrested or declared bankruptcy?
No arrests or bankruptcy. I've been sued twice, both in relation to romantic relationships. I'm not proud of either of those, but not embarrassed either. I've learned a lot over the years about how to be a good person, a good father, and a good intimate partner in life. I think that the stumbles I've had along the way help me understand and empathize with the many people who have had similar experiences.
9. Assess the state’s response to the coronavirus.
In terms of the health outcomes, California has done well, but it's hard to really show how much of that is due to policies vs other factors. I leave that kind of analysis to health experts.
In terms of political outcomes, these past few years with the pandemic have exposed our political leaders as overly willing to impose mandates that they themselves do not seem willing to follow consistently. "Public health policy" isn't only about health - it's about how good the government's relationship with the public is, and about what kind of policies can actually be enforced rather than just announced.
We've had too many "rules for thee, and not for me" incidents with our political leaders. I think that they missed an opportunity to lead with confidence and by example, rather than imposing rules that only increased the level of distrust that people have with the government, especially in disadvantaged communities that - for very good reasons - have a long history of not trusting the government.
10. What will you do to ensure continued availability of homeowners insurance in California?
I'm willing to work directly with insurance companies on rates and regulations that might give them incentive to offer insurance in California, but this kind of work has a natural limit - these are for-profit companies, and they will simply stop doing business in the state rather than offer unprofitable insurance.
So the only true way to "ensure" the availability of insurance is to make the state of California (i.e., the taxpayers) responsible for the cost of events that exceed the willingness of insurers to cover claims. There are probably some good ideas out there to make the state either a primary or secondary carrier, and I would explore those together with the insurance commissioner.
11. What should the state do to ensure future water supplies, and how would you pay for it?
This question covers three categories of water supply: (1) making more use of existing water sources, (2) using new technology to create new water sources, and (3) making existing water use more efficient. I would push all three, but due to my background in technology, I would be especially excited about new technologies, such as desalination plants powered by renewable energy, cloud seeding, and atmospheric moisture extraction. I also think there's a lot of near-term opportunity in more efficient systems so that the water that we have goes a lot farther.
Most of the conversation I see about water is only about that first category, making more use of existing water - for example by building more dams or by releasing less water for fish ecosystems. The problem with this category is that it's really a no-win game, as we seem to get less and less rainfall every year. There's no upside in fighting over a shrinking pie.
How would we pay for it? With existing tax revenue, of course. There's nothing more important to human survival than water. This expenditure isn't optional. But we should be able to do it with our existing revenue.
12. Several major employers have announced plans to relocate or to expand in other states. What specifically would you do to make California more attractive for employers?
Although a few major employers have made news for leaving California, I think that the actual figures don't show a huge exodus - so I think some of these concerns are overblown. That said, I don't think that big companies are the future of California. This has always been the state where people come to make their dreams come true - so to me, startups are much more important than big companies. And startups depend on talent, and the best talent is still right here in California.
Big companies show their disloyalty by taking advantage of our talent and our tax breaks for years, and then fleeing to other states when their executives feel they could have a cushier deal somewhere else. To those execs, I say good riddance if you don't feel any obligation to stay and improve the state that made you rich. The best companies will continue to be formed here, because we have the best dreamers with the biggest dreams.