Citizens feel confident President Obama would never move himself and his family to another country for their safety. National security is the #1 presidential responsibility. Citizens expect presidents to experience the consequences of their leadership in that regard.

In California, K-12 education is the #1 gubernatorial responsibility. It’s the first and largest category in the Governor’s Budget, accounting for 42% of the state’s General Fund. Governors sign off on the Education Code that governs recruiting, retaining and firing teachers and more. Just as the US military is the largest enterprise operated by the federal government, K-12 education is the largest enterprise operated by the state. In fact, it’s the largest enterprise of all in California with >300,000 employees.

Yet the last governor to have children in California’s public schools when in office left that office 25 years ago. Not since then has a California governor enjoyed or suffered the consequences of public school leadership. One wonders if Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would’ve prosecuted the Vietnam War with the impunity they did if they had had draft-eligible children. Likewise, one wonders if (say) Governor Jerry Brown would’ve joined the California Teachers Association in appealing the Vergara (equal protection for students) case had he had children affected by the outcome.

It’s fine for US presidents not to send their kids to public schools. Presidents don’t run the District of Columbia’s schools and the federal government plays a small role in public education (less than 2 percent of the federal budget goes to public education). But states run public education (they spend 10x more on education than the federal government) and California’s governor runs the largest public education system of all with six million students and $87 billion of spending this year.

The failure of California’s leaders to personally experience the state’s public school system has led to an ugly hypocrisy. They speak often of “equal opportunity” but in a hyper-competitive world in which high-quality education is a sine qua non for success, what is equal about some public school kids being taught by a teacher who, except for antiquated and anti-kid tenure, evaluation and dismissal rules, wouldn’t be permitted to teach? Likewise, they speak about “justice” but where’s the justice in draining tens of billions of dollars from today’s teachers and classrooms in order to finance retirement obligations deceptively created decades ago?

I’m not suggesting a constitutional rule requiring California’s governors to have children in the state’s public school system — great leadership can emerge from a wide variety of backgrounds — but candidates should prove they know what it’s like for their fellow citizens who do.

California’s next governor will in all likelihood be a member of my Democratic Party. Every Democrat vying for that position will agree on the environment and protecting citizens from violence and predatory employers and businesses. They won’t want to talk about it but only one issue will really separate them: Is their allegiance to government employee unions and healthcare corporations* or to students, citizens and taxpayers? In the 2018 governor’s race, let’s see candidates who walk their talk.

*Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid) is the second largest and fastest growing segment of the state budget. Now serving 13.5 million people — one out of every three Californians — it’s clear that healthcare corporations and employees are making a lot of money but much less clear that citizens are getting good care or taxpayers getting good value. The latter item is important because, along with pensions and other retirement costs, Medi-Cal is crowding out UC, CSU and Social Services. A future post will focus on this issue.