In Kounalakis, a Valley builder should rise to No. 2

Eleni Kounalakis
Eleni Kounalakis

What makes a good lieutenant governor? Most would say, “patience.” After all, a lot of the job is sitting around being ready just in case the governor can’t do his or her job.

We like to believe there’s more to it than that. Gavin Newsom elevated the office’s stature by using it to promote several pet issues – including the legalization of recreational marijuana, the elimination of high-capacity ammunition magazines and tighter controls on who can buy bullets.

But we think there is something else even more important as a qualification for lieutenant governor: Empathy.

Sounds like a low bar, but it’s important.

When Eleni Kounalakis told us she used to swim in the irrigation canals near her house down a dirt road in Sacramento County, we knew she could empathize with people living in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

When she grew passionate about the young adults she knows living in rented homes because student debt keeps them from buying a place of their own, we knew she could relate to people living here.

When she talked about housing and debt and homelessness not as theoretical problems, but as inextricably connected problems that require a connected solution, we knew she is seeing the same things we’re seeing in our communities. And it doesn’t hurt that she spent 18 years working for one of Sacramento’s largest homebuilders, AKT Development, a company owned by her father, Angelo Tsakopoulos. You can learn a lot in 18 years building homes in the Valley.

That’s why we’re endorsing Kounalakis for lieutenant governor.

In her visit with our editorial board, it was clear she isn’t going to be content to just sit and wait. As a candidate, she’s visited all 58 California counties. Knowing the LG sits on governing bodies for both the UC and CSU systems, she is concerned about higher education access and funding, but also about wasteful spending. She’s keenly aware that the MBA that cost her $2,000 a year to earn in the late 1980s now costs $62,000 at the same UC campus.

Serving as ambassador to Hungary under President Obama, she knows the value of political and international connections.

There are other good candidates among the 12 on the ballot. The two with the most votes on June 5 advances to November’s general.

If Kounalakis’s Valley qualifications don’t impress, then consider Jeff Bleich. He’s smart, connected and also served as an ambassador (Australia) under Obama. And like Kounalakis, he’s never held public office. A regulatory attorney in the Bay Area, Bleich is former chairman of the CSU Board of Trustees and former president of the California State Bar Association.

The most viable Republican on the ballot is pro-Trump businessman Cole Harris, a no-show at major candidate forums. He declines to speak with the press, at least until after the primary – when it’s unlikely to be necessary. Of greater interest to us was the Wikipedia entry that noted three prominent Republicans who considered running, then declined – Rep. Jeff Denham and state senators Anthony Cannella and Tom Berryhill. We’re glad to see Valley people with lofty ambitions, which is the reason we’re endorsing Kounalakis.