Hillary Clinton reflects on California’s power in visit to San Francisco

‘The only thing standing in the way of the United States having a great century is us’

California has the chance to lead the country, even the world, on the zeitgeist of our time.

With the fifth-largest global economy and nearly 40 million residents, the Golden State stands to be at the forefront of issues such as immigration reform, economic inequality, climate change, online disinformation — and even the survival of democracy itself.

That was the message from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday evening at a private event in San Francisco’s Seacliff neighborhood. She attended a fundraiser hosted by The Examiner owner Clint Reilly for Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, who is up for reelection in November 2022.

“It’s unlike any set of challenges we’ve had for quite some time,” Clinton said of the current moment.

Some of those challenges were the inspiration behind the former secretary’s latest book, a novel titled “State of Terror,” which she co-wrote with author Louise Penny and promoted at an event at the Saint Francis Yacht Club later Sunday evening. While the book itself is a fictional political thriller, Clinton said she drew on specific experiences from her tenure as secretary of state to inform the characters and plot.

Kounalakis was the first woman to be elected as California’s lieutenant governor, the second-highest ranking executive position in the state. She credited Clinton, the first woman to be nominated by a major political party in the United States for president, for work that “changed a generation” and inspired her own campaign for office.

Both women agreed the fight against climate change is one of the places where global cooperation is key and where California has a huge opportunity to lead the way.

The state is looking at a $75 billion budget surplus over the next two years. Of that, roughly $15 billion will be allocated towards climate resilience including funds for drought resistance, wildfire response and electric vehicle infrastructure. That’s the largest such investment ever made in the state.

Kounalakis, the daughter of an immigrant who waited tables to put himself through college, said California’s buzzing economy is largely thanks to the many people who come here from abroad. Roughly 27 % of the state’s residents were born in another country, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Pointing to the state’s leadership on immigration issues, she said the “connection between immigration and being the fifth-largest economy in the world” is no coincidence.

With California’s great power comes great responsibility.

Clinton called on lawmakers to figure out a way to address soaring housing prices in the state, where the median cost for a single-family home topped $818,000 as of June.

“I hope you can also get housing prices down,” she said. “Because you cannot have a state where it is basically impossible for anyone in the middle class or lower to afford to live.”

The former presidential candidate took a strong stance against the insidious role social media plays in spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories that delegitimize facts and muddle the truth.

Clinton said the algorithms “send us down rabbit holes and we can’t help ourselves but to chase them,” and noted the political consequences could be dire across state and federal elections.

“If we don’t figure out a way to compete with the social disinformation machine, we are going to find ourselves losing the Congress in 2022, and, sadly, I’m afraid, losing the electoral college,” she said.

Clinton issued a commanding call to action to state officials to go into their own backyard to hold Silicon Valley executives, “the people who designed the system,” accountable for the ways their platforms and products undermine real truths, feed insecurities and promote dangerous autocratic tendencies.

Despite myriad challenges faced by the country and this state in the present moment, both women expressed unwavering optimism that no obstacle is insurmountable.

“The only thing standing in the way of the United States having a great century is us,” Clinton said.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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