BERKELEY -- The recent legislative effort to restore affirmative action in public university admissions "should've been called the 'There are too many Asians at Berkeley' bill," Republican candidate for governor Neel Kashkari told several hundred Cal students Wednesday.

Democrats "will never come out and say to you there are too many Asians at Berkeley, but that's what the bill was all about," Kashkari said of Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, recently shelved by Sacramento lawmakers after an outcry from many Chinese-American parents, who fear affirmative action would make it harder for their children to get into top schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA.

The comments came as Kashkari, an asset manager from Laguna Beach and former U.S. Treasury Department official, pitched his platform -- including the K-12 and higher education plan he unveiled a day earlier -- to students in a UC Berkeley political science seminar.

Kashkari, an Indo-American, continues a busy schedule of campaign visits around the state, even as he trails Republican rival Tim Donnelly and Gov. Jerry Brown while lacking enough money to stage anything more than a carefully targeted ad blitz in the race's final weeks.


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His K-12 plan includes granting even more local control -- not just by districts but also by individual schools -- of state funding while eliminating most of the state Education Code so local principals, teachers and parents can use the money as they see fit. He also wants charter schools to have the same level of funding and facilities as traditional schools, and he would eliminate a cap that limits California to 100 new charter schools per year.

For higher education, Kashkari wants to tie state funding to campuses' success rates -- as measured by credits accumulated, students retained, courses completed and degrees awarded -- while putting more UC and CSU courses online and offering free tuition to science, technology, engineering and math students in exchange for a cut of their future earnings.

Education inequality is the root cause of income inequality, Kashkari said Wednesday, claiming that his plan would go a long way toward curing both. He also reiterated the jobs plan he rolled out last month, which includes "unleashing the private sector" -- especially manufacturing and oil and gas production -- from what he says are excessive regulations.

Asked how he could win support from the Democrat-controlled Legislature, Kashkari replied that "the executive branch has to provide leadership and say, 'Here is the biggest problem we are facing,'" and then work across the aisle to solve it. If that doesn't work, he said, the governor can take reforms directly to voters via ballot measures -- an avenue that many Capitol observers say didn't work so well for former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It's not going to be easy, but to make bold changes a governor has to use every power in his or her arsenal," Kashkari said. "We're a democracy and the people of California can make any changes they want if they're so motivated to do it."

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.