Antonio Villaraigosa, a former mayor of Los Angeles and former speaker of the Assembly, returned to Fresno on Friday in his campaign for governor, where he’s in a crowded field and behind in the polls.
Villaraigosa, 64, addressed about 40 people at a lunch event hosted by The Maddy Institute, which hopes to bring every gubernatorial candidate to Fresno before next year’s election. The lunch attendees included Fresno Councilman Paul Caprioglio and Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, announced he is endorsing Villaraigosa for governor. “He understands the future of the Valley and the future of the nation,” Costa said.
Villaraigosa covered several subjects in his speech, including education, housing policy, water policy and health care.
California has the world’s fifth largest economy, but three cities in the Valley have some of the highest poverty rates in the country, he said.
“If this state is going to restore the luster to the California dream, we’ve got to a better job of lifting more people into the middle class,” he said. The answer is education.
“The new economy is predicated on intellectual capital,” he said. “You need a college education or a skill. … We’ve got to get on our game.”
Not all jobs require a four-year eduction, “but they require an education,” he said.
He said he’s visited the Valley several times since deciding to run for governor. Voters should “look under the hood, kick the tires” when comparing candidates, he said.
His next stops Friday were Kerman, Firebaugh and Merced.
Los Angeles is similar to the state in its diversity and income disparities. Villaraigosa said as mayor he challenged the schools in Los Angeles, reducing the number of failing schools and increasing the graduation rate. He also added 1,000 police officers and opened parks at night to keep down crime. When he was mayor, the Watts neighborhood went 18 months without a homicide, he said.
We need to stop screaming at the farmers and start working with them. They’re putting food on our table.
Antonio Villaraigosa, candidate for governor
He painted himself as a rational politician trying to reach good public policy decisions. “I’m not a screamer,” he said. “I’m willing to work with the other side.” As mayor, his three chiefs of staff included a Republican, he said.
He said he opposes a single-payer health care system because it’s too expensive. “I believe health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said. Under the single-payer system, Medicare, Veterans Administration health care and Kaiser Permanente insurance would no longer exist, he said
“Before we radically transform our health care system, we ought to have a plan to pay for it,” he said. He said single-payer is “pie in the sky … Pie in the sky doesn’t put food on the table. What people are looking for is rational proposals.”
He said he has firsthand experience with health care policy by getting the Healthy Families program for low-income families passed when he was Assembly speaker “because we figured out a way to pay for it,” he said.
On water, he said he supports the Temperance Flat dam project east of Fresno and the Sikes reservoir project near Sacramento.
The argument that farmers use too much water compared to cities is “bogus,” he said.
“Who’s eating those fruits and vegetables?” he said. “The truth of the matter is we’re eating and drinking 100 percent of the water … We need to stop screaming at the farmers and start working with them. They’re putting food on our table.”
He said he opposes the proposed twin tunnels project to move water through the Delta to the south state because “it divides the north and the south. There’s no support in the north for the tunnels.” More water recycling and conservation is needed first, he said.
On housing policy, the approval process for housing projects needs to be shortened to reduce costs, Villaraigosa said. The California Environmental Quality Act is “broken” and doesn’t necessarily protect the environment, he said.
“You have to have a balance, and you have to be practical,” he said. He said he favors bringing back redevelopment agencies to allow cities like Fresno to work on affordable housing.
In a meeting with reporters, he said he supports the recent gas tax increase.
“We haven’t raised the gas tax since the early 1990s,” he said. “But we’ve got to put that money in a lockbox. We can’t spend it on other things when times are bad.”
This week, the Sacramento Bee posted an op-ed by Villaraigosa in which he said the state’s economy “is a tale of two Californias,” with coastal areas thriving and inland areas “still suffering the effects of the Great Recession,” slow growth and not enough high-wage jobs.
He proposed the establishment of “prosperity zones,” similar to the enterprise zones that gave tax incentives to businesses creating jobs in designated areas. The zones were eliminated during the recession.
Villaraigosa isn’t the only Democrat seeking to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, who is termed out and can’t seek re-election.
Other Democratic candidates are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang and Delaine Easton, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction. Republicans John Cox, a businessman, and Assemblyman Travis Allen are also running.
Newsom is considered the frontrunner. The Democrat from San Francisco had the support of 26 percent of likely voters, according to a survey from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies released in September, the Sacramento Bee reported.
In a virtual tie for second place are Cox at 11 percent and Villaraigosa at 10 percent. Allen of Huntington Beach had 9 percent, while Chiang and Easton trailed at 7 and 4 percent respectively.