Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa didn’t commit to a 2018 gubernatorial run during a Friday meeting with The Fresno Bee’s editorial board, but he certainly sounded like a candidate.
He gave broad outlines on his vision for California. He defended his record as mayor of the nation’s second-largest city. He said he was “on a listening and learning tour.” He said he would love to again be a chief executive.
When it came down to an absolute commitment, however, Villaraigosa only quipped “the last time I looked there was no opening.”
Current Gov. Jerry Brown is in the first year of his final term. To date, only Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, has said he will run for governor in 2018.
After passing on a U.S. Senate campaign against state Attorney General Kamala Harris to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer, Villarigosa, 62, now appears to be ramping up his appearances outside of Los Angeles.
The editorial board meeting, he said, was his first since he left the mayor’s office almost two years ago. He is in Fresno to speak at the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation’s 13th annual Developing Hispanic Leaders Gala Night. The other keynote speaker is Maria Echaveste, who was White House deputy chief of staff during Bill Clinton’s second term as president and who earlier this year withdrew her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico after waiting four months for a confirmation hearing.
Villaraigosa, who was also Assembly speaker between 1998 and 2000, is speaking at the gala about education and workforce development, areas that have long been high on his priority list — not just political, but personal.
Soon after he took office in 2005, Villaraigosa made an unsuccessful effort to take control of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He went on push for school choice — including charter schools — and linking teacher evaluations to test scores. On Friday, he said he supports increased funding for both K-12 and higher education, but says such increases must be tied to results.
He likes charter schools, he said, because they are “incubators of best practices.”
But in a theme he revisted time and again during the hourlong session, Villaraigosa insisted he was open not only to compromise, but also to new ideas, and not just in education. He noted that he was a Democrat, but still pushed for pension reform as Los Angeles mayor.
“I’m not an idelogue,” he said. “I’m for ideas that work.”
Villaraigosa also said the state must make infrasturucture improvement a priority. He listed not only water, highways, airports and ports, but intercity transit such as light rail. He touted his campaign pledge ahead of his first mayoral run to build the long-stalled “subway to the sea” — a subway line down Wilshire Blvd. linking downtown L.A. and Santa Monica. Late last year, ground was broken on the first phase of the line.
He also supports the state’s high-speed rail system, which will link the Bay Area and Los Angeles through Fresno and, possibly later, Sacramento and San Diego.
“The fact is, the world’s not standing still,” Villaraigosa said. “We’ve got to make those investments.”
Still, he was short on specifics to pay for not only high-speed rail, but other transportation infrastructure improvements. He talked about “fixing our broken tax system.” One example, he said, was that the service economy isn’t taxed, which makes the state rely more on higher income residents for tax revenue. He talked broadly about reforming, but not throwing out, the state’s landmark Proposition 13 property tax limit measure.
In all such projects, Villaraigosa said there would have to be smart, innovative thinking to make them more cost efficient.
On water, he didn’t dismiss new dams for the state, but made it clear it was not his preference. The best option, he said, was underground water storage.
That said, Villaraigosa made it clear he was open to compromise to bring about a more stable water supply — and such compromise could involve new dams. As it is now, he said the many sides in the water debate are “married to orthodoxy and absolutism.” There must be a balance from the leadership that recognizes needs for agriculture, the environment and for municipalities.
One area that Villaraigosa said needs to be addressed immediately is getting clean and reliable drinking water to central San Joaquin Valley communities that have contaminated or dry wells. He said it appears to him that the situation is a crisis, and in such events the state Legislature should ramp up water bond spending to help.