Political Notebook

Valley isn't forgotten, governor candidate Villaraigosa says at Fresno thrift shop

Governor candidate Villaraigosa tours Fresno thrift store

Antonio Villaraigosa, a candidate for California governor, tours Fresno CA's Neighborhood Thrift store to see the work it contributes with jobs and training
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Antonio Villaraigosa, a candidate for California governor, tours Fresno CA's Neighborhood Thrift store to see the work it contributes with jobs and training

Antonio Villaraigosa, former California Assembly speaker and mayor of Los Angeles, spoke at a Fresno thrift shop on Tuesday, focusing on his promise to bolster economic growth and education if elected governor.

"There are a lot of good, hard-working people here," said Villaraigosa of his trips to Fresno and the Central Valley. "People who are checking all the boxes, they're doing all the right things, and they're struggling. And they're looking for someone who is going to fight for them."

His visit to Neighborhood Thrift in the Tower District was in line with the focus of his campaign, promising more economic opportunity and equality for all.

"This state has got to do a better job of growing together," Villaraigosa said. "We can't give up on so many people. So the thrift shop, in some ways, was the perfect place for us to come to. "

He vowed to be a governor for the entire state, not just "L.A. and San Francisco."

Villaraigosa held a small news conference and then toured the shop, which is a job training facility. He talked to reporters about immigration, high-speed rail, water and health care.

He was joined by around 15 local elected officials who are endorsing him, including Fresno City Council Members Esmeralda Soria and Paul Caprioglio.

"He is one of us," Soria said, adding that Villaraigosa is from a working-class family and has fought "very, very hard for working families."

Antonio Villaraigosa, center, addresses the media and a small crowd before touring Neighborhood Thrift on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

The Valley has been a priority for Villaraigosa since officially declaring his candidacy in November of 2016. He's talked in numerous Valley cities, and said approximately 20 percent of his visits outside of Los Angeles have been to the Valley. He said he has the endorsement of 80 elected officials in the central San Joaquin Valley.

He met with citrus farmers earlier Tuesday, where he talked about his support for more water storage.

"When I was in the Legislature, we actually agreed to two dams," Villaraigosa said, "and ever since, Sacramento has been blocking and tackling. And I said, 'If you want to fix the water issue, you got to build trust and you got to keep your deals.'"

He said the Central Valley has three of the five highest poverty cities in America, and "we got to do something about that."

"I've talked about bringing prosperity zones to high-unemployment, high-poverty areas, where we provide tax credits to companies so they come to places like some of the cities here in the Central Valley."

It's also important to bring back "redevelopment," he said, to counter that the "state took away 1.5 billion dollars in the middle of the housing crisis and we need those dollars for housing, for economic development."

He said graduation rates are also lower in the Valley than the state average, and that he plans to change that.

"We're folks that believe when you invest in people, it can pay dividends down the line."

He said he's the only candidate to propose building a University of California medical school at UC Merced, because the region is the "most underaccessed area in the state when it comes to health care."

On high-speed rail: He supports connecting two major economic engines — Los Angeles and San Francisco. He touted that he built three light-rail lines and one bus line, "more than any city in the U.S." when he was mayor, and it became a "catalyst for development."

Of immigration, he supports a plan for "dreamers" – those eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) – along with an "ag-job plan" and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.

"They can get at the end of the line, they can pay taxes, they can't have committed serious crimes, but they ought to have a pathway to citizenship."

He said the "anti-immigrant" hysteria didn't start with "this guy in the White House."

"We've been hearing it for a very, very long time and I've been standing up to it."

After his stop at the thrift shop, he headed to two private events: a roundtable discussion with grassroots activists in downtown Fresno, and then a campaign fundraiser in Fowler.

Political columnist Dan Walters recently reported that Villaraigosa has pulled into a virtual tie with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the long-time frontrunner, based upon a January statewide poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

That survey, however, named only seven gubernatorial candidates — published before the newest contender, Amanda Renteria, a former Hillary Clinton campaign official, shocked many by jumping into the race last month. Renteria is from Woodlake.

The survey showed Newsom in the lead with 23 percent of prospective voters and Villaraigosa with 21 percent. State treasurer John Chiang was trailing at 9 percent. Twenty-four percent said they were undecided.

Villaraigosa visited Fresno in November, where he spoke at a lunch event hosted by The Maddy Institute. He was last in the Valley in December to attend a job training event in Bakersfield.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge