Political Notebook

Newsom talks gas tax, water storage and rural vs. urban divide in Fresno stop

Newsom tours Fresno job training site

On a campaign stop for his bid for governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the Fresno Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee's Electrical Training Center.
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On a campaign stop for his bid for governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the Fresno Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee's Electrical Training Center.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom toured a Fresno trade school Tuesday as part of a series of central San Joaquin Valley campaign stops in his bid to become California’s next governor.

During a news conference after the tour, Newsom answered questions on many of the Valley’s most pressing political issues: water storage, the gas tax, crime, high-speed rail and what he called a “divide” and “growing animus” between California’s urban and rural residents.

“I feel a deep sense of responsibility, if I’m successful as governor, to reconcile (the divide) and to get serious about that,” he said. “I don’t want to become a meme. I don’t want to become the guy that’s here before an election and you never see again.”

Newsom spent time with plumbing, electrical and sheet metal apprentices and journeymen, as well as representatives from their respective unions, at the Fresno Area Electrical Training Center near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

The Democratic frontrunner spent about an hour with the students and staff, exchanging small talk and taking notes on the program using a small notebook he kept in his pocket.

He did his best to put those around him at ease, but the tall, coiffed, well-dressed millionaire couldn’t help but draw reverence as he asked instructors about various electrical training apparatus dangling from the walls.

Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom, center, listens to Chuck Rojas, of the Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, during a tour Tuesday afternoon of Fresno Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee’s Electrical Training Center. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Newsom said visits like Tuesday’s were important, because Democrats “often don’t treat folks who don’t go to college as we should.” There is space in the state budget to “exponentially increase” programs like the one he toured in Fresno, which he said crucially provided a living wage to trade workers and their families.

Brian Brokaw, a consultant working with Newsom’s campaign, said the candidate also had several private meetings before the tour and planned to have several more Tuesday before flying back to the Bay Area. Newsom had a similarly busy schedule in Modesto on Monday.

At the news conference, Newsom defended the gas tax – a hot-button issue for conservatives, who led a successful campaign to bring the issue to voters in November.

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He said voters are free to kill the tax, but they would also be ending thousands of infrastructure projects across the state. Canceled road repairs will lead to more money spent by residents on car repairs, and he said the $5 billion generated by the tax could not be generated elsewhere in the budget, as Republicans have suggested.

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When asked about the Temperance Flat proposal, Newsom said many projects are fighting for a finite amount of money. He stressed, however, that some form of above-ground storage would be built in the near future, as dictated by the voters.

Newsom rejected claims from local law enforcement leaders, including Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, that Proposition 47 had increased crime rates in the state.

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He said independent analysis has proven precisely the opposite. Local officials sometimes use Prop. 47, which downgraded some crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, as a scapegoat for crime in their jurisdictions, he added.

Newsom said the ballooning costs for the high-speed rail project are concerning, but he believes a “(Silicon) Valley to (Central) Valley” train will happen. Once it does, the program will likely need private investment to extend the line south.

This was Newsom’s third official visit to Fresno in the last year, having campaigned here in February and August.

The area is not a strong support base for him, as he received only 17 percent of the vote in Fresno County. Republican John Cox, who will face Newsom again in November, finished first with 34 percent of the vote. Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa was second with 20 percent.

Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics