Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom discussed a myriad of key issues Friday with dozens of central San Joaquin Valley leaders and more than 100 community members in a tightly packed town hall meeting in central Fresno.
Newsom reminded the crowd that he promised to return to Fresno during his last stop while on campaign, and the state’s new top man spent hours being inundated with testimony. His afternoon began with a series of closed-door meetings with local leaders and ended in a more public town hall – both of which discussed the Valley’s key issues: poverty, air quality, water, education, pre-term birth and a prevailing feeling of under-representation at the state level.
“It’s important for me to be back,” Newsom said to open his town hall, “because I want to demonstrate not just rhetorically but substantively my commitment – not my passing interest – my commitment to this community and this state.”
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The incoming governor made commitments on virtually all of these things and more. He promised that his adopted budget, which he said was due in nine days, would commit significant money to areas such as postnatal care, secondary and special education, carbon reduction, Alzheimer’s research and job creation.
It was a demonstrably pro-Newsom crowd. There was a guest list, although it appeared that no one was turned away at the door. The venue – a building belonging to the local Teamsters union and Newsom’s regular Fresno speaking locale – was meant to hold far less people than it did Friday night.
Addressing criticism about criminal justice
The statements that came closest to criticism – aside from megaphone-assisted accusations from a few protestors outside the event – came from outgoing Coalinga Mayor Nathan Vosburg. The self-identified Libertarian shared his community’s concerns over drought issues and increased property crime that his constituents believe resulted from Proposition 47 and other criminal justice reforms.
Newsom, as slick a politician as any Valley audience has seen in 2018, noted the mayor’s concern while also saying that increases in property crime weren’t necessarily related to the decreased criminality of non-violent offenses. He explained that these changes were also a financial necessity for California, which could no longer afford a prison system that was at 200 percent occupancy.
He also addressed income inequality, saying we “are living in the poorest state and not just the richest state in America.”
“We’re a $2.8 trillion a year economy, and we have close to 8 million people living below the poverty line,” Newsom added. “And we have close to 135,000 people out on the streets and sidewalks. And we have a crisis called affordability, and that’s happened on our watch.”
He continued: “We own this moment, and we have to address it.”
Possible avenues for closing the gap include increased investment in community colleges, a higher minimum wage and sales tax adjustments, Newsom said throughout his town hall.
High-speed rail reservations
Newsom expressed reservation over the state’s high-speed rail program, saying the plan that he and others signed up for has long since morphed into something else. He noted he was “assessing the stewardship of the High Speed Rail Authority” as well as reviewing a recent audit of the project and meeting the legislators in order to give the public a clearer picture of what is actually being worked on.
He deflected talk on the lack of Valley appointees on key statewide boards, such as the California State University Board of Trustees, saying he’d like to appoint more local folks but his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, has been making all of the appointments.
Newsom said he was surprised to learn there was not a satellite governor’s office in Fresno and would address the need for such a hub in his budget, which ultimately must be approved by the Legislature.
Praise for Trump
The governor-elect caught some in the audience by surprise when he praised President Donald Trump for his recent visit to the state to survey the devastating effects of recent wildfires. He noted that his much of his discussions with the president actually centered on Valley issues – water, agriculture, among others.
He applauded Trump for not playing political games when it came to federal disaster declarations, but Newsom said the state would continue to oppose the president when its core values were attacked. He counted some 45 lawsuits against the federal government the state was involved in, but he clarified that most of these were reactive.
“We don’t wake up every day looking to fight the Trump administration, but we certainly will fight and stand strong when our values are attacked and our leadership is under assault,” Newsom said.
Newsom noted that opposing the federal government in regard to environmental issues was particularly important in defense of the Valley, where poor air quality and related respiratory problems have shortened lifespans and cost millions.
Immigration was one issue Newsom held up as an area in which the state could not only oppose the federal government’s current trajectory but also work proactively on its own to help. He noted that other states have shelters constructed for migrants seeking asylum, but California does not.
Soria joins governor’s advisory council
Newsom said several times he was looking for outspoken leaders from the Valley to inform his opinion. It would seem he’s already picked one out, naming Fresno City Council President Esmeralda Soria to an advisory council to his transition team. Previously, former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin had been the Valley’s lone representative on this advisory council.
The incoming governor was rushed by a throng of people after the town hall, many seeking pictures or to pass documents or requests along.