The Fresno Bee Editorial Board was admittedly skeptical of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom when its members sat for a phone interview with him this past week. What would the former Democratic mayor of San Francisco, with his coiffeured hair and designer clothes, know about the central San Joaquin Valley? There was no dirt under his fingernails. Did he even care about our region? Just how much attention would he give it if he becomes California’s next governor?
Far from being a smooth-talking, love-you-today-and-never-see-you-again candidate, Newsom was impressive in his knowledge. He was apologetic for urban elite who he said are smart people without a clue about the Valley. He was compassionate toward the working poor who make up much of the Valley’s population.
And he was inspiring in his vision for the Valley’s future, and that of the state overall.
By contrast, businessman John Cox, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, was long on describing California’s current ills, but short on bold ideas to put the shine on the Golden State.
For these reasons, The Bee recommends voters support Newsom as governor.
Newsom has big ideas in spades. This editorial cannot possible cover them all, so go to his campaign website to read them.
But here are the key takeaways that told us Newsom is all in when it comes to making sure the Valley remains a key part of the California dream.
“I want to break the meme of elected officials ignoring the Valley,” he said. “There is a growing divide of coastal and inland. I truly want to be representative of all of the state.”
First, he knows the Valley is centered on agriculture — and yet is is becoming much more. The day before he talked with the editorial board, he met with students at UC Merced and was impressed by their “young, dynamic entrepreneurship.” Newsom has also seen that at the Bitwise tech incubator in downtown Fresno.
But where does ag fit in his view? “California is like a three-legged stool. Agriculture is one of the legs ... Agriculture is profoundly important to me,” he said, noting that he owns four wine-grape vineyards and four wineries.
Valley farmers often feel Bay Area liberal interests are working against them. Newsom admitted to ignorance on the part of those in the urban centers like San Francisco. People there “are remarkably unaware of the frame you just advanced and how raw those feelings really are ... We are talking down to people in the Valley. That has to stop. It is a disgrace, actually. I understand why people (in the Valley) have real animus and hard feelings. It is warranted.”
How would he change that? “Government has a responsibility to be an advocate to understanding and developing stronger relationships. There are really bright people who have not traveled the state and gotten out and appreciated the abundance in the state and the incredible contribution of farmers and what they are doing.”
Water is critical to farming, and if elected, Newsom promises to make sure farming interests are represented when he makes appointments to the state Water Resources Control Board. When reminded how that board allocated too few dollars from the last big state water bond to the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir project on the San Joaquin River, Newsom pointed out that he is no stranger to dam projects. San Francisco relies on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park for its water. “I believe in storage, passionately. You make an argument on above ground, below ground, conjunctive use. I am there.”
On the economy, Newsom offers forward-thinking ideas that would benefit the Valley:
▪ He pledges to create workforce and economic development plans for regions of the state. “The Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley have unique strengths that differ from Los Angeles and the Bay Area. California must harness its geographic economic diversity and plan accordingly.”
▪ To aid small businesses, especially those owned by minorities and women, Newsom wants to cut regulations and expand access to capital.
▪ Toward the goal of ensuring young people today will have jobs in the future, Newsom will ask the UC, CSU and community colleges to review industry trends and what skills workers will need. From there, curriculum will be developed so students can graduate job ready.
▪ Another form of job preparation is creation of 500,000 “earn-and-learn” apprenticeships. With 2029 as the deadline for this goal, Newsom sees it as a “vocational pipeline of high-skill workers.”
▪ As automation expands and workers are replaced by machines, Newsom wants to cushion that blow by creating what he calls “skills accounts.” These would be backed by state government, business and labor, and would allow older workers who are displaced to return to community college for training so they can land new jobs.
Newsom was an early proponent of high-speed rail and, unlike Cox, continues to support the bullet train project. But now he sees state support differently from what voters originally approved. Rather than running from the Bay Area to Southern California, Newsom calls high speed rail a “valley to valley” system — Silicon Valley to Central Valley. He will expect realistic budgeting by the rail authority as well so more cost overruns don’t occur. He will look to private enterprise to run the line from the San Joaquin Valley to Southern California.
If a recession does not hit the state, he promises to put more funding into high education — “hold me accountable in that first budget.”
As lieutenant governor for nearly eight years, Newsom has been able to watch Gov. Jerry Brown manage the state budget and the Legislature’s often over-the-top wishes. Newsom says he can use the line-item veto when necessary. “I will do my best to hold the line. We need to pay down debt. And there are major pension issues in this state.”
Ask Cox about California and he rapidly ticks off problem areas: expensive housing, government overregulation, state agencies failing to do their jobs. “I don’t know how Gavin Newsom runs for governor. If you look at the cost of living, of gas, electricity, schools are 47th in the nation, these are quality-of-life issues people care about. This state has gone off the rails on quality of life.”
Newsom offers hope instead: “There are lots of challenges, but there are so many damn good things going on. There is no other place I’d rather be.”
Add that to his experience in state government and two terms as mayor of San Francisco, and Newsom is ready to be California’s next governor. The Bee recommends voters support him.
How The Bee came to this recommendation
The Bee’s Editorial Board consists of Publisher Ken Riddick, Editor Joe Kieta, Editorial Page Editor Tad Weber, Vida en el Valle Editor Juan Esparza Loera, and Vida Staff Writer Maria Ortiz-Briones. They conducted in-depth phone interviews with Gavin Newsom and John Cox. Additional research about the candidates was also done using publicly accessible online sources and The Bee’s archives.
The recommendation is just that: a helpful opinion meant to guide readers as they reach their own decision on which candidate to choose. This recommendation is the consensus opinion the Editorial Board; the news staff does not play any role in its creation.