Governor hopeful Villaraigosa offers vision for improving California
By: Martin Wisckol
While gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa displayed his Democratic colors on key issues during visit to Orange County Wednesday, he also took several positions more commonly associated with Republicans.
Villaraigosa pointed out that the number of charter schools tripled in Los Angeles while he was mayor there, advocating a aspect of school choice embraced by many in the GOP. And he blamed over-regulation for stymying the progress of a host of issues, including small businesses development, infrastructure, affordable housing and desalination plants. He took particular aim at the California Environmental Quality Act.
“CEQA is broken,” he told an OC Forum breakfast audience of about 55 at the Irvine’s Oak Creek Golf Club. “Everybody knows it. It slows down everything and makes everything cost more.”
On the other hand, he continued to largely support the state’s high-speed rail project, and the state’s $52 billion roads-improvement plan, with its accompanying gas- and vehicle-registration tax hikes. Both plans are widely panned by Republicans, and one GOP gubernatorial candidate, Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen, has made repeal of the gas tax a centerpiece of his campaign.
With Democrats holding a 45-percent to 26-percent advantage over Republicans in the state’s voter registration, their party is heavily favored to retain the governor’s post after incumbent Jerry Brown is termed-out next year. There is a possibility that Republicans could fail to make the general election altogether, as happened in last year’s U.S. Senate race to replace Barbara Boxer when two Democrats emerged with the most votes from the state’s top-two open primary.
A May poll by UC Berkeley put Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom atop the field at 22 percent, followed by Villaraigosa at 17 percent and San Diego businessman John Cox at 9 percent. Allen had not yet entered the race and wasn’t included in the poll. Former GOP Assemblyman David Hadley, who has since dropped out, was favored by 7 percent, followed by two more Democrats, state Treasurer John Chiang (5 percent) and former state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin (3 percent).
Undecided voters accounted for 37 percent of the responses and with the campaigns just getting underway, there remains plenty of time for candidates to establish their identities with the electorate.
‘Restore the luster
Villaraigosa’s appearance at the OC Forum was the first in a series featuring gubernatorial hopefuls, with other top candidates scheduled to speak over the next few months.
Villaraigosa readily acknowledged the state’s high poverty rate — the highest in the nation at 20.6 percent when accounting for the cost of living, according to a 2016 U.S. Census report.
“What we have to do is restore the luster,” said Villaraigosa, 64, in the first stop on an Orange County tour that included meeting with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The one thing we have to do is grow the economy.”
Jobs — particularly those created by small businesses — were being lost to over-regulation, he said. He also called for better access to good education and job training.
Meanwhile, the former mayor and state legislator put distance between himself and the state’s stalled proposal to enact single-payer health-insurance.
“It’s a pipe dream at a time when we need to focus on the 2 1/2 (million) to 3 million people who could lose health care” if GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare are successful, he told the Register before the breakfast and, again, during a response to a question from a member of the OC Forum audience.
Like Newsom, Villaraigosa supports high-speed rail in the state, but he wants increased private-sector involvement.
“It’s going to connect the two engines of California — Southern California and the Bay Area — and connect to affordable housing,” he told attendees. “In the Central Valley, it’s going to connect affordable housing with the two economic engines and provide more access to jobs.”
While he supports Brown’s $52 billion road-improvement plan, he said more needs to be done to maximize returns on the money, including matching-fund incentives that could encourage city and county spending, and leveraging state money to win federal grants. The approved plan will increase the gas tax by 12-cents-per-gallon and will increase annual vehicle registration fees by an average of about $50.
“We can’t just keep on raising taxes to pay for infrastructure,” he said.
Allen, who wants to do away with the plan altogether, is pushing for a referendum that would put the measure before voters.