As governor, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he'd champion charter schools, small business and the beleaguered Central Valley, even if it meant occasional conflict with his Democratic Party's orthodoxy.
“It's great to stand up for people who drive a Tesla, but we should stand up for people who drive a Toyota, or ride a bus, the way my mother did,” Villaraigosa said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs show.
Villaraigosa, who grew up poor in a single-parent household in Boyle Heights, suggested he'd be more in tune with the needs of working class people than another leading candidate in next year's race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
He once again zinged Newsom for attending the annual World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort town of Davos earlier this year, an invitation Villaraigosa said he passed up so he could attend the the U.S. Conference of Mayors instead:
“I criticized those 'Davos Democrats' who fly over the homes of people we've left behind and have never been in their living rooms... I've been in those living rooms, I've lived in those living rooms.”
A June poll by UC Berkeley had Newsom leading a six-person field with 22%, followed by Villaraigosa at 17% and the other candidates in single digits, with 37% of those surveyed undecided. Villaraigosa predicted a competitive race with two other “very strong candidates” in state Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin, “but I do believe I'll be in the (top two) runoff.”
Villaraigosa said California is a “great state” creating the most jobs in the nation, but also “an epicenter of poverty.”
“We've got to grow more middle class jobs. We've got to improve the regulatory framework and the business climate for small business. We've got to train and educate our kids and we have to build infrastructure,” he said.
Little separates the leading Democratic candidates on most issues. Like Newsom, Villaraigosa has supported the state's major tax and environmental initiatives and he's even more emphatic in his backing of the controversial bullet train project.
But while Newsom has only “set standards,” Villaraigosa portrayed himself as a doer who in eight years as LA mayor oversaw infrastructure improvements, a 28% reduction in carbon emissions, growth in green-energy jobs and contract concessions to hold down rising public employee pension costs.
“That's the difference,” Villaraigosa said, not mentioning Newsom's own two terms as mayor of San Francisco.
Villaraigosa suggested he'd take a low-key approach to dealing with the bombastic President Trump, a departure from the confrontational rhetoric currently emanating from Sacramento:
“As governor I'm going to focus on what I have control of … that's the best way to fight back the noise, not scream and tweet it every few minutes.”
He also gave a nod to those in Orange County and elsewhere who opposed the recently enacted gas tax, which he supported: “I understand that. I don't demonize people who disagree with me ... We can't tax our way out of the fact that we're D-minus in infrastructure. We're gonna have to be more creative than that.”
Villaraigosa touted his support of education reform, including charter schools.
A former teachers' union organizer, Villaraigosa as mayor clashed with the union over some of his education initiatives, including a failed attempt to take over the the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was one of the most prominent supporters of reform candidates who were elected in May, shifting control of LAUSD to charter-school advocates.
“I respect teachers and I know they have a tough job, but I also believe we have to put the interests of kids first,” he said. “The battle is about power and I said early on I want the kids and their parents to have the power to choose a local school that's successful or another school that's even more successful.”
Candidates Newsom and Chiang have also appeared on “Inside OC.” All of the interviews are available on YouTube. The Villaraigosa show is currently airing on PBS SoCal and Cox. Show times are at www.rickreiff.com. The interview is also available here.
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