“We Can’t Truly Be Progressive Unless All of California Is Making Progress.”

“We Can’t Truly Be Progressive Unless All of California Is Making Progress.”

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Antonio Villaraigosa’s remarks at the California Latino Economic Institute Forum on February 1, 2017.

Thank you. I’m excited to be with you here today. These days, I find it particularly reassuring to be among my fellow Californians.

As the threat of the Trump Presidency becomes all too real – Californians are uniting as never before. Millions marching to protect: our health care, a woman’s reproductive freedoms, civil rights and civil liberties, and to defend California immigrants and their families facing arrest and deportation.

President Trump seeks to divide us from our third largest trading partner and closest neighbor to the south ­with a wasteful wall on our border, which could cost up to $40 billion dollars to build. He proposes a religious test for refugees—contrary to our Constitution. These policies create walls of division and distrust, pitting: Muslims against Christians and Jews, documented against undocumented, wealthy against working people.

Here in California, we are not allowing ourselves to be divided. Instead, we are uniting around a common purpose – to defend our values and protect the people of our state.

California has long been a beacon of hope for the nation and the world. We have welcomed millions who share a vision of freedom, tolerance and opportunity. These newcomers have joined with long-time residents to help build a dynamic economy and a rich multi-cultural society.

But as we stand up for our values, we must also remember what we are fighting for.

While it is important that we uphold our progressive principles, it is imperative that we take stock of how well we are doing to make economic progress a reality for the many Californians who have been left behind.

Silicon Valley is booming so fast it can’t house its employees, while the Central Valley is home to some of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Most of the communities along our coast are flourishing, while too many of California’s inland communities are languishing.  Travel a few miles from Brentwood to Boyle Heights or a long distance from Hillsborough to Huron, and you will see that there are still two Californias – one largely white and wealthy, the other largely Latino and poor.

We shouldn’t resent the wealth of our coast, but we must create policies that extend economic opportunity to every corner of our state – and to everyone in California.

That’s why the last thing we can be is complacent. We have more wealth, but also more poverty than many states in the nation.

California is the sixth-largest economy in the world. Yet, housing affordability is slipping away in a state where homeownership is at its lowest since the 1940s. The California dream is harder and harder to achieve for a middle class that is actually shrinking for the first time in nearly a century.

Too often where you live determines how much you earn and even how long you will live. The life expectancy in Marin County, the highest in the state, is nearly 8 years longer than the life expectancy in Kern County in the Central Valley.

This growing inequality is threatening the very fabric of our society. And we can’t be truly progressive, unless all of California is making progress.

Economic inequality has grown because our policies have not kept pace with our changing economy. As in other states, California has lost many good-paying jobs and replaced them with jobs that pay low wages.

Today, the cost of housing, child care and higher education soar, while wages stagnate.

These changes coincide with a major demographic shift in our state. We are now a plurality Latino state, on our way to become a majority Latino state.

At precisely the moment Latinos have become the largest ethnic group in California, the promise of a better life is growing farther and farther out of reach.

If the recent election taught us anything, the erosion of economic opportunity gives space to the politics of fear. That’s why the work of organizations like yours is so important.

At this moment, California must lead. And because Latinos will soon to be the majority of this state, we must lead. We must help this state become a national example of how to build a successful 21st Century Economy that creates more middle-class jobs for more people. We must work to preserve the fundamental notion that anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules ought to have a clear path for a better life.

Californians remember that voters lashing out amid economic anxiety is nothing new. As a state, we’ve seen this movie before.

I was first elected to the Assembly in 1994 on the heels of a deep recession that plunged our state billions of dollars into debt and sent unemployment sky high.

This gave rise to the scapegoating of immigrants, culminating with Proposition 187, the elimination of bilingual education and affirmative action.

During my six years in Sacramento, I worked with leaders from both parties, forging common ground to find solutions to the problems facing our state.

We created a children’s healthcare program that extended coverage to 750,000 children across the state. When the federal government stripped public support for legal immigrants, we helped bring people together to ensure those benefits were covered here in California.  We raised per pupil spending and made progress in improving our schools.

Latinos were a minority then – building a broad coalition of people from across the state who understood that these policies were in our collective best interest.

Now that we are soon to be the majority, let’s remember that moment. We endured because we were not alone.

Let’s remember the hand of friendship extended to us back then when our Muslim neighbors are besieged by bigotry today. Let’s remember the support given to us when women are being denied basic health care. Let’s recall who stood with us when it is time to stand together to protect the LGBT community, our environment, students from deportation.

But at this pivotal moment, being progressive also means promoting economic policies that help lift all Californians into the middle class.

In my own public career, I have never run as “the Latino” candidate or served as a “Latino” elected official. I have always sought to unite all people around a common purpose.

However, I am a proud American, but equally proud of my Mexican heritage. I know that California was built on the backs of so many who came so far in the pursuit of the American dream. People like my grandpa Pete who came from León, Guanajuato Mexico at the turn of the century.

We are Americans first and foremost, but if anyone wants to make our Mexican heritage an issue, we will not shy from that. We embrace our Latino heritage as every bit a part of our American heritage.

Because blind-eye bigots don’t know what we know. Latinos stepping up to take leadership is not a threat to American values. It is an emphatic embrace of the American values of reveling in our diversity and welcoming our newcomers.

Latinos want and need what all Californians want and need. A stronger economy – creating more middle-class jobs.

Many of our kids need access to early childhood education to a greater degree than others and so the fight for quality pre-school for every child is not political – it is deeply personal.

For the parents of Latino children, children who now make up the majority of our public schools in California, improving those schools isn’t a campaign slogan – it is absolutely necessary to the opportunity we all aspire to.

Because so many of our families must commute hours from distant homes, we understand that affordable housing close to jobs and excellent transit is not some nice-sounding position paper – it is an absolute necessity.

Because it is now Latino kids flooding into the community colleges, CSUs and UCs, opening up access to free and affordable higher education for everyone is not an abstract idea – it is an immediate priority.

Because so many Latino kids literally go hungry when there isn’t enough water to grow our crops, we know it is not an option to choose between protecting our wildlife or providing the state with the water it needs to grow – we must absolutely have both.

The promise of America cannot be an elusive abstract. It must be concrete and reachable by more of us.

Opportunity. Opportunity for all. The freedom to work and prosper together. These are the core promises of America that the diverse communities of California understand and embrace.

And because we embrace the freedom to succeed through our own hard work – we are not ready to settle for the tyranny of false choices.

We do not need to make a choice between growing our economy, improving our business climate and protecting our environment or closing the income gap. We can and must do it all. We must clear the path for our businesses to prosper, but ensure that we are prospering together.

We must safeguard the rights and hard-earned pensions of our employees while protecting the next generation of California’s workers who must pay for these pensions. I launched my career as a union organizer fighting for the rights of workers. I was tested as Mayor of California’s largest city – where I saw “balanced” budgets were too often balanced on the backs of the poor and the powerless.

I, for one, will not ignore the challenge of paying for future obligations in a way that protects workers today and poor children tomorrow.

We can protect rights of teachers and promote better schools for our children. Our teachers need to earn more. Our teachers and parents need to be heard more. Our kids need to learn more. We can – and must – do it all.

We here today understand that as Latinos become the majority of this state – our success is California’s success.

Because we take so deeply to heart the promise of America, our presence strengthens America.

Because our idealism is tempered by the reality of too much poverty and too few economic opportunities, our focus on growing the middle class will create wealth and opportunity for everyone.

This is not just a Latino moment. This is a California moment. And indeed, an American moment.

So, thank you for your time, for the work you do and for joining the fight to ensure that we meet this moment to find a better way forward together.

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