San Diego Union-Tribune: 'Antonio Villaraigosa: the clear choice for California governor'
May 11, 2018
California is a big state with bigger contradictions. It is the wealthy tech capital of the world — and the epicenter of U.S. poverty. It is the most influential progressive state — and a tremendous educational disappointment for minority students. It is the boldest state on profoundly important issues like climate change — and one that’s unable to address the financial challenge of creating a sustainable pension system for government workers.
To address these giant California problems, the next governor must be willing to take on the most powerful factions in the state’s dominant Democratic Party. The environmentalists and trial attorneys who use state environmental laws to make adding housing stock so difficult, spurring a dire shortage that has led to sky-high rents and home prices. The teachers unions that don’t just oppose basic education reforms that have worked in other states, but use their clout to win approval of a school “accountability” program that makes it harder to hold districts accountable. The public employee unions that have fought off changes to generous pension programs that could soon consume one-quarter of the budgets of local governments and crowd out basic services like public safety, libraries and parks.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board believes that of the seven major candidates we interviewed, only two have a chance of being elected. Thankfully, this list includes the candidate with the best chance to be the aggressive reformer the state needs: Antonio Villaraigosa. The veteran Democrat’s willingness to challenge government unions while mayor of Los Angeles and his ability to get things done as speaker and majority leader in the state Assembly lend credibility to his claim that he could take on California’s political status quo.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — the only other candidate with a real chance of succeeding Jerry Brown — talks a great game, displaying a deep understanding of a vast range of state issues. Like Villaraigosa, he calls for a variety of changes in state laws that would make it easier to add more housing. But Villaraigosa’s record as L.A. mayor from 2005 to 2013 far surpasses Newsom’s record as San Francisco mayor from 2004 to 2011. Villaraigosa not only displayed an effective, judicious management style in persuading his City Council to restrain city spending during a budget-crippling recession; he won voters’ approval for ambitious transportation projects and beefed up his police force. Yes, Newsom deserves credit for his early championing of same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization. But he hasn’t gotten nearly as much done — or overcome as many obstacles — as Villaraigosa. Questions about Newsom’s ability to build coalitions to advance his bold ideas have dogged him for years. His decision to skip so many debates in recent weeks didn’t help him. If he’s the frontrunner, he seems to be running scared.
Additionally, Newsom’s claim to be an eager reformer on a wide range of issues is undercut by the aggressive way he has courted the Democratic factions which have such sway over Sacramento, starting with the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. They have used their influence to create a public school system that doesn’t just make it difficult to remove ineffective teachers; it funnels them to the troubled schools in poor minority communities that most need the best teachers. In Los Angeles Unified, this has led to a long series of lawsuits credibly alleging these practices violate the civil rights of Latino and African-American students.
L.A. Unified, of course, is the same district that Villaraigosa tried to take control of while Los Angeles mayor. It is no wonder that he has the support of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who has more credibility when it comes to caring about students in public schools than all of the state’s other lawmakers combined.
Villaraigosa’s advantage over Newsom is also plain on another huge issue: health care. While both support expanded access to health care, Newsom joins the California Nurses Association — which endorsed him way back in 2015 — in touting Senate Bill 562. It commits the state to adopting a single-payer health care system without explaining how the $400 billion annual cost would be covered or how huge state and federal legal obstacles could be overcome. When Villaraigosa and others have said these crucial details must be addressed, Newsom ripped them as “defeatist.” In an interview, Newsom irresponsibly doubled down on using the label while defending his own optimism.
The three remaining major Democratic candidates each disappointed in their own ways. State Treasurer John Chiang showed early promise given his financial acumen, but he overstates his role in helping the state get its finances in order and underwhelmed in debates next to bigger personalities. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin has been a witty presence at those debates but is stuck in the past on public education, thinking money solves its ills. And Amanda Renteria, a former official in state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office who joined the race so late she was excluded from debates, is bright and well-educated but lacks experience to be seen as a credible candidate for this office.
The two most prominent Republican candidates are even more disappointing — a huge letdown after 2014’s GOP gubernatorial candidate, Neel Kashkari, a brilliant banker and engineer who may one day end up chairing the Federal Reserve Board. Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox’s shaky grasp on policy is demonstrated by his inexplicable confidence that the state’s housing crisis can be addressed by the same local governments that have done next to nothing for decades. Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen is a demagogue on immigration and a broken record opposing taxes — two reasons California Republicans have stumbled statewide for years — and worse he displays a college freshman’s maturity and time management.
But the good news for Republicans is that the race does have a viable moderate candidate who shares the current governor’s determined fiscal prudence: Villaraigosa. He offers the most promise to push back against the powerful interests that have kept California from confronting its problems. On June 5, we urge voters from across the political spectrum to think about that as they choose two candidates for the November general election. Voters would be best served to have Villaraigosa debate Newsom several times this fall, if Newsom agrees.
This editorial was originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune.