Gubernatorial candidate Villaraigosa on jobs, small business and the ‘California Dream’

RANCHO CUCAMONGA >> Antonio Villaraigosa spent a lot of time speaking about California’s next governor on Friday, April 28. He’s hoping it will be him.

“The next governor has to restore a little luster to the shine” of the Golden State, the former Assembly speaker and Los Angeles mayor said.

Jobs are up here” in the Inland Empire, beating the state average, “but we still have work to do when San Bernardino is the ninth-poorest city in the nation.”

Villaraigosa spoke Friday at the 2017 Inland Empire Economic Partnership Speaker Series at Universal Technical Institute.

“I’m here today because there’s a great and generous America and it gave me an education and an opportunity,” he said. “There’s no other state that has its own dream. … Have you ever heard of the ‘Alabama Dream?’?”

But today, the California dream isn’t equally available to all state residents, Villaraigosa said.

“The next governor has got to understand this is a potent area … one where the state has to make more investment,” he said. “My vision of a great state is a state where we’re growing together.”

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. Video: Gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa speaks in Rancho Cucamonga

At times Friday, Villaraigosa sounded like a centrist Republican, repeatedly talking about the need to streamline California’s regulatory process and make it easier to construct new houses and build new infrastructure.

“It’s really difficult to build in the state. We’ve got to shorten the time,” he said. “Part of how you deal with (housing) affordability is you have more of it.”

Having served both in the Legislature and at Los Angeles City Hall, Villaraigosa pledged to push back against well-meaning but flawed state mandates.

“Do you remember when you couldn’t go out to play in the yard?” he said. “I think you can have clean air and jobs.”

But there was always a distinctly Democratic cast to his pronouncements.

“Small business is the motor, the engine for the California economy. … You’re going to see a focus on connecting small businesses and including minority and women-owned businesses,” he said of a potential Villaraigosa regime. “Everybody’s got to participate in the dream.”

If elected, he doesn’t intend to go to war with President Donald Trump, a Republican.

“We will work with him when we can and fight him when we can’t,” Villaraigosa said.

But, he said he disagrees with rhetoric and policies out of Washington that are seen as attacking immigration and minorities.

“Diversity has made us strong,” Villaraigosa said. “The best way to fight those policies is to double-down on what we do here, and do it better.”

And again, his prescription for doing so had a centrist cast: “You know a great way to protect the environment? Grow green jobs.”

Villaraigosa also staked out positions distinctly unpopular with many of the state’s Republicans, including supporting Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial high-speed rail project, which was greeted by scoffing in the room.

“A lot of cities have horrible traffic. (Los Angeles’ bad traffic) is 13, 14, 16, 20 hours a day,” he said.

Villaraigosa also said he agrees with the $52 billion gas tax Brown signed into law on Friday, but he doesn’t think it’s an equal burden for all Californians.

Although the former mayor is getting a jump on the 2018 primary election, that doesn’t mean the road ahead will be easy for him.

“At this point, Villaraigosa’s own recent poll gives him decent odds for advancing to a runoff, but at best he would be the second Democrat after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom,” Marcia Godwin, an associate professor of Public Administration at the University of La Verne, wrote in an email Friday.

Villaraigosa’s chances will be even worse if a more-recent Los Angeles mayor throws his hat into the ring, according to Jack Pitney, a professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

“His chances depend on (Eric) Garcetti,” Pitney wrote in an email. “If the current mayor gets into the race, it is hard to see how the former mayor has a path forward. ”

Villaraigosa’s talk Friday was the first of three planned for the 2017 Inland Empire Economic Partnership Speaker Series, sponsored by The Coca-Cola Co. and the Southern California News Group, which incudes this news organization. Future planned speakers include fellow gubernatorial candidates John Chiang, the state treasurer, June 9 and Newsom on June 30.

“The next governor is going to have to make tough calls,” Villaraigosa said. “I’ve got a proven track record: I’ll make those tough calls.”

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