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The Run for Calif Governor: Villaraigosa’s Name Still in Play

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-The rest of 2016 will be consumed with a nail-biting Presidential competition, the possibility of a brokered convention, the first Tuesday in November, and let’s not forget, the race to fill Boxer’s Senate seat. Those of us for whom politics is a favorite spectator sport are watching the brackets fill in for the 2018 Governor’s race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Numerous media reports point to Villaraigosa as a potential addition to the crowded field of prospects. In February, the former LA mayor ditched a possible Senate run. If Villaraigosa rises to the ranks of governor, he’d be the first Hispanic governor since Romualdo Pacecho held that post. To put things in perspective, Pachecho spent some time mining during the Gold Rush and was likely the only California governor who lassoed a grizzly bear. 

Villaraigosa could face some stiff competition in the cash department. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newson has been filling his campaign chest for over a year. A poll of six hundred Californians considered “likely to vote” in the 2018 election that was conducted for Newsom’s campaign by David Binder Research in late January, placed Newsom -- the only candidate to formally declare -- ahead of the competition by 30 percent. Villaraigosa trailed third at 8 percent, behind Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer at 20 percent. GOP Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin clocked in at 6 percent; former hedge fund manager/environmental activist Tom Stever, a Democrat, had 3 percent; state Treasurer John Chiang and former eBay executive/venture capitalist/former state Controller Steve Westley, both Dems, came in at 2 percent each. Nine percent were undecided. The margin of error was 4 percent. 

The gubernatorial race comes at a time when the state’s economic conditions have been generally on the upswing but the state continues to face many challenges. Millions of Californians are at the poverty level or are holding lower-wage jobs, the state’s infrastructure is crumbling, commuters face congested roads and freeways and the drought is still an issue. Local and state governments continue to be hit with escalating pension and employee healthcare costs. 

California’s gubernatorial race is what’s called a “jungle primary” – only the top two vote-getters make it to the playoffs. The primary is open and voters aren’t bound to select a candidate along party lines, so the independent vote is up for grabs. Getting in early can mean more time to garner support throughout the state. Newsom has a strong base in the Bay Area, but Villaraigosa could potentially lock up the Southland. In order to go the whole way, any candidate needs to extend his or her reach throughout the state. 

So what about Villaraigosa’s record? The former mayor had a number of successes. He beefed up the police department, seeded a mass transit boom, but is sometimes criticized for trying to bite off more than he could chew, such as a failed plan to take over LAUSD.  Despite a stint at UTLA early in his career, he has, at best, a lukewarm relationship with unions. In 2014, the former mayor penned a Wall Street Journal opinion piece questioning the teachers’ unions. Challenges emanating from the 2008 financial crisis sometimes pitted him against municipal unions. And under his watch, the 10,000 member LAPD didn’t get a raise for three years. 

Villaraigosa’s term in office was marred by scandal.  Toward the end of his tenure, his affair with a Telemundo reporter was uncovered, ending his marriage. He later told a crowd at Loyola University that his handling of the breakup with his former wife was his “biggest regret as mayor.” However, this personal scandal is unlikely to be an issue in the upcoming campaign for Governor because Newsom also faced a similar scandal during his San Francisco mayoral term. 

Since leaving office in 2013, Villaraigosa has been focused on private business and consulting, leaving him open to some criticism, especially for his role as an advisor to Herbalife. The supplement and weight-loss company has been under federal scrutiny for an alleged multi-level marketing pyramid scheme. The former mayor has also helped Hillary Clinton raise money and was a co-chair for her 2008 run for President. 

All things aside, the widening number of contenders in the gubernatorial race could be positive for the state of California. And Villaraigosa just might be ready to step up to the competition. 

California’s free-for-all style gubernatorial primary, in which Democrats can vote for Republicans and vice-versa, means candidates must reach out beyond their traditional constituencies. 

It’s important to note that Villaragosa is the only Southern Californian in the mix -- and the only Latino. Should he become governor, he would become the first Latino governor in nearly 150 years. Similarly, Chiang, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, could become the state’s first Asian governor.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.