HH: Today, I am turning my attention to the race for the governorship of the Golden State, arguably the second-most important executive job in these United States. Governor Jerry Brown is rounding the corner into the last year of a total of 16 as governor. Brown served as governor from 1975-83 and returned to Sacramento as the big boss in 2011. In between Brown’s runs, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger were governors, and Southern California and California, first a state in 1850, has an unbroken record of white males in what is called the horseshoe, the governor’s office in the state capitol. Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to change that record of, well, non-diversity. He is one of many candidates who are formally seeking or considering a run to replace Jerry Brown, among them the Democratic mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, California’s treasurer, John Chiang, the past superintendent of California’s schools and a state legislator, Delaine Eastin, and GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen. There may be others, including former Congressman Tom Campbell and zillionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, but it is Villaraigosa with the longest resume and arguably the best claim on California’s often-divided Latino electorate. Villaraigosa was the 41st mayor of Los Angeles, California from 2005-13. Before becoming mayor, he was a member of the California State Assembly for six years, finishing his time there as speaker of the Assembly. Villaraigosa was a national co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, a member of President Obama’s transition board, and chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. In September, he announced his candidacy for the governorship, and he joins me early this Saturday morning. Antonio Villaraigosa, it’s good to see you again, Mayor.
AV: Good to see you, Hugh.
HH: First one’s a softball. Why you? Why now to run the Golden State?
AV: Well, first of all, let me just say John Cox is also a competitive candidate.
HH: Thank you.
AV: …from San Diego. I give him his…
HH: His pop.
AV: …his pop. What was your question?
HH: Why you? Why now for California?
AV: Well, I think right now at this time in this state, we need someone that understands this is a great state, but we need to make it greater still. We need to make sure that we’re not, that we’re growing together, that we’re not leaving so many people behind. This is a great state. We’ve grown our economy faster than the national average for a few years, grew more jobs than Florida and Texas combined, but there are a lot of people living in poverty in this state, a lot of people who aren’t making it, who feel this economy is rigged. And I feel like the next governor has got to focus on the economy, got to make sure that we’re growing the economy, that we’re growing more middle class jobs, that we’re educating our kids, training them for the jobs of the 21st Century, and that we’re building the infrastructure that we need.
HH: Now a lot of people are looking at this from the sidelines and saying this is a classic north-south race. You and Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco are the frontrunners, and it’s going to be Silicon Valley versus the old Democratic coalition that has powered so many Democrats of the past. Is that a fair way to assess this at this time?
AV: Well, it’s one way to assess it. I’ve also heard that the north always beats the south, and yet you named many of the governors. Jerry Brown lived here when he ran back when. Pete Wilson, George Deukmejian, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger were all from the south. I want to be the governor of the entire state, and so I’m going, I just got back very late this morning from Watsonville and Salinas and Santa Cruz. And I’m going up and down the state, and I want to get as many people as possible. And Southern California obviously is where I’m from, and I’m going to focus here as well.
HH: What about the idea that California has only had white men in the horseshoe? Is it time to change that? Is that going to be part of your very outspoken campaign on progressive issues, but also an appeal to the diversity of the state to be represented finally in the horseshoe?
AV: Well, I think I’m uniquely poised as governor coming from a city as diverse as Los Angeles. 67% of Los Angeles comes from Asia, Africa and Latin America. We have, what, 27 different nationalities that have the largest population here in L.A. outside of their country of origin. We’re rich and poor in this city, I think 14th in the nation in terms of poverty, economically challenged. So I think I’m uniquely poised to represent this state, which is also very diverse.
HH: You know, a new superstar of the state, new senator, Kamala Harris, I was in New York, Manhattan in Central Park talking to a group of young progressives, a few hundred of them, as part of OZY fest, and they asked me just for one comment, and I said well you know, Kamala Harris is a pretty unique political talent, and before I had T in talent said, standing ovation from this wide crowd. I think she’s going to be the Democratic Party nominee in 2020. Has she got a stake in this governor’s race?
AV: Well, not yet. I hope she will support my candidacy, but as you say, she is a great candidate. She’s going to be knocking on doors in Iowa, I expect, but in any case, I’m focused on this race, not the presidential race in 2012, 2020, rather. I’m focused on this one, the 2018.
HH: Let’s talk about the fact that your successor, Eric Garcetti, has just made the announcement that this city is going to be home to the Olympics. I gather you wrote the first letter to get that, the golden rings here for the city?
AV: I did in the spring of 2013.
HH: How excited?
AV: Excited. I mean, you know, look, you’ve got to acknowledge the leadership of Casey Wasserman and Eric Garcetti in getting these Olympics. L.A. is the best place to have an Olympics. You asked me before the show are we ready. We could be ready in a few months to hold this in the Olympics. We’re the only city that has the infrastructure for that, and I’m excited about it, and I think L.A.’s excited as well.
HH: What do you make about the idea of, I don’t like to change mayors in mid-stream, it’s going to be an 11 year runway to the Olympics, of changing the charter to let Garcetti, one time, one mayor, to let Garcetti run all the way through to the end of the Olympics to 2028? Do you think that’s a good idea?
AV: Well, I think you’ve got to ask him that. I know he’s looking at a few things in the future, and I’m not sure he’d want to do that. I think he’ll be fine. He’s already extended the term about a year and a half, and so I think that was a good thing.
HH: Yeah, well, we’ll come back to that, perhaps, but let’s turn to California specifically, and generally the diseased nature of our politics. On your website is an amazing statement in light of what happened in Charlottesville this week that I’d like the audience to read, and it came in the middle of the debate over single payer. You wrote, “The rhetoric over single payer health care in California has taken an ugly, even dangerous turn, and now every responsible leader has a role to return this discussion to a civil and honest debate. As a result, the Speaker, not you, the new Speaker, is receiving threats via social media that include references to various means of execution. One power is reported to have written he praised someone who checks Rendon’s schedule for baseball practice,” an obvious reference to the attempted assassination of members of Congress as a Congressional baseball practice. “This must stop,” you wrote. “This must stop now. We all condemn this hateful speech at once, and we should remember we are better than this. A progressive speaker like Anthony Rendon standing up to make legislation better is not an action to be condemned. It is work that should be praised. The organization of leaders raising the temperature of this discussion to the boiling point should also pause and reflect on their own responsibility to dial down the rhetoric and return to a civil debate.” First of all, thanks for saying that, and secondly, after Charlottesville, it’s even more important that leaders say this. What has happened out there, Antonio Villaraigosa, to politics?
AV: The coarse nature of our politics on both sides of the aisle, by the way, as you could see, because that was on the Democratic side. And you know, people screaming at each other, well, violence in the case of Charlottesville and other places, you know, I don’t think there’s any room for that. And it used to be that words civility and statesmanship and compromise weren’t bad words. We’ve got to work together. We don’t have to agree on everything. I’ve known you, have been on your show numerous times.
HH: 20 years.
AV: …respect you. We don’t agree on everything. But we can agree on things, and it seems to me that we’ve got to focus a lot more on what we agree on and not what we disagree on.
HH: Would it be a good idea for the country, and a model, if you and Mayor Newsom, and maybe Treasurer Chiang, the top three or four, would get together on a regular basis to have debates that are conversational as opposed to theatrical like the GOP debates were? Would you be in favor of that, and start it soon?
AV: I’ve actually called for debates, and I did so a couple of months ago. John Chiang and Delaine Eastin have accepted. Gavin Newsom hasn’t. I know he’s a very good communicator and debater. I’ve called for those debates, and I agree with you. They should be civil. They should be conversations. I’m looking forward to them going forward.
HH: When we come back from break, we’re going to talk about the challenges facing the Golden State. They’re enormous. In fact, it might not be a governable state anymore.
AV: It is governable.
HH: It is governable? Well, we’ll talk about the specifics when we come back.
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HH: Antonio, there are three big issues – taxes, debt, education. Let’s go. Take a look at the tax structure. Right now, California just raised its gas tax $.12 cents so that it’s now $58.3 cents per gallon of gas here. The rate on personal income tax is 13.1%. The minimum combined state, local and county sales tax is 7.5%. The taxes are crushing this state. What are you going to do about that as governor?
AV: Well, it’s a big issue. I think it’s broken. The taxes, tax system is broken all the way around. We also have a Prop. 13 that’s not working. In 1978, homeowners were paying 40% of the rate, and corporate was paying 60% of the rate, and now it’s turned around. And what I’ve said, if we’re going to fix the tax system, we can’t pick and choose. One group would like to fix the upper income tax, and the other group, the property tax. I think we need to fix the whole thing. California forward think long, have looked at that and said we’re going to have to address that whole big issue. I can’t tell you that anybody running for governor is going to successfully do it. I can tell you this. I’ve got a record of taking on the tough issues and a record of balancing the interests. And I’m not afraid to take that issue on.
HH: The second big one is debt. It’s called the California wall of debt, and according to California Common Sense, it’s $443 billion dollars – $218 billion dollars in retirement is owed, $126 billion in bond payments, $64 billion in infrastructure commitments, $22 billion in so-called deferred payments, the almost $7 billion owed to the federal governor in unemployment, $4 billion dollars in something called Interfund. $440 billion dollars in debt, Antonio Villaraigosa, this state’s actually bankrupt. It’s just not officially so.
AV: Well, folks said that L.A. was going bankrupt, if you remember, and I had to make the tough calls. Working with our employees, I got them to go from 6% contribution to their retirement to 12%, 11%, rather. I got new employees, I capped retirement for new employees instead of getting 100% at 55, they got …at 65. That’s since been changed. I’m tough enough and resourceful enough to work with our employees to address our growing pension problem. I wasn’t afraid to take on the tough issues, if you recall. We, you know, almost everybody said we weren’t going to make it, and we did.
HH: Could you look the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, the big player, or the California Teachers Association in the eye and just say you young people are getting screwed? We’re writing checks that will not, we can’t pay. They’re bounce. Can you look them in the eye and get them to move?
AV: I won’t say exactly that, but I’ve had a history of looking people in the eye and saying let’s work together. This isn’t working for any of us. This has to be sustainable going forward for the next generation. I did that, if you recall, you know, when I was mayor, almost everybody said we weren’t going to make it, and we had to make the tough calls. 37,000 employees got, you know, 40 days of furloughs, or 10 days of furloughs, I’m sorry, 40 days for three years. I didn’t want to do that. I did that, because I knew that we had to get back on a sound financial footing. And what happened? We’re back. We’re holding the Olympics. We’re going to hold the Olympics. Downtown is booming. So I can look people in the eye and say let’s work together to fix this. And it won’t be popular. But I don’t think the next governor needs to be popular. He or she needs to get the job done, and as you said, and there are big challenges facing this state.
HH: He or she also has to tackle education. You did a lot as an education mayor, and it’s not usually the venue of the mayor to worry about education, but we’re still screwed in California. They’re the 30th lowest graduation rate. When it comes to 4th grade math scores, we’re 48th. When it comes to 8th grade math scores, California is 47th. The 6.2 million children who are in the California education system are simply not being served except in certain oases of excellence. How in the world does a governor change that with the unions’ hands around the money, because most of that new money is going to pension payments?
AV: Well, you mentioned taxes, you mentioned pensions. I have a record on both. Let me talk about education.
AV: When I was elected mayor, we had a 44% graduation rate. By the time I left, it was 72%. Those schools, the L.A. schools, are now at 77%. I took on a subset of schools in L.A. that had a 36% graduation rate. The schools in Watts, Boyle Heights and Downtown, they now have an 84% graduation rate. I just visited Alisal High School in Watsonville, I’m sorry, in Salinas, yesterday. And I can tell you Watsonville has a 95% graduation rate. More than 90% of those kids are in a school lunch program. Our kids can make it. They can learn. I want to work with the teachers’ union. I want to work with parents. I want to work with students. I want to work with communities to fix our schools. But as you said it, we have an 80% graduation rate in this state. For Latinos and African-Americans, it’s closer to 70%. They’re 60% of the kids in our public schools, and when they graduate, only 13% of them are going to a four year college. The next governor is going to have to work with our partners, but it’s going to have to push all of us to excel to a much greater degree. I’ve got a track record of doing that. I’m not afraid to do that. And as I said, you know, I’m willing to do that.
HH: It’s time to wrap up, Mayor. It’s a divided country. It’s a divided state. Why is Antonio Villaraigosa in a position to bring people together, because that really is sort of the uber problem in America? It is a divided country. Why you?
AV: Well, again, I’ve got a track record of bringing people together. And L.A. is a very diverse place, politically, ethnically, racially, economically. You know, I wasn’t a perfect mayor. I made my mistakes. But you know you look at Downtown today, you look at Hollywood, you look at the three light rail lines, one busway, you look at crime down 49%, homicides down 45%, I was a guy willing to roll up my sleeves and work with everybody. I wasn’t a screamer. I was a doer, and I think we need doers again. And I’m willing to do this. And I know it’s tough, and I’m not a Pollyanna, and I know you know, we won’t get everything done. But I’m willing to take on this job and serve the people of this great state.
HH: And how much are you going to have to raise to do this, Antonio Villaraigosa?
AV: A lot of money.
HH: I mean, how much is a lot?
AV: Well, in the primary, at least, you know, something close to $20 million dollars, and the run off, maybe $25-30 [million].
HH: And is that doable? I mean, do you have people stepping up and saying okay, I’ll help, because Newsom’s got the northern money. I mean, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, has got all those Silicon Valley dollars. How do you match that, 30 seconds?
AV: Well, actually, he started two years before me, Chiang a year before I did. I’m raising money at a faster rate, but yes, I’m way behind. And I’m going to keep on knocking on doors. And you know, this isn’t my first rodeo. People give when they think you’re going to win. People give as you progress. As you saw, I started out, Gavin was at 36, I mean, at 30, I was at 6, Chiang was at 5. It’s now 22 to 17 to 5. I’m noticing people getting a little more interested as a result.
HH: Oh, very much so.
AV: And I’m just going to keep on working as hard as I’ve always done.
HH: Come back often. Bring him with you, and I’ll moderate one of those debates. It would be good to have a Republican have the Democrats talk.
AV: I’d love to, Hugh.
End of interview.