Now that the 2016 general election is over, brace yourself for a 2-year sprint for the race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown.
You can add the name of former Los Ángeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to the list of Democrats who are eyeing the position. Although Villaraigosa has not officially announced, all evidence – from his listening tours to words coming from those associated with him – points to him declaring soon his candidacy for governor.
At last month’s Bakersfield Business Conference, the 64-year-old Villaraigosa set aside his prepared speech and spoke against the nasty rhetoric heard on the campaign trail and encouraged people to work together. He told listeners to expect his announcement shortly after the election.
At a recent meeting at Fresno’s KFTV Channel 21 Univisión, Villaraigosa made sure his remarks were not being recorded. He spoke about the need for a robust Republican Party and a strong Legislature to come up with solutions.
Last Tuesday afternoon, Villaraigosa who has been making sweeping campaign stops in Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Iowa for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, made a brief stop in Sacramento to meet with reporters and say he will make a special announcement–a few days after the Nov. 8th election– that might affirm the launch of his campaign for the 2018 California governor’s race.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that I am going to make an announcement and I think everyone knows where it’s headed,” said Villaraigosa.
If Villaraigosa decides to run, he would be the first Latino to announce his candidacy out of contenders like Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, California State Treasurer John Chiang and billionaire, and founder of NexGen Climate, Tom Steyer.
Speculating he will carry a successful bid and become governor in a state where Latinos make up the largest demographic, California may possibly see its first Latino governor in a over a century.
California is ready, said Villaraigosa.
“I think Californians are open to a Latino, an Asian, an Anglo- to an African-American, a woman, Muslim, Jew or even a Christian. I think most people are going to make a decision about governor based on their ideas, hopes, aspirations and will elect someone who will speak to that.”
He added, “Look, I believe glass ceilings are made to be broken.”
The Golden State has not had a Latino governor since José Antonio Romualdo Pacheco Jr., the son of a prominent Alta California family, was the first and last Latino to serve as governor of California. Pacheco (Pacheco Pass is named after his father, a captain from Guanajuato, México) was the state’s 12th governor, serving 10 months in 1875 before going on to Congress.
No other Latino has been elected to statewide office since Pacheco won a race for lieutenant governor in 1871.
Villaraigosa served eight years as mayor of Los Ángeles until he had to step down in 2013 due to term limits. He is the former speaker and Democratic majority leader in the California Assembly. As a third-generation Mexican-American, the possible gubernatorial candidate and newly-wed said California is the place he wants to continue achieving his political aspirations.
When U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement effective this year, both Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez and Attorney General Kamala Harris announced their bids and have effectively, been aggressively campaigning through the state.
Initially, Boxer’s seat was something of interest to Villaraigosa.
“Of course I contemplated the position, but to be quite frank, I have been a speaker and a mayor and I just didn’t see myself in Washington, D.C. as a legislator. I much prefer the role of chief executive and being able to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I am more focused on California,” said Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa did not say who he supports for the position, only stating that he will “vote” and is focused on his own “announcement.”
Speculation around Villaraigosa’s candidacy for governor isn’t news.
In the last year, he has embarked on an intense listening and learning tour of California making stops in more than 48 cities– almost half of them in the Central San Joaquin Valley–hoping to gather information and learn more details about the pressing issues facing Californians across the state.
In the Central Valley, the challenges are unique compared to Southern and Northern California.
I learned that the whole water issue is more complex than people in the big cities would have you believe. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
A recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that from 2013-15, California has the highest poverty rate in the country at just over 15 percent. Further, out of the largest 300 cities in the nation that are impacted by high poverty rates, 77 are in California and 3 of the top 5 most poverty-stricken towns are in the Central Valley.
Villaraigosa knows what he needs to tackle if he decides to run for governor.
“I learned that the whole water issue is more complex than people in the big cities would have you believe. I also learned that there are a lot of hard working people who are not working anymore,” said Villaraigosa.
He compared the Central Valley and its people to the Midwest.
“They believe in family, God, have a strong work ethic and believe in this great country. But for some reason, they, and people from the Inland Empire all share this sense that their issues and their problems are not really important to some of our policymakers and that nobody listens to them.”
Part of his Central Valley tour included a stop in East Porterville, an unincorporated community in Tulare County that has been plagued by drinking water issues for years and claims about 12 percent of the state’s failed water wells. Dozens of government agencies and nonprofit organizations have stepped in to help the community, eventually drawing international media attention for its woes as California’s drought worsens.
“I learned that if you are lucky enough to be a homeowner in East Porterville, you get a 50 gallon tank of water; and if you are poor you have to shower in a truck,” said Villaraigosa.
In the next few days, Villaraigosa will travel to Los Ángeles where he will await election results as they pour in on Tuesday evening. Talk of Latinos finally waking the “sleeping giant” is something he is hopeful about.
“I tell people, no one will respect us and no one will give us our dignity if we don’t demand respect–and we won’t get it if we don’t vote. The reality is, if we don’t vote, they will continue their anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant rhetoric,” said Villaraigosa.
During this campaign season, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has managed to “get away with a lot of things” he said, and that is why it is not only crucial but important Latinos cast their vote.
“Trump talks the way that he does because he can. And, he gets away with it because we don’t vote. We have a duty to stand up to people like him, to people who see us as invisible and who demonize us,” he said.