[Interview with California Governor Candidate] “Let’s Open the Door to a Brighter Future”

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Governor of California candidate Antonio Villaraigosa speaking to the Korea Daily’s Michael Won about his plans ahead of the 2018 election.

Relay interview special of State Governor candidates
Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to run for State Governor
“Jobs, education, homeless are most pressing issues in CA”
“We welcome Korean immigrants and need Korean free trade”

By Michael Won

“I have to engage in conversations with even people who don’t like me.”

There are politicians who excel specifically at campaigning. Former President Barrack Obama was considered as an exceptional campaigner. So was Bill Clinton. Antonio Villaraigosa, 64, is another as that very strength was the driving force behind his triumphant run in 2005 to become L.A.’s first Latino Mayor in 133 years.

Even after visiting the office of the Korea Daily on Jan. 23, Villaraigosa took his time to offer a handshake to every one of the editorial staff members prior to sitting down for a one on one, as he aims to run for Governor of California in 2018.

“I like people,” said Villaraigosa. “I even like speaking with people who don’t like me. That’s politics.”

After campaigning as a Democrat in a widely conservative areas of Central Valley and Inland Empire, Villaraigosa seemed even more optimistic about his chances. “A voter’s mind can always change after meeting with a candidate,” he said.

After receiving his BA in history from UCLA in 1977, Villaraigosa graduated from People’s College of Law, but failed to pass California’s bar exam. He then worked for the L.A. teachers union and soon became the head of American Civil Liberties Union L.A. In 1990, he was appointed to lead the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Board.

Villaraigosa began his political career in 1994 when he was elected to the California State Assembly. Although he fell short of becoming the Mayor of L.A. in 2001 after losing to James Hahn, he won a seat on the L.A. City Council to represent the 14th district. Finally, in 2005, Villaraigosa defeated Hahn to become L.A.’s first Latino Mayor since 1872 and won reelection in 2009.

Now, Villaraigosa is vying to write even more history. In 2018, he could potentially become the first Latino Governor in the United States. The Korea Daily sat down with Villaraigosa to discuss his vision and policies.

-You mentioned before the election in November that you plan to do whatever it takes to stop Donald Trump from becoming the president.

“I didn’t vote for him. I said the things he said and the things he said he was going to do are a threat to who we are as a democracy. I’ve also said we need to work with him where we can and take him onto where we have to. It’s not enough to just criticize him. We’ve got to show him that California is going to try a different path.”

-You’re close to Hillary Clinton. Have you spoken to her since the election?

“She called me about three weeks after the election. We had a really good conversation. She was very positive. She is going to stay involved, I believe, but she’s not looking back.”

-The issue of illegal immigration has surfaced again as a controversy.

“They come for better lives of their children. I think we need to give them a pathway to citizenship. A pathway so we can integrate them better. So I believe we need to pass immigration reform. Obviously, Donald Trump wants to build walls. I don’t think that’s the answer. No country has ever deported 12 million people. Latinos—particularly Mexicans—are only about 60 percent of the undocumented. These are our families. These are hardworking people. My hope is that he’ll change his position, because deporting 12 million people has never happened. It’s not going to happen. You can never build a wall and insulate yourself from the world. Every once in a while when there’s a bad economy, people say, ‘Let’s crack down illegal immigration.’”

-How about the illegal immigrants who’ve committed violent crimes?

“Usually, we’d incarcerate them here and then they get deported. There’s nobody who said that people who killed people—people who commit serious felonies—shouldn’t be held accountable or shouldn’t be deported. They actually commit less crimes, because they’re working. They’re working in your restaurants. They’re working in factories. They’re working, sometimes, two or three jobs. While I was Mayor, there was a 50 percent drop in crimes, 50 percent drop in homicides. I grew the police department to one thousand officers and the Korean community wanted a police station and I gave them the Olympic Division.”

-President Trump has made the U.S. pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What was your thought on the TPP?

“I support the TPP as a general concept. Can we make it a little better? Sure, but let’s be clear. We need to be open to trading with Korea, Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The U.S. and Asia need to be working together and trading with one another. 9 out of 10 new markets for goods are from outside of the United States of America.”

-Critics of the TPP pointed out that the manufacturing business in the U.S. will collapse.

“Are there some winners and losers? Yes, but there will be a lot more losers if we’re not trading with the world. That’s just a fact.”

-How would you assess Obamacare?

“Look at all of the western, industrialized nations of the world. All of them have healthcare for all of their people. This was the only country that didn’t provide healthcare for everyone. Obamacare is a step in the right direction. Twenty million people have healthcare as a result of it. Was it perfect? No. Do we need to improve on it? Yes. I’ll tell you what happened. A lot of the healthy had to pay more, so the sick can have healthcare. We didn’t have a public option. We didn’t have enough competition. So, more and more people opposed. But remember, right now, it’s about 50-50. Fifty for it, 50 against it. Watch when all of the people who’ve had healthcare don’t have it anymore. The insurance plans are going to be full of sick people, not the healthy people. And if it’s full of sick people, the insurance companies are going to go bankrupt.”

-What is your position on California building a high-speed rail?

“Korea has high-speed rail. China has high-speed rail. Japan has high-speed rail. Spain has high-speed rail. France has high-speed rail. There are 16 countries that either already have high-speed rail or they’re going to build it. The only country without it is the most powerful economic engine in the world. I tell people that it’s time for us to get into the 20th century—not even the 21st century. Will it cost a lot? Yes. If we don’t build it in 30 years, will it cost even more? Yes. Will we build it at some point? Yes. So, what should we do? We have to make sure we’re squeezing the dollars that we spend in the economic way. We should be building the economy in the same way we’re building all the trains in L.A. that I’ve built—or spearheaded. You need to leverage transportation for economic development, for affordable housing. Then, you get a multiplier effect.”

-In California, there’s too much disparity in education between the rich and poor areas.

“Well, I agree with that. We’re going to be a million down in the number of college graduates by 2025. We’re also going to be a million down in a number of people with specialized degrees. That’s because our schools aren’t working for everyone. I’m a big believer in setting a high standard. I’m a big believer that we need to spend more for our schools, for our kids. The next governor needs to make education and workforce training an absolute priority. We need to train people for the jobs in the 21st century.”

-California has the sixth largest economy in the world, but the gap between the rich and the poor still remains wide.

“We’re the sixth largest economy in the world, and yet, of the top 300 cities with the highest poverty rate, 77 of them are in California. So 15 percent of the population and almost 25 percent of the impoverished. In the next 18, 19 months, you’re going to hear me talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. I think we learned from the last election that people want a leader who’s going to focus on their pocketbook, focused on the economy.”

-Do you have a plan to revive the California Redevelopment Association (CRA)?

“A slimmer, trimmer version of it, I call it 2.0 CRA. As you know, in Los Angeles, you see more and more homelessness. Since I left office, there has been about a 36 percent increase in homelessness. We’ve seen a growth in homelessness in the last three years. We’ve seen a growth of violent crimes. Violent crimes are up by almost 30 percent. So, we’re going to have to focus on housing, economic development. When we led people out of prison because of the court decision that said our prisons were too full—and remember—California’s incarcerated and United States’ are 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. So the courts have said we have to let these people out of prison, but we can’t just let them out. We have to have programs for them. We have to have housing. We can’t say to someone, ‘You’ve committed a crime. You did your time. Then, you can’t get a job!’ Think about that. It just doesn’t make sense. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

-You changed your last name from Villar to Villaraigosa.

“When my ex-wife said to our friends that she was going to take my name, I was surprised. I said, ‘If you’re going to take my name, I’m going to take your name.’ It was a gesture of recognizing the equality of the sexes. There is one other reason why I thought it made sense. My father left me when I was 5. I grew up in a home of domestic violence and alcoholism. He left three kids with one mom. I didn’t feel like that name had any real significance for me. My mother raised me. I didn’t have this loyalty to the name. That was the smaller reason. That’s why I didn’t want to go back to that name.”

-You got married last August to Patricia Govea in Mexico.

“I now have six kids. She has given me two boys. One’s a lawyer in Mexico, Javier, and the other, Sebastian, is at Loyola High School. So I now have a basketball team and a reserve from 15 to 41!”

-Any last words to the Korean-American community?

“First of all, I want to thank you once again. I want to say, as I knock on your door and ask for your support to be the next governor of this state, you remember the things we’ve done together, and the things we’ll do together in the future. Thank you so much.”

Find the full interview video here:

 

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