A large turnout of citizens showed up at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union office in Salida last week to hear from Gavin Newsom, California's lieutenant governor who wants to succeed Jerry Brown as governor.
Newsom appears to be the frontrunner among Democrats heading into the June 8, 2018 primary for office of governor. Polls indicate that the former San Francisco mayor has a five percentage point lead on former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Whoever wins will go onto the November 2018 election facing a Republican challenger in a blue state.
Stanislaus County Democratic Central Committee chairman Dr. Harinder Grewal of Keyes introduced Newsom with praise for labor unions helping to elect Democrat candidates by putting boots on the ground.
Newsom was first elected lieutenant governor in 2010 and abandoned his race for governor against Brown in 2014. He was re-elected to the state's second highest office in 2014.
Newsom opened his town hall style meeting by asking the audience to call out topics of concern. Healthcare was the first topic called out in unison, followed by water, climate change, high-speed rail, immigration, affordable housing, college tuition, women's rights and poverty.
The Marin County Democrat delved into the problem of poverty and unemployment.
"The June unemployment numbers came out last week - I haven't had time to review them - but the May unemployment numbers came out about a month ago and they really underscore the fact that we are legitimately living in two different worlds in the same state," said Newsom. He noted that the San Francisco unemployment rate in May was 2.7 percent while Imperial County has a 20.5 percent. Poverty is highest in Los Angeles County at 26.1 percent.
"We can talk a lot about income inequality. We need to talk more about wealth inequality. We talk about a state where we're doing extraordinarily well, pockets of the state, and other pockets of the state are struggling. In a state where 8 million plus people are living below the poverty line; where in our supplemental index, where 24 percent of our children are living below the poverty line. There's no state in America that has poverty numbers like the state of California - the highest child poverty rate in the country.
"These are extraordinary things because with respect - in this I want to challenge you Democrats - this happened on our watch. We can scapegoat it but you can't sugarcoat the fact that we have not figured out a way to mine that gap."
Newsom said he supports sanctuary cities for those who are living in the country illegally, California's high-speed rail project and was supportive of the recently-adopted $52 billion gas tax hike to build up the state's infrastructure. He also supports leaning more heavily on taxpayers to fund colleges rather than increase tuition costs.
The lieutenant governor said he will soon be announcing his plan for universal health-care for California. It parallels a policy adopted when he was mayor. Healthy San Francisco, the brainchild of former San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, is available to all residents who earn up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level - $60,300 for a single person - and who have no other health coverage option. The service is even offered to illegal immigrants. Under the model, nearly 30 community health centers and six hospitals in San Francisco take care of roughly 14,000 patients - down from a high of 65,000 before Obamacare went into effect in January 2014. The San Francisco program is funded through the city's general fund and a charge on employers ranging from $1.76 to $2.64 per hour of wages. Employers contributed $15 million and participants kicked in only $2 million in fees.
On more than one occasion, Newsom chided President Trump. After asking one girl in the front row what her concerns were and feeding her the idea of school, Newsom drew laughs by saying "too much Trump?"