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Gavin Newsom treks to Texas to talk jobs

The Democratic lieutenant governor says California can learn a thing or two from Texas about creating jobs.

April 21, 2011|George Skelton | Capitol Journal
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

From Sacramento -- History predicted it: Gavin Newsom resigned as San Francisco's prominent mayor, drove 90 miles to Sacramento to become lieutenant governor — and disappeared.

As former Vice President John Nance Garner famously said of such an office: It's "not worth a pitcher of warm spit."

Anyway, Newsom finally resurfaced last week — in Texas, among political polar opposites.

The Democrat tagged along with Republican legislators on a "fact-finding mission" to learn why Texas allegedly is outperforming California in attracting businesses and creating jobs.

It did seem odd that a Democratic lieutenant governor — a poster boy for California liberalism — would pal around with GOP lawmakers, learning at the knee of Lone Star State conservatives, especially "tea party"-backed Gov. Rick Perry.

One is tempted to chalk it up to irrelevant Sacramento politicians striving for relevancy and attention. And, of course, there's some of that.

But I also prefer to take all of them at their word: that they're looking for ways to make California more business-friendly and rehabilitate the state's stumbling economy.

They don't have the power to do much — not just the lieutenant governor, but Republicans in a Democratic-dominated Legislature. But in case anyone did want to listen to them in Sacramento....

"There's nothing worse than hearing politicians like me say, 'We've got to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs' and then you see nothing, hear only rhetoric," Newsom told me after returning to California. "We need a workforce plan around an economic plan.

"We've been candidly resting on our laurels a bit. We've got to get back on our game."

That sounds like Newsom calling out Gov. Jerry Brown, his rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination before he pulled out of that race and ran for the backup position. But he insists he's not.

"Some folks were rubbed the wrong way that I headed out to Texas," Newsom says. "But this was not a bash-Brown trip. No one was sitting there taking cheap shots at the governor."

The idea for the trip came from Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue of rural Linda in Northern California.

Newsom popped into Logue's office one day while walking the Capitol halls introducing himself.

"Logue and I don't agree on much, but we both agreed California needs a jobs plan," Newsom says. The lawmaker invited the lieutenant governor to join the Texas trek, and he immediately accepted.

"I give him kudos for that," Logue says. "He was a tremendous contributor, asked good questions."

Logue led a similar fact-finding trek to Nevada two years ago before the Silver State tanked even worse than California.

Nevada "will spring back faster," Logue predicts, "because it has a business-friendly climate."

But Tuesday, the federal government reported that Nevada's unemployment rate for March was 13.2%, compared with California's 12%. Texas' was only 8.1%.

Logue contends that from 2008 to 2010, Texas added 165,000 jobs while California lost 1.2 million. "Texas is clearly doing something right," he says, "and California is doing something wrong."

"The notion that Texas is a better place to do business than California is a complete crock," replies Tom Dresslar, spokesman for state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

He cites data showing that California leads the nation, by far, in venture capital investment. And in the last decade, he says, we have created more manufacturing jobs in such sectors as semiconductors, computers, communications and medical equipment.

There's a very long list of pros and cons for each state, including this one, according to Dresslar: "Texas ranks first in the amount of toxic chemicals and carcinogens polluting air and water."

Newsom says: "There's a lot of myth [about Texas] but also a lot of reality. It pains me as a Democrat to say that, but I'm not going to sit back and let Republicans define the jobs debate.

"We don't have a jobs plan. We haven't had a plan in over a decade. Texas has a plan. One thing is not a myth: They're aggressive, we're not. They know what they're after, we don't. They have an organizational framework to deliver on a plan. We don't."

Brown would say that he's creating jobs by helping the green economy.

Newsom continues: "We ought to get our act together. [Brown] has done an excellent job focusing laser-like on the budget. And we need to put similar energy on jobs. And I'm confident he's going to do that. I keep telling my Republican friends that he gets it, he's going to get it done."

After meeting with Texas Gov. Perry, Newsom came away impressed. "We see the world through different eyes," he says, "but he is singularly focused on jobs, and that was clear....

"We just have to execute, and Perry's executing. Some of our party don't want to know that because it's uncomfortable….

"We don't need to be like Texas. We just have to be more like ourselves — rediscover our strengths, rediscover our spirit and stop making excuses."

Newsom says he's drafting a proposed economic and workforce development plan to offer Brown.

His plan won't call for gutting environmental regulations or reversing labor gains, Newsom says. He foresees streamlining business regulations, expediting permits and making the whole process more predictable and uniform throughout the state. Perhaps even providing some targeted tax incentives.

Economic development roles are scattered all over the state bureaucracy and need to be pulled into one shop under a powerful administrator reporting directly to the governor. That consolidation could even save money, he says.

"We could do more with less, and that's not just a throwaway line."

Give the role to the lieutenant governor. He shouldn't need to fly off to Texas to make himself useful.

george.skelton@latimes.com

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