TULARE — Visiting an international agriculture fair Wednesday that drew tens of thousands of visitors to the heart of the Central Valley, Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari said the state's lack of preparedness for the drought that is devastating the region's farmers and ranchers was an example of Gov. Jerry Brown's failed leadership.
"We know that droughts happen and … we're totally unprepared," Kashkari said during a talk-radio show being broadcast from the World Ag Expo, surrounded by massive tractors and automatic grape harvesters. "It's a lack of leadership in Sacramento that's the reason we're unprepared."
Kashkari noted that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also did not prepare the state for a drought. If elected, Kashkari said, he would build more storage across the state, both above and below ground. He said he would need to study whether a costly proposal that Brown supports to build two massive tunnels was the most effective way to move water south from Northern California.
"Clearly we should have been building more storage for years," Kashkari said. "There are a lot of things that people disagree on, but more storage is something the vast majority of Californians agree on."
Kashkari spent about two hours at the expo, which includes 45-football-fields worth of exhibit space showing off the latest heavy equipment, scientific developments and farming accessories. The former U.S. Treasury official did several media interviews, toured the exhibits and met with local farmers, who were largely sympathetic to his views.
The Central Valley overwhelmingly voted for Brown's Republican opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, but heavy turnout for Brown, a Democrat, in more populous urban and coastal areas gave him a decisive victory.
Brown and his current challenger did not cross paths at the expo Wednesday. Kashkari arrived in the afternoon while Brown visited in the morning, his time cut short by a traffic jam that put him about an hour behind schedule.
"When God doesn't provide the water, it's not here," Brown said in brief remarks to reporters.
He reiterated his desire to build the tunnels but offered no new details about his plans to ease California's water woes. He did, however, express confidence that he could find a solution.
"If anybody can get it done, I can get it done, and I'm working night and day to achieve it," the governor said.