Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who first ran for governor 26 years ago, announced his third Democratic bid for the office Thursday, saying his decades of experience in state government would allow him to vanquish problems that have eluded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“California is not a movie set, and gridlock is simply not acceptable,” Garamendi, 63, said in an announcement outside the Capitol, faulting Schwarzenegger for failing to resolve the state’s fiscal problems. “This is real life. This is about real people.”
Garamendi’s early entry into the 2010 race is the latest indication that the campaign to replace Schwarzenegger, who must abide by voter-approved term limits, is shaping up as protracted and crowded. For the first time since 1998, there will be no incumbent.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began an exploratory bid a month ago. Other Democrats said to be contemplating the race include Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown -- who was governor from 1975 to 1983 -- and former state Controller Steve Westly, who ran two years ago but lost the primary election.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s name also has been mentioned, and Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County has filed papers allowing her to raise money for a campaign.
On the Republican side, Steve Poizner, who succeeded Garamendi as state insurance commissioner in 2007, is said to be considering the race. And Tom Campbell, a former GOP congressman from the Bay Area who briefly served as Schwarzenegger’s finance director, has also filed papers for an exploratory bid.
Other names circulating from that party are two former executives of Silicon Valley companies: Meg Whitman, who was at EBay; and Carly Fiorina, who headed Hewlett-Packard.
Next to Brown, Garamendi has the longest political resume of these potential candidates -- 16 years as a state legislator, eight as insurance commissioner and three as an environmental official in President Clinton’s administration.
A former Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia whose rough hands document his experience on a family cattle ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Garamendi is respected in Democratic circles for his detailed knowledge about California’s water and environmental issues. But his poor track record in raising money contributed to his primary losses in his lackluster gubernatorial campaigns of 1982 and 1994.
“He has been committed his whole life to public policy, but he has never developed a significant fundraising base,” said Darry Sragrow, who ran his 1994 campaign. “It’s just something he’s always chosen not to do.”
Garamendi briefly flirted with entering the 2003 recall election that Schwarzenegger won. Narrowly elected lieutenant governor in 2006, he has managed to draw attention to the low-profile job by diving into fights over state tuition increases and the plight of two humpback whales that wandered from the Pacific into Northern California rivers in spring 2007.
By emphasizing his insider credentials, Garamendi is gambling that California’s current economic troubles -- reminiscent of the ones that helped propel Schwarzenegger into office -- have soured voters on the idea that electing a neophyte politician is the way to improve the state.
In his comments, Garamendi painted Schwarzenegger as too disinterested in substance to be effective, calling the governor’s move Thursday to temporarily cut the pay of about 200,000 state workers a “stunt” that would not close the state’s $15.2-billion budget gap.
“It’s time for a governor who’s a workhorse, who is willing to put in the long, hard hours of negotiations, of working hard at the table until the task is completed,” he said.
Garamendi laid out broad goals of establishing universally available healthcare through a publicly financed insurance system, bolstering the state’s universities and pursuing aggressive reductions in carbon emissions.
He said he would resolve California’s perennial budget stalemates through a combination of spending cuts, systemic reforms and -- without apology -- tax increases.
“It has to be done,” Garamendi said. “Ronald Reagan knew that. He did it twice. Pete Wilson knew that and he did it, as did George Deukmejian. There is no other solution.”