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Garamendi Coy in Altadena

Speaking before supporters in Altadena this week, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi tiptoed lightly around talk of running for governor of California next time around. “We’ll have an announcement about that in January,” he said, though the reception was titled “Garamendi—2010” and nobody present stuck their fifty bucks in the envelope to support his run for anything short of California’s top spot.


Instead, Garamendi spoke about four issues that have consumed his first year as lieutenant governor: the environment, transportation, education, and health care.

“Europe took Kyoto seriously. They made major changes,” he said, regarding the Kyoto Climate Change Conference he worked on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department during the Clinton Administration in the mid 1990s. “Germany now gets 25% of its energy from renewable sources, up from almost nothing 10 years ago.” In the meantime, the United States—which has not adopted the Kyoto Accords—has fallen behind even China in average gas mileage.

“Global warming is a profound problem for our state, our country, and the world; we need to stop ignoring it,” he said, citing warnings from scientists that snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas—California’s biggest water resource—might fall between 30 and 70% this century, while oceans now might rise 30 inches. “In Northern California, we’ll need to rebuild the dike system, as a result. Here in Southern California, we’ll need to find ways to use the tainted water in the huge reservoirs under the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys.”

Talking to a group of 50 or more Democrats who had gathered in the courtyard of the home of Mike and Nairie Balian, Garamendi had high praise for Republican Gov. Arnold Swartzeneggar’s efforts on behalf of the environment. “You hear complaints about all the traveling he does around the world, but nobody’s a better spokesman on California’s environmental challenges. Right now, we’re working together to get a high-speed rail bill passed.”

Garamendi first authored a high-speed rail bill in 1989 during his 14 years as a California state senate representing the region around his family ranch outside Sacramento.

Before the reception this Tuesday, Garamendi had attended a University of California Regents meeting, where he has attempted to address the spiraling tuition costs, which now costs students $23,000 a year. “Tuition in the UC system has doubled in the past five years,” he said. “We’re moving away from the most important public benefit California has ever established, almost 150 years ago—free public education.”

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Not only is a University of California education more expensive, Garamendi believes we’re changing the system’s basic intention. “We’re moving to privatization, and that will have a profound affect on poorer Californians as well as the state’s economy,” he said, pointing to the contributions the public university system has made in developing California’s mining, oil, agriculture, space, and electronics industries, contributions that might be less forthcoming in privatized educational system.

Organized by Gail Price, Dave Fertig, and Ralph and Kitty McKnight, in addition to the Balians, the gathering included many who had supported Garamendi in his run for California’s lieutenant governor and, before that, insurance commissioner. Many urged Garamendi to run for governor in 2010.

Garamendi’s chief competition in the governor’s race at this point comes from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who have both suffered recently from the traditional politician’s “can’t keep it in the pants” syndrome, echoing criticisms Arnold “El Tocquedor” Swartzeneggar faced in his first bid for governor. Others mentioned include Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee and Attorney General Jerry Brown, who will not likely face that criticism, at least.

Garamendi is a beneficiary of the UC system, graduating from Berkeley, where he was a standout football player and champion wrestler, before earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. He and his wife, Patti, met as Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia and have six children and nine grandchildren.

“We really ought to have a single-payer system, which would eliminate the current inefficiencies and give us all the coverage we choose,” he said, turning to the evening’s last topic. “In the United States, we spend 17% of our total wealth on health care, soon to be 19%. No other country spends more than 11%, with most spending less than 10%.”

“Fully one-third of our spending goes toward administration,” he continued. “No first-year business student would dare put together a business plan loaded with that much administrative cost, and yet we find that the more we spend on health care, the more uninsured we have. It’s a crazy system, one that really needs to change.”

After shaking Garamendi’s hand and thanking the Balians on our way out, we picked up a couple of Garamendi buttons, holdovers from his Lt. Governor campaign. Apparently the waters are being tested before investing in new ones. We’ll get back to you as soon as the new ones are available.

-- Dick Price & Sharon Kyle