CalChamber CEO: Newsom has edge in gubernatorial race

CalChamber President and CEO Allan Zaremberg speaks to local business leaders on Tuesday night during the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce's first Current Affairs Forum. Steve Kiggins/The Signal

Allan Zaremberg didn’t predict who would become California’s next governor during a Tuesday night visit to Santa Clarita.

The president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce did, however, make one prediction: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will be on the final ballot.

At the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce’s first Current Affairs Forum, Zaremberg encouraged unity among statewide chambers, addressed key issues including water, education and taxes, and answered questions from local business leaders during a nearly hour-long presentation laced with references to Gov. Jerry Brown’s legislation record and the upcoming election to decide his successor.

Zaremberg didn’t proclaim his prediction to be bold, telling the crowd of about 100 professionals gathered at TPC Valencia that “common wisdom” dictated Newsom would secure the greatest support in the June 5 primary.

“The race is for second,” he said.

His logic? The most passionate of voters are sure bets to turn out for primaries and the former two-term mayor of San Francisco has incredibly strong name recognition among the state’s most liberal voting base in the Bay Area. Zaremberg also cited Newsom’s popularity with the state’s teachers and nurses.

That would leave a field that includes Newsom’s Democratic challengers Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, and State Treasurer John Chiang, and Republican frontrunners John Cox, a San Diego-area businessman who once ran unsuccessfully against Barack Obama for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, and Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, contending for the other place on November’s ballot.

Zaremberg dismissed Delaine Easton, a Democrat who served as the state’s superintendent of public instruction from 1995-2003, telling the SCV crowd that she “doesn’t have a lot of support.” He didn’t specifically name any other candidates.

“Is it gonna be a Republican versus against a Democrat in November? And is that a real contest?” Zaremberg said. “And, not to cast to dispersions on either Travis Allen or John Cox, but it’s a real uphill battle if they’re on the ballot in November.”

In handicapping Newsom’s potential opponents, Zaremberg favored Villaraigosa though he didn’t rule out Cox, the better funded of the two Republicans, despite voter registration among the state’s minority party slipping in recent years into the mid-20-percentile.

Without a financial boost, though, Zaremberg reasoned Cox would likely only split Republican votes with Allen, particularly since neither candidate is especially well known across the state, likely clearing the way for Villaraigosa.

“If John Cox, who has some money – I don’t know how much, he hasn’t told me – says, ‘I’m gonna spend $4 million in the last two months on Fox News getting Republican votes’ … then (he) could get 18 percent of the vote. … And then can Antonio do better than 18 percent?”

Brown has mostly been a strong ally for the state’s business community, Zaremberg said, stressing that the governor has “a good record of vetoing the worst” proposed bills when a “bad job killer gets through to legislature.”

That’s among the reasons why he encouraged SCV business leaders to work collectively with the state’s other chambers to ensure the next governor will also be a reliable advocate for the Golden State’s economy.

“The governor in California is probably one of the most powerful governors in the country,” Zaremberg said. “Appoints all of the judges. Appoints most of the commission members. Has blue pencil authority to line item things into budget. Presents the budget, pretty much gets the budget done the way (he or she) wants. Has veto authority over all legislation. … It’s hard to override a governor, Republican or Democrat. So, a governor is very, very influential in California politics.”

The Current Affairs Forum is one of the SCV Chamber’s new offerings for members in 2018. A second forum will be planned for later this year, said John Musella, the chamber’s acting executive director.

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