By Seema Mehta
Los Angeles Times
FRESNO, CALIF.: The rescue mission for addicts stands squarely in the path of California’s controversial bullet train, and gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari had decided to use the grim setting for an attack on the rail project dear to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
The 65-year-old shelter, dedicated to rehabilitating Fresno’s most desperate residents, could disappear if “the crazy train” comes through, Kashkari said, and it must be stopped.
“Sacramento and Gov. Brown are focused on building a train and not really putting people back to work in a real way,” Kashkari said in an interview at the shelter, not far from sidewalks where the homeless slept. “I think it’s an egregious example of him having the wrong priorities. It’s a vanity project.”
Kashkari, a Stow native and a graduate of Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, announced his candidacy six weeks ago. The Republican former investment manager and U.S. Treasury official had so far focused on fundraising and introducing himself to voters. The Laguna Beach millionaire has offered few policy prescriptions, speaking only broadly of creating jobs and fixing schools.
But his glancing criticisms of the high-speed rail project have drawn notable applause from his audiences. Influential talk-radio hosts have adopted his language to characterize the train. And it is no secret that voters, who once approved $9 billion in borrowing to help finance the network, have soured on it.
So Kashkari, who ran the $700 billion federal bank bailout created in 2008, has seized on the rail issue. His new campaign swag is bumper stickers featuring not his gubernatorial ambition or political party but the slogan “No Crazy Train,” derived from a 1980 Ozzy Osbourne song about the Cold War.
In a swing through the Central Valley last week, he pledged to try to block the rail project if elected, saying that if courts don’t dismantle it, he would revisit it with voters. He dismissed Brown’s argument for the train as an investment in California’s future.
“We have more important things to do,” said Kashkari, 40.
The three-day tour was part of Kashkari’s effort to build momentum in a red-leaning region that is pivotal to his effort to finish high in June’s top-two primary.
If the political neophyte, making his first bid for elective office, succeeds and takes on Brown in the fall, his odds of prevailing are long: The state tilts blue, Brown is popular and the governor has an overwhelming fundraising advantage.
By the state’s official estimate, building a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles will cost $68 billion. A majority of California voters opposed going forward with the project in a University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times poll last fall, saying it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Kashkari’s main GOP rival, state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, also opposes the high-speed rail program. As he barnstormed the state recently, meeting with voters, Donnelly joked that he would slap “high-speed rail” stickers on the Southwest Airlines planes that crisscross the state and be done with it.