Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and outgoing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, have maintained a rare bipartisan political friendship.
Together, they represent the yin and yang of California – he led liberal San Francisco, and has built his national brand on Democratic touchstones like gay marriage, pot legalization and gun control. She toiled away in her hometown, far from the spotlight, working on attracting jobs and boosting economic development.
During a panel discussion Wednesday at the California Economic Summit in Sacramento, Newsom, a declared 2018 candidate for governor, called Swearengin’s leadership “remarkable” and characterized her as “one of the most extraordinary leaders in California.”
Newsom added, “It’s not lost on me she may be running against me for governor. So I say that lovingly.”
After the event, Swearengin, the incoming president and chief executive of the Central Valley Community Foundation, said she has no interest in the governorship, despite being held up as one of her party’s few rising stars who could compete statewide.
“I am firmly not planning to run,” Swearengin said, casting her role as a way to leverage public spending with more philanthropic investment. Despite their cordial rapport, she declined to say whether Newsom would make a good governor. “I get to sit it out,” Swearengin said.
Newsom, during the panel, suggested his Democratic Party, and the “coastal latte elite,” needs to do a better job of communicating with rural voters. “We tend to talk down to them,” he said. Upon learning of Swearengin’s plans, he did not moderate his acclamation of her.
“I am a longtime fan. I really am. It wasn’t just pablum,” he said. “It’s real ... She’s one of those people that just belongs in politics ...”
“That said,” he added, “Yeah. I guess I’d prefer she doesn’t run against me.”