Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the Republican candidate for state controller, refused Tuesday to commit to supporting GOP guberantorial nominee Neel Kashkari this fall, saying she is “still evaluating” the candidates for governor several weeks after Kashkari annoyed many Fresno leaders by going undercover there posing as a homeless man looking for a job.
In a lunchtime appearance at the Sacramento Press Club, Swearengin said she had no idea that Kashkari had been in her city until shortly before his campaign released a documentary on his experience as proof that Gov. Jerry Brown has exaggerated the state’s economic recovery.
“I wish I could have known because I could have shown him some great SRO housing we’ve built in Fresno,” Swearengin said, adding that “we were a little taken back” when she learned of the video shortly before its release.
Swearengin said she “appreciated” the point she said Kashkari was trying to make about the “very long path we have in many parts of the state” to rebound from the recession. But asked if she would vote for her party’s top of the ticket in November, Swearengin was noncommittal.
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“Am I going to vote for him? You know, I’m still evaluating the candidates,” she answered.
When he released his homeless video, Kashkari said Brown and Sacramento lawmakers were to blame for the problems he highlighted, not Fresno officials. “There's only so much a mayor can do," Kashkari said of Swearengin then.
Tuesday, the Kashkari campaign did not directly respond to Swearengin’s Press Club remarks. “Neel enthusiastically supports Mayor Swearengin and looks forward to voting for her and the entire Republican ticket,” spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said.
Besides suggesting some hard feelings between top GOP candidates, Swearengin’s comments Tuesday could be seen as tactical. The most recent public polls show Brown leading Kashkari by about 20 percentage points, and Swearengin – viewed by some as the beleaguered California Republican Party’s best chance to win a statewide office in November – will need the support of some Brown voters if she is to defeat Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, the Democrat in the controller’s contest.
Swearengin never mentioned Yee by name, but said she would bring an outsider’s perspective to the controller’s job.
“I really think voters are looking for an independent voice,” Swearengin told reporters afterward. “Even since 2010, there is growing frustration and cynicism with the traditional political power. It’s up to us to tap into that vein.”