Wednesday Q+A With Eric Garcetti

The Los Angeles mayor talks about diversity, litmus tests, and his next move.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in New Hampshire
Hanna Trudo
Sept. 12, 2017, 8 p.m.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is considering a bid for California governor in 2018, but some expect him to keep his powder dry for a White House run in 2020. In fact, National Journal’s Hanna Trudo caught up with Garcetti after he returned from a recent visit to New Hampshire, where he was stumping for Manchester mayoral candidate Joyce Craig.

You were just in New Hampshire campaigning for a local candidate. Do you think people here question the reason for your trip?

I think a lot of reporters did, but when the truth is the truth. … I was here with a mission to share some hope that mayors can get things done and can improve communities. … I’ve done that all around the country. I think when I go other places it doesn’t have the same kind of attention because it’s not the state that happens to hold the first primary, but I have a history of doing that long before this visit.

In Washington, there has been a demand for leadership outside the Beltway. What is the most important issue mayors can advise national Democrats on right now?

We have to focus on getting things done—not on being obsessed with our own party’s agenda, but on an agenda for the American people. Mayors know how to do that. It’s what we have to do every day. I have a fire I’m literally putting out as we speak [the wildfires in Southern California]. We have forgotten that public service is about service first. This is not about politics or our careers. [It’s about] common problems that everyone faces—where can I get a good job, where can I find decent education for my family, where will I be able to find decent housing, and health care—those four things to me are the foundation of making this country better. I get upset when people talk about winning campaigns. I care a lot less about winning campaigns than improving people’s lives.

Is there an appetite for more ethnic diversity now within the party leadership?

Absolutely. I don’t think that diversity is our message. I think that we are diverse. We’ve always been for underdogs. Diversity can mean a low-income coal worker; it can mean somebody who is a refugee from Syria or from Southern Sudan.

In New Hampshire, like Los Angeles, guns are a big topic. Should manufacturers be held liable for the misuse of their products?

I think you have to be open to that, but the main work that we have is not necessarily on liability, it’s on the work that we’re doing in Los Angeles to actually get illegal guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. That can be done in a lot of ways: good police work, cooperation between federal and local law enforcement, and yes, background checks to make sure that people who are dangerous to all of us don’t have easy access to guns.

Do you believe abortion should be used as a litmus test within the Democratic Party?

Given the choice between an anti-choice Democrat and an anti-choice Republican, that’s a pretty easy decision because that Democrat is going to agree with me on a whole bunch of other things. If we get into highly complex litmus tests, you’re probably not going to find any candidate that meets all of your own political stances. I do think in an ideal world we are pro-choice Democrats.

To be clear: You don’t think Democrats should necessarily be prevented from receiving funding if they are pro-life…

If it comes down to two people who are both anti-choice, no, but given the choice, I would put funding towards someone who’s pro-choice in return.

You successfully rolled out a big wage increase in Los Angeles. Could a $15 minimum wage work nationally?

There’s no question we have to raise the minimum wage nationally just to keep up to where it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s. The economy functioned well. A trillion dollars that lower-income workers used to get has been shifted up to the very top in recent decades—that’s gone into corporate profits or to higher executive salaries. I don’t know how many more boats or mansions people can buy, but I know that working people put that money back on Main Street. So that’s a piece of it, but I think that we would be very limited if we’re just talking about raising the minimum wage. I don’t want $15-an-hour jobs; I want to find those $50-an-hour jobs.

You’ve said that you will make a decision on a possible 2018 governor bid in September. It’s now September.

I will sometime this month. I’m kind of superstitious. I didn’t spend any time even thinking about it.

You’ve also said you’re not focused on 2020. What would have to happen for you to consider a bid?

I literally don’t know. … I’m always the kind of person who lives in the moment. Too many politicians live preparing for their next steps.

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