With Congressman Jim Costa as a tour guide, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis visited sites in Fresno County and met with the agriculture industry on Wednesday.
She later defended Gov. Gavin Newsom and his policies in a one-on-one interview with GV Wire.
“I got to see a lot of old friends and hear about some of the exciting things happening in the Valley, as well as some of the challenges,” Kounalakis told GV Wire about her visit.
After starting her day with two events in Merced, Kounalakis came down Highway 99 to tour Greenbrier Holdings — a cannabis manufacturing facility in Parlier. She then led a roundtable at Fowler Packing.
“It was just an opportunity to see a manufacturing packaging location. I’ve never seen one before. So it was very interesting,” Kounalakis said. “We had a roundtable discussion with representatives of the farming community where we talked about some of the challenges, in particular the impact of the drought on water supply.”
Her day concluded with a reception at the Fresno home of Costa. Photos posted on social media show a number of well-known Fresnans attending, including new Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Fresno City Council President Luis Chavez, and the head of the Fresno police reform committee, Oliver Baines.
Kounalakis’ Formal Role in Recall
Kounalakis says her formal role in the recall process is “fairly narrow.” Once the recall is officially certified, the lieutenant governor selects the election date.
She has a scheduling window of 60 to 80 days after certification. She says she is likely to chose a date “somewhere in between.”
“We will most importantly look for a date that is convenient to Californians in order to insure that they get their ballot. They have an opportunity to review it and then make up their mind of how they want to vote,” Kounalakis said.
Kounalakis said she somewhat agreed with the suggestion of Democratic state Sen. Steven Glazer to fast-track the recall date to take advantage of Newsom’s positive polling.
“People are ready to move on post-COVID and are ready to work together to rebuild in this now that we are just a few days away from the June 15th reopening date,” Kounalakis said. “My sense is that most people just want to get this over with. But I do think the governor is in a very strong position. And my hope is that one way or another, we will get past this and move on towards a full economic recovery.”
June 15 is the target date when Newsom will lift many restrictions, such as mask mandates and limits on how many people can be in a business at a time.
Kounalakis defends the Newsom administration, saying the last 14 months have been a work in progress.
“I think that the leadership in Sacramento and across our state has done the best that we can do in what we hope is a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. In hindsight, I think you can always say that there are things we might have been able to do better. But remember, we were operating with only the information that was available — early on, we were all washing our groceries,” she said.
The lieutenant governor says she supports distributing the $76 billion budget surplus “to help the people who are still struggling.”
Kounalakis defended Newsom and his “follow the science” slogan, even though the CDC says some mask mandates aren’t needed.
“We absolutely have been following the science in California. I think it’s also really helpful for a state of 40 million people as large and diverse as we are to be able to have a program that people can predict. The governor said the June 15th reopening date. Everyone is working toward that. We’re on a great track to do it,” Kounalakis said. “We have the lowest infection rate in the country. And my hope is that we will keep working toward that date and be able to come through this stronger than ever.”
Kounalakis also pushed Newsom’s “Vax For the Win” incentive program, which offers $116 million in prizes for those who have been vaccinated or get vaccinated.
Cleaning the Freeways
As part of Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s budget rollout, continuing to clean the freeways is one of his priorities. He also announced that CalTrans, the state’s transportation department in charge of state roads, will help.
Kounalakis says cleanups are also a priority of Newsom’s state budget.
“We have all seen more of a need to invest in cleaning up our areas around our freeways. It is a very unfortunate problem in our state with homelessness. And sometimes when there are encampments, there is a build-up of things that need to be cleaned up. And that is what the governor’s allocation for this, I think, is intended to address,” Kounalakis said.