Government & Politics
3:32 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

Kashkari Takes Poverty Message To Fresno, Spends Week Living On Streets

Neel Kashkari posed as a homeless person in Fresno looking for work as part of a new campaign video released this week.
Credit YouTube/ Kashkari for Governor

Update: 8/5/2014
Neel Kashkari spoke with Valley Public Radio's Joe Moore for the program Valley Edition about his Fresno video and his thoughts on poverty in the San Joaquin Valley. 

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Original post:

Neel Kashkari has taken his campaign to become California's next governor to the streets of downtown Fresno in a viral video attacking Governor Jerry Brown's message of a "California comeback."

In the 10 minute-long YouTube clip released by his campaign Wednesday night, Kashkari is seen posing as a homeless person, searching in vain for work at various locations in Fresno. His campaign claims that the former Treasury Department official spent one week living on the streets with just $40 for food.

Video transcript:

Kashkari: "This has been one of the hardest weeks of my life. I came to Fresno expecting to find a job and be able to take care of myself but I've found nothing. I've run out of money and had to turn to the homeless shelter to find food."

In the video and an accompanying op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Kashkari blames the state's high poverty rate and lack of job opportunities in Fresno on what he calls over-regulation and over-taxation.

Kashkari: "The solution is simple. It's jobs. It's not more welfare or more food stamps. It's jobs. These problems are of our own making. That means they're within our capacity to solve. We know how to rein in regulations so our business can grow and thrive and hire. We know how to invest in water so our farms have enough water so they can feed their crops and they can hire workers. We as Californians just have to demand that our leaders in Sacramento make big changes." 

Fresno State political science professor Thomas Holyoke says Kashkari's video is an unconventional move by an underdog candidate to gain the attention of voters. 

Holyoke: "This is a publicity stunt. He needs to draw some attention to himself.  To make people aware that there is a governor's race going on. Because right now I suspect an awful lot of people in the state are unaware of that. "

A still image from a video released Wednesday by Neel Kashkari's campaign shows him posing as a homeless person searching for work in Fresno
Credit YouTube/ Kashkari for Governor

Holyoke says Kashkari's message speaks to the great economic divide between Silicon Valley and the San Joaquin Valley.

"What Kashkari seems to be doing is trying to deflate Jerry Brown's use of California as a good economic model. Brown has been talking about how well the state has been recovering from the great recession and California has once again become an economic powerhouse in areas like high-tech. And Kashkari is showing that there's another side to this, maybe things are going really well out in Menlo Park and in San Jose but in the Central Valley other parts of California there's still a lot of trouble. And there is."

Brown's campaign manager Dan Newman responded to the video Wednesday night on Twitter, claiming that Kashkari's support for the poor is betrayed by his own policies including his opposition to a raise in the state's minimum wage.

But while Kashkari's effort to illustrate the hardships of life on Fresno's streets might serve to boost his image, Holyoke says it could actually hurt one of his Republican colleagues - Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin who is running for state controller.  

Holyoke: "Actually I think it's a little contradictory in terms of the plans Republicans have to push Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno as a statewide candidate. After all, her campaign message sees to be talking about Fresno's successes. And that seems to be very at odds with what Neel Kashkari is saying. So in terms of a Republican Party strategy, this seems a little schizo."

Kashkari wrote about his Fresno trip in greater detail in the Wall Street Journal:

So, last Monday morning I took a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Fresno. With only forty dollars in my pocket (and no credit cards), a backpack, a change of clothes, and a toothbrush, I planned to find a job and earn enough money to get by. I am an able-bodied 40-year old. Surely I could find some work?

 Over the next seven days, I walked mile after mile in one hundred degree heat searching for a job. I offered to do anything: wash dishes, sweep floors, pack boxes, cook meals, anything. I went to dozens of businesses in search of work but wasn’t able to get any. In seven days, I didn’t see a single “help wanted” sign but I did see plenty of signs that fast food outlets now accept food stamps.

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