Eric Garcetti makes an impression in Sacramento

Reporting from Sacramento

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti may be running for governor someday. So his first mayoral visit to Sacramento last week was intriguing.

Yes, of course, it's way too early to speculate about who will succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, a virtual cinch to win a record fourth — and final — term in November. But that never stops a political junkie.

Anyway, as much as last week's primary election for statewide offices was ho-hum, the next one should be a humdinger. And that's fun to hypothesize.

Assuming Garcetti performs well at City Hall and is easily reelected in 2017 — and doesn't make a foolish campaign pledge to serve out his term — the Democrat could run for governor in 2018.

Or, that year, the former city councilman could shoot for the U.S. Senate if Dianne Feinstein retires. She'll be 85 then. Sen. Barbara Boxer will be 75 when her term expires in two years, but that's probably too soon for Garcetti. Anyway, he's only 43.

Like most practical politicians, Garcetti doesn't like to speculate about his future. It's considered bad form to sound overly ambitious or to imply you're not completely committed to the job voters already have entrusted you with.

"I really, really love this," he said. A potential gubernatorial race "is so far off." But "I'm not naive. I don't close the door to it. If there's something I want to do at the right time.... But I've not even a year under my belt as mayor."

I raised the subject over lunch after a potential Democratic rival walked up to chat with Garcetti. He was Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a homegrown former pro basketball all-star who has become a rising political star.

Johnson led the successful fight to keep the NBA Kings in Sacramento when the former owners tried to move them first to Anaheim, then to Seattle. And last month, Johnson teamed with Garcetti to publicly denounce Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist spew about blacks.

For years, political pros and pundits have anointed state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as front-runners for the next gubernatorial or Senate opening. But there are other potentially strong candidates who couldn't as easily be branded Sacramento insiders, a pejorative.

Start with Garcetti and Johnson. Also, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has long eyed those offices. And there are two Republicans: new San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, particularly if she wins the state controller's race in November. Add in House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield if he ever decides to risk leaving his congressional comfort zone.

Garcetti's initial mayoral visit to the state Capitol contrasted sharply with his predecessor's. Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker, came here with trumpets blaring, corralling reporters and lobbying legislators for a controversial bill that generated enemies, a measure granting him unprecedented control over L.A. schools. It passed but was tossed out by courts.

Garcetti was much more low-key. He talked to only three reporters. Mainly, he lobbied the governor and legislative leaders privately on three wonky issues: substantially increasing tax credits for film production, and kicking in state money for L.A. River revitalization and earthquake retrofitting.

Brown, he recalled, once advised him to be judicious with his public utterances. "He said, 'You've got about five chances to really talk to everybody. Don't waste them.'"

"Another thing he told me was, 'Don't make so much noise when you want to do something. Like Mao said, If you want to invade to the East, make noise to the West.'"

Garcetti is pushing for $425 million in film tax credits — four times the current amount — and is optimistic Brown will buy in. In the last two years, he said, the governor "has gone from 'We don't need those,' to 'I'm skeptical,' to "OK, get it in the budget.'"

The long-held political wisdom is that an L.A. mayor can never be elected governor. None ever has. For me, that just means the odds are increasing that one will be.

The main animosity by Northern Californians toward L.A. politicians is that they're always trying to steal the local water. But Garcetti doesn't talk like a water-grabber.

Asked about Brown's divisive $26-billion delta re-plumbing plan that includes boring two massive tunnels to siphon Sacramento River water to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, Garcetti said: "Before I'll support that — because it could raise water rates significantly for my people — we've got to see some benefit."

The mayor wants state money to help L.A. become more self-sufficient by capturing storm water, recycling waste water and recharging the San Fernando Valley aquifer. He has set a goal of L.A. reducing water imports by half by 2025.

As for Brown's unpopular bullet-train venture, Garcetti said: "I've been a supporter, but not a blank-check supporter. At some point, you know, anybody would say 'uncle.' But I'm intrigued with becoming more aggressive about rail in urban centers like L.A."

Brown, however, plans to start laying track between Madera and Bakersfield. "That's not where I would have gone first," Garcetti said. "Nothing against Madera, but….

"I'll keep an open mind."

What should Sacramento be doing that it's not? "We've got to make this a more business-friendly state. Both by helping business when it needs it and we're not there — and by getting out of the way when business doesn't want us around and we are."

Garcetti strikes me as personable and patient, cautious but confident, a marathoner, not a sprinter — with the potential for even higher office. When he performs in this one.

george.skelton@latimes.com

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