Commentary: Whitman's 'Fresno is like Detroit' comment was on the mark

We like our politicians simple because we cling to the fantasy that there are easy solutions to complex problems.

So, when Meg Whitman stepped into a steaming heap of political goo last week, saying that "Fresno looks like Detroit. It's awful," she did what politicians often do.

She spun and pandered: confessing to a "poor choice of words," stating that she was comparing the high unemployment rates of two economically distressed cities and calling Fresno "a great city."

The truth is, the Republican gubernatorial candidate got it right the first time.

Fresno isn't a great city. It has one half that's pretty good -- the one north of Shaw Avenue. And it has another half that is poor as poor can be -- even if it isn't saddled with the murder rate and abandoned homes that have made Detroit infamous.

More troubling than Whitman's retreat from the truth are indications that she doesn't have a complete picture of the Central Valley. Plainly said, it appears that she's listening only to farmers who, once again, are overselling their Dust Bowl gloom-and-doom prophecies. In coming to her defense, Whitman surrogate Bill Jones said the two cities each have been built around lone industries that have been hard hit: farming and automaking.

Jones, a longtime farmer, surely knows better. Agriculture is the star performer in California's terrible economy, and the Valley is the nation's leader in farm production. Pistachios, almonds, pomegranates and grapes are commanding excellent prices. Cotton, almost abandoned in recent years, is coming back.

The Valley's challenge isn't agriculture. It's the absence of other industries -- besides government -- to create middle-class jobs.

To read the complete column, visit www.fresnobee.com.