GOP Venture Capitalist Makes His Case for California Governor (and a Ballot Measure)
By Melody Gutierrez
Republican venture capitalist John Cox called for an end to one-party domination of state politics and a smaller government as he made his pitch to be California's next governor Thursday at a Public Policy Institute of California speaker series.
Cox, 62, faces an uphill battle in a state where 1 in 4 voters is a registered Republican, but the Illinois transplant said he wants to ensure California is on a sustainable path for the next generation, which includes his 12-year-old daughter.
"I love this state, I have three homes here," Cox said before laughing that such a statement might not go over well with voters. "I can hear my PR guy having a heart attack, but I want people to know I've made an investment here, I love it. I've been successful, I've been lucky, I'm not going to apologize for it. But I'm running for governor to transform this state."
The 2018 governor's race to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown also includes four Democrats and one other Republican: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin and Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach (Orange County).
Newsom leads the pack at 23 percent, followed by Villaraigosa at 18 percent, according to a PPIC poll released last month. Thirty percent of likely voters said they are undecided. Chiang and Cox were both at 9 percent, Allen at 6 percent and Eastin at 3 percent.
In Thursday's conversation with PPIC President Mark Baldassare, Cox leaned into his Republican pitch, saying he supports regulatory changes pushed by President Trump and the GOP tax bills in Congress.
"I think there are some issues for California and other high-tax states, and that's a problem," Cox said about plans in Congress to scrap state and local tax deductions on federal returns.
The answer to that, Cox said, is having California lower state income taxes so the federal tax reforms would not be such a burden.
"The media talks about this as a gift to the wealthy," Cox said. "I've been in the investment and tax world for 40 years. The reason people make investments is because they get a return, an after-tax return. ... The more after-tax profit, the more risk they are going to take. We want to encourage people to take marginal risks, that's what grows the economy."
Asked how he differs from Trump, Cox said it's in their styles: "I'm a policy wonk."
Cox repeatedly used the stage to mention the proposed ballot measure he's bankrolling that would create a "neighborhood legislature" by dividing Assembly and Senate districts into smaller pieces. Under the measure, which is awaiting verification of signatures to qualify for the 2018 ballot, each legislator would represent 5,000 to 10,000 constituents. The smaller neighborhood districts then would select a representative to go to Sacramento during the legislative session.
The idea is to make campaigns less expensive for candidates so that monied interests would carry less influence.
"In those little districts, you don't need money," Cox said. "It's an answer to campaign finance reform."
He backed a similar measure in 2014 that failed to make the ballot. Cox said special interests have a foothold in the current system, making it difficult for even well-meaning lawmakers to tackle controversial topics, like pension debt. The state's pension debt is one of his top priorities, with Cox saying it's likely to swallow the state.
"The wage and pension system for state employees is just gold-plated," Cox said. "I applaud them for getting it, but that cost is in the cost of your house, in the cost of your gasoline, in the cost of your clothing and restaurant bill. ... Costs are paid by consumers."
Cox, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe (San Diego County), has been a resident of California for eight years. He ran three times for elected office in Illinois and lost all three campaigns, including in 2003 when he dropped out of the U.S. Senate primary in a race that former President Barack Obama went on to win.
Cox described his upbringing with a single mother of four who worked as a schoolteacher in Chicago, saying he put himself through college and worked his way up to becoming a successful businessman.
"I grew up with nothing," he said. "The way I've achieved what I've achieved is the ability to have my own business. It kills me when I hear politicians -- and it's mostly in the other party -- and they talk about this horrible inequality we have, yet they go out and encourage more regulations, more government, more restrictions on competition, more inability to start your own business."
Cox said he believes government should provide a safety net, "but I don't want it to be a hammock."
He said he wants to reach out to voters who might not normally vote Republican, pledging to make the state the shiny city on a hill that former President Ronald Reagan referenced "where you can make something of yourself."
"I want it to be a situation where the government helps the least among us, but also gives us the opportunity to make what we can of ourselves," he said. "So that's the message I would send our Democratic friends, our black and brown friends. Don't give your vote to a party that wants to keep you taking a check from the government."
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