How poor a fit for the office of California governor is John Cox? So poor, The Californian — fully cognizant of Kern County's preponderance of conservative voters — endorses Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a deep-blue Democrat whose vision for the state is not one we uniformly applaud.
But this one is not close. Cox, who parachuted into California from Illinois in 2007 and did not become a full-time resident of this state until 2011, has never held elective office. His only experience in politics has been as a losing candidate — four times. He is almost certainly headed for a fifth.
It says something that the Republican Party has committed relatively few campaign dollars to the gubernatorial race — to any Republican running in a statewide race, for that matter. California is blue to its core (except in Kern County and a few other pockets of conservative resistance), and consequently few credible Republican candidates have emerged. Cox is a prime example of the dearth.
Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and county supervisor, was so certain of his superiority in this race, in terms of both qualifications and electability, his campaign aired commercials prior to the June primary specifically intended to antagonize California conservatives so that Cox — and not a Democrat like Antonio Villaraigosa, a much more daunting opponent in the general election — would finish second. It worked like a charm.
Unlike Newsom, who has a lengthy record of public service and consistent public policy positions, Cox has waffled. He also ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Illinois in 2000, unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in Illinois in 2002, and unsuccessfully for Cook County, Ill., Recorder of Deeds in 2004. Cox dusted off his losing self in 2008 to run unsuccessfully for U.S. president – sputtering out in the Republican primary.
Since moving to California, Cox has been dragging around his Neighborhood Legislature initiative, which would increase the number of state legislative representatives from 120 to 12,000 “neighborhood” ones. He has failed to qualify this initiative for the ballot four times. In 2016, he proposed a ballot initiative that would require legislators to wear the logos of their top 10 donors – yes, like NASCAR drivers — when advocating for policies on the floor of the state Assembly or Senate. We are fairly certain he was serious.
It’s difficult to discern what Cox stands for because he so often changes his position. In 2016, he was against Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. Now he does, and Trump who has endorsed Cox’s gubernatorial bid. Cox was against building a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Now he is for it.
As for Newsom: Agree with him or not, Californians have a pretty clear idea of what he stands for and what he wants to do. And he hasn't always taken it from the liberal playbook. As county supervisor and mayor, he took heat from the left for his business-friendly agenda.
No doubt some of his most ambitious proposals, such as universal healthcare, will collide with the reality of the state’s economy. California’s dependence on income taxes, which rises and falls with fickle economic conditions, has prompted our present governor, the stingy Jerry Brown, to rebuff the spending excesses of many in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The caricature of Newsom as a pampered member of an elite San Francisco family is far from reality. While his father was an appeals court judge and a former Getty attorney, Newsom’s parents divorced when he was young and Newsom struggled growing up with both dyslexia, a reading disability, and his mother’s meager income.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University, Newsom founded PlumpJack, a wine store, with the financial backing of family friend Gordon Getty. The PlumpJack group now manages about two dozen businesses, including wineries, restaurants and hotels. Along the way, Newsom was appointed to San Francisco’s Parking and Traffic Commission, and later to the Board of Supervisors. In 2003, he was elected San Francisco’s youngest mayor in 100 years.
Gavin’s tenure as mayor is best remembered for his decision to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the city, despite laws and court rulings to the contrary. But Newsom also was known for bucking left-leaning groups opposed his business-friendly policies.
Californians should hope that as governor, Gavin Newsom similarly will have the courage and integrity to do what is best for the state, rather than what is progressively expected or “correct.”
Eleni Kounalakis [pronounced Koon-uh-LAH-kiss] will have a tough time fitting her name on a bumper sticker, but it fits nicely with the title of California lieutenant governor.
This is a contest between two Democrats: Kounalakis, the top finisher in June’s “top two” open primary, is running against state Sen. Ed Hernandez, who was second. They're nvying for an office that some propose has so little power, it should be abolished.
But both candidates vow to use the post as a bully pulpit – Hernandez to push for a universal healthcare system in the state and Kounalakis to reduce higher education costs and make the most of the lieutenant governor’s membership on many important boards, including the State Lands Commission.
The former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, Kounalakis worked for several years for her father’s prominent Sacramento real estate development company. She brings business and political expertise to the post.
Hernandez, who cannot be reelected to the state Senate because of term limits, is an Azusa optometrist. Although he claims to be a crusader against the powerful pharmaceutical industry, a Sacramento Bee analysis of Hernandez's legislative voting record paints a mixed picture. Hernandez, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, has been the Legislature’s top recipient of drug-maker money since 2011, the Bee reports.
Kounalakis offers the best hope that the lieutenant governor’s post will be more than a ceremonial parking place for termed-out politicians.