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Meet the Republican Who Wants to Be California's Next Governor

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Republican venture capitalist John Cox is running for California governor in 2018. (Courtesy John Cox Campaign)

Republican businessman John Cox jokes that he made his fortune in potato chips, a reference to the purchase and turnaround of Jays Foods by his venture capital company in the 1990s.

Cox, a Chicago native who now lives in San Diego County, says he wants to spend some of that money on his campaign for governor of California. The 61-year-old attorney says he's running to clean up a political system that "rewards the funders of campaigns who get to dictate what happens in Sacramento."

Cox is hoping to use a statewide ballot measure he's pushing as a springboard to the governor's mansion. The idea: replace the current 120-member Legislature with a "neighborhood legislature" carved up into much smaller districts, each with no more than 10,000 people. The result would be thousands more legislators, an idea that could be a tough sell with voters.

In fact, Cox tried and failed to gather enough signatures to place the proposition on last year's statewide ballot. But he insists this time will be different.

"I’ve always worked against the corrupt interests," Cox said during a KQED interview. "I’m not giving up."


In a recorded message when he announced his candidacy, Cox said he was running because "there are two Californias -- the one we have and the one we could have. The California we have is in trouble, and we need to do something about it."

Cox cites common Republican criticisms of California, including unfunded pension liabilities and the high income tax, which he says is ruining the business climate and pushing jobs to places like Nevada.

Tanned and trim with a shock of white hair, Cox comes across as affable and articulate. Although he wouldn't say who he voted for in the 2016 election, he did acknowledge "I'm glad Trump is president" and that "it's dumb for California to be at war with Washington."

He's also supportive of President Trump's attitude toward immigration. "I think we ought to enforce the law and deport people who have broken the law," Cox said, adding that "a wall has done well for San Diego where it's needed."

And while he didn't want to focus on social issues, Cox acknowledged "I'm pro-life and pro-Second Amendment." Those three issues -- abortion, immigration and gun control -- have tripped up Republicans running statewide in California.

Cox is no stranger to politics. In fact, before moving to California he ran unsuccessfully for three different offices in Illinois (U.S. Senate, Congress and Cook County Recorder of Deeds).

He also briefly ran for president (yes, of the United States) in 2007, when the Weekly Standard called him "the sane fringe candidate."

Several Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former State School Superintendent Delaine Eastin are also running for governor in 2018.

A recent poll of registered voters conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found Newsom in the lead with 28 percent. Cox, the only Republican named, was second with 18 percent of voters saying he was their first choice.

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