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Zero Political Experience Makes Me a 'Great' Candidate for Governor, Says Talk Show Host

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Larry Elder speaking at the 2016 FreedomFest at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada. The radio talk show host is running for California governor as a Republican. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Talk show host Larry Elder, the so-called “Sage from South Central,” is the latest Republican to throw his hat in the ring in the recall election to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Born in Los Angeles, Elder is the son of a Marine who grew up in the Jim Crow South. He describes himself as “fiscally conservative and socially moderate,” but is also a big supporter of Donald Trump and a regular commentator on Fox News. Supporters say Elder can parlay his larger social media presence and lively personality to become a top-tier candidate on the second half of the recall ballot. Elder was in San Francisco this week and spoke to KQED Politics Editor Scott Shafer about his candidacy.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Scott Shafer: What brings you to San Francisco?

Larry Elder: Well, I'm going to go up and down the state. I'm going to go to Sacramento. I'm going to the Central Valley. I'm going to go to San Diego. I'm going to be the governor of California. And as a result, I don't want to be perceived as just an Angelino. I care about the entire state.


On your website, you're referred to as the “Sage from South Central.” What does that mean to you?

It means great alliteration! I actually gave myself that name. It’s just kind of a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing. I think that I've got common sense. I think I've got good judgment.

You were born and raised in LA. You're African American. How would those experiences affect the kind of governor you'd be?

One reason I'm running is because I went to Crenshaw High School (in LA). And when I went there, everybody graduated on time. I'm not saying everybody could do math at grade level, but I didn't know anybody who couldn't. I picked up the L.A. Times a couple of years ago, (there was a) front-page article about Crenshaw High. Only 3% of kids can do math at grade level. Yet you are mandated if you're within a geographical area of that school to send your kid to a school where only 3% of kids can do math at grade level. It's ridiculous.
I support school choice. And the studies on school choice have shown that it certainly improves the education of the student, the graduation rates of the student improves the reading scores and math scores. It even improves the quality of the public schools because they don't want to lose the students. So that's one of my big issues, school choice.

And this governor is totally beholden to the teachers union. They're the largest under his campaign. They adamantly oppose school choice. And you add to that the rising crime, the rising homelessness. And I had to get into this. Maybe, just maybe I can do something about this.

More on the recall

You're a political novice and I'm wondering why you think someone like you who has, as far as I know, no experience in government is …

Hold on Scott. I ran for a fifth-grade class president and I carried three out of four rows! I'm going to get a guy named William Moore. They're still cleaning up the blood!

Seriously though, Ronald Reagan had no experience. He was a great governor. And this governor was what, mayor? He was lieutenant governor for eight years and has been governor for two years. And look at what he's done. So experience with our common sense and good judgment is pretty useless in my opinion.

The last governor who had no experience governing was Arnold Schwarzenegger. How do you think he did as governor?

I thought he was lousy, a disaster. I felt that if he had put the hammer down when he got elected, he could have done something. He could have reined in some of these expenses. And then he shifted left, became a “green guy," became an environmental climate change alarmist. I don't know what the hell happened to him, but I was very disappointed in him and I was disappointed that I encouraged people to vote for him. Looking back at it. I wish I supported somebody like Tom McClintock. He was a disaster. He didn’t have to be.

You used the phrase “climate change alarmist.” I mean, if you were governor, what changes would you make to California's policies around lowering carbon emissions and that kind of thing?

Well, I don't want bad air, I don't want to drink bad water. And I’m OK with reasonable environmental standards, but everything has a trade-off. California is just one state. Meanwhile, India and China are still putting out all sorts of bad stuff. I don't understand why Californians are the canary in the coal mine on the issue of climate change, when no matter what we do, it's not going to have any real measurable effect on the climate in the country and the climate in the world. It’s ridiculous.

You and the other Republicans running for governor have been very critical of Gavin Newsom the way he's handled the pandemic. But we have the lowest or one of the lowest COVID rates in the country. We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Would you say that some of that economic pain was worth it given where we are today on the pandemic?

No, I don’t. I think he did not follow science. He shut down the schools, even though the CDC said schools could open. We lost an entire year of education because of the way in which he shut down schools against science. And I think people are stupid. I don't want to catch COVID, I got my shots. You don't have to tell people what to do this way. I think businesses could have reasonably remained open with precautions.

I just don't believe you had to lock down the state the way he did.
So this governor made a lot of mistakes. I think what you tell people, give people the truth, give people the science, and allow people to make their own decisions, treat people like adults. He didn't. He treated us like children.

What would you as governor do in terms of encouraging people to get vaccinated?

I would tell people that I, Larry, got vaccinated. The studies show that people who are vaccinated are less likely to contract coronavirus and then leave it up to them. I think they ought to be able to weigh the costs and benefits of that for their own individual lives.

Turning to the budget, the $263 billion budget, That's a big document. But big picture — are the priorities, wrong or right, from your perspective?

Well, it isn't so much that the budget is too big, it's that the vision of our politicians in Sacramento is too small. We are under-investing, investing in the state.

We haven't had any significant additions to the structure for water, underground storage, that kind of thing when it rains, in almost 40 years.

We have this CEQA, California Environmental Control (sic) Act that basically allows anybody to stop anything for any reason for an indefinite period of time. And as a result, we're not investing properly in our state's infrastructure.

I would declare a statewide emergency and suspend some of the CEQA laws so that we can encourage the construction of not only homes, but also the construction of more infrastructure. I believe droughts are God-made, but shortages are man-made. We should be planning better and we're not doing it.

If you were to become governor, you would still have to deal with a supermajority Democratic legislature. How would you navigate that? How would you get anything done?

This governor has been quite generous in issuing executive orders by claiming that coronavirus is a statewide emergency. And I would use some of those same powers. But also, there's a big thing called the bully pulpit. If I am elected governor, it will be because a whole bunch of people, including independents and Democrats, got fed up with this governor and have changed their mind. And I believe that I can make the argument that there's a connection between rising cost of living and bad government policies in Sacramento, there’s a connection between rising crime and bad policies in Sacramento. There's a connection between homelessness and bad policies in Sacramento. And if I can do that, they'll put pressure on their politicians to go along with some of the ideas that I have.

What would you do if you were king for a day or had executive authority? How would you change the policies that exist now?

I would look at rolling back the gas tax. And I would look again at all of the construction projects that have been stopped as a result. Environmentalists who claim that this, that, or the other is going to endanger this species or that species, because, again, we have to look at tradeoffs. We have to look at jobs. We have to look at the high cost of living that is higher and higher because we basically have stopped virtually any project for any reason. Because of all these environmental regulations, we are chasing away the young people for the first time in our state's history. And I would do something about that by using my emergency powers to suspend some of these rules that supposedly keep our environment pristine but also cost us jobs.

More political coverage

You've supported Donald Trump and Trump lost by five million votes in California. So how would you expect to win, given how the state feels about Trump and apparently Republicans in general?

Gavin Newsom is not running against Trump. He's running against Larry Elder. I'm a Republican. I voted for the standard-bearer in 2020. I'll vote for the standard-bearer in 2024, no matter who he or she is. I don't understand why that's so surprising to people. Trump was his own man. I'm my own man. I'm a fresh face, frankly, for politics. I can make my case that will appeal to independents and to Democrats. My mother was a lifelong Democrat. My brother was a lifelong Democrat. I was able to convince my family anyway to reconsider their vote, not their party affiliation. And the beauty of America is we have a private ballot so people can go in there and vote for Larry Elder without telling anybody that they did.

I believe you describe yourself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. What does that mean?

I would say social moderate would be the way, I'm personally pro-life. I'm opposed to Roe v. Wade. I think it was one of the worst decisions that the (U.S.) Supreme Court ever handed down, except maybe since Dred Scott, and nullified anti-abortion laws in all 50 states. This should be an issue that should be done on a state-by-state basis. And I'm a realist enough to know that California is a pro-choice state. No matter how I feel, that's not going to change.

There have been a couple of initiatives that restricted abortion rights, one of which was parental notification. I voted for it. It was overwhelmingly defeated. And I'm a realist enough to know that that's the case regarding things like same-sex marriage. It's in the law. It's not going to be one of my issues. My issue is crime. My issue is homelessness. My issue is the rising cost of living. My issue is the arrogant way he (handled) the coronavirus, by imposing the most severe mandates of any of the 50 states. Those are my issues.

What else should voters know about you?

I've written half a dozen books. Not a single one of them has been reviewed by the L.A. Times, even though two of them made the L.A. Times bestseller list. I got on The Jay Leno Show for crying out loud about my book. L.A. Times never, ever, ever reviewed it.

I'm a syndicated columnist. I've been writing a column since 1998 about all the ideas you and I have discussed. The (Los Angeles) Daily News carries my column. The Orange County Register carries my column. The L.A. Times has not published a single one of my one thousand columns.


So the average Californian is unaware of some of these ideas, and if the average Californian, in my opinion, had fair media in the LA area, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't seem so weird.

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