Our state’s great wealth helps explain why you’ve probably never heard of John Cox, even though the San Diego area venture capitalist, CPA and lawyer is worth about $200 million and long has been active in politics, first in his native state of Illinois and now in California.
He’s running for governor and because he’s a Republican, political experts don’t give him a snowball’s chance on a July day in Fresno of succeeding Jerry Brown.
Life is grim for the California GOP: Republicans hold no statewide offices, Democrats dominate the Legislature, and the most recent report from the secretary of state shows that Democrats lead the loyal opposition 44.8% to 25.9% in voter registration.
Still, I think there is a slight opening for Cox to surpass expectations and even pull off an upset. Stranger things have happened. The key for Cox, 62, is attracting the support of millennials and older people who have become disgusted with politics. In a nutshell, Cox has to get voters to believe that he’s the Bernie Sanders of the 2018 California gubernatorial campaign.
It’s an assessment Cox embraces – even though he’s a conservative with many political views diametrically opposed to those of Sanders.
“I think I will generate the excitement that Sanders did,” Cox told me in a interview last week.
His vehicles for accomplishing that?
A platform focused on rooting out the influence of mega donors and lobbyists in the state Capitol and a ballot initiative he calls the Neighborhood Legislature that aims to restore grass-roots democracy. Who are these super-sized influencers? Cox lists them one-by-one. Big unions, especially the California Teachers Association, big oil, big tobacco, big pharma and big telecommunications.
“The corruption in Sacramento is unacceptable and uncontrollable,” Cox said. “Attacking the corruptive influences is the only way we can make the Golden State golden again. The cost of corruption ends up in the price of everything we own.”
Cox grew up on the south side of Chicago, where political corruption is an art form and something often preached against by his single mother, a public school teacher who moved to Fresno after she retired.
“There were many principals who got their jobs because they were friends of the alderman. My mom was a liberal Democrat and a union member, but she hated that corrupt system because it put politics ahead of students. That really, really formed me,” Cox told The New York Times.
Cox has been pushing versions of the Neighborhood Legislature since 2012. This time, he has put $2 million behind the signature campaign and another $3 million into his gubernatorial campaign. He says the ballot initiative effort has attracted about 320,000 signatures. It’s a good start on the 585,407 qualified signatures needed by the Oct. 25 deadline.
Cox predicts that the initiative will get on the ballot and provide his gubernatorial effort with the voter enthusiasm he needs to make it out of the Top 2 primary into the November 2018 general election.
Describing the Neighborhood Legislature in a few words is challenging, so I will rely on the version on the initiative’s website: “Today’s Assembly districts have nearly half a million people in them, and the Senate districts have nearly a million. The Neighborhood Legislature simply divides each of those huge districts into 100 neighborhoods – each with its own representative. Those 100 representatives in each district will meet and select one of their number to go to Sacramento — so there would still be just 80 Assembly Members and 40 Senators meeting at the Capitol Building.”
Cox said that bills passed in Sacramento then would have to be approved by a majority of the neighborhood districts in each house before moving to the governor’s desk.
“To run for the Legislature you’ve got to have tons of money or tons of connections, or you’ve got to sell your soul to the unions or corporations. With tiny districts, it will cost only a few hundred dollars to run, you will campaign door-to-door and voters will get a real say,” Cox said.
I admire his pluck and wish him luck. Win or lose, I doubt that he’s going away.
Cox built his business empire from the ground up and hates corruption. He’s the guy who once pitched the idea of requiring state lawmakers to wear logos of their top 10 campaign contributors when they spoke on the Senate or Assembly floor. In that regard, every stock-car race on the NASCAR calendar is more transparent than the greasy wheelings and dealings of California’s Legislature.