Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari was five days into his job search and down to the last $5.75 when he turned to a homeless shelter for food.
He had boarded a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Fresno with just $40, a backpack, some clothes and a toothbrush with one objective: find a job.
“I offered to do anything: wash dishes, sweep floors, pack boxes, cook meals, anything,” Kashkari wrote in a guest column published in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
“I went to dozens of businesses in search of work but wasn't able to get any. In seven days, I didn't see a single ‘Help Wanted’ sign, but I did see plenty of signs that fast-food outlets now accept food stamps.”
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This was not his first experience living among the downtrodden. The former investment banker and U.S. Treasury Department official last year laid the groundwork for his challenge of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown by sleeping in homeless shelters, picking produce and visiting schools and churches in low-income areas.
Now strapped for cash and trailing significantly in public opinion polls, the job search –also documented in a 10-minute video posted to YouTube – marks perhaps the most unconventional move yet for a candidate struggling to attract attention for his campaign.
In the video, Kashkari fumbles for money to buy a pair of bananas and sleeps on park benches and in private parking lots. Looking ragged in a tattered t-shirt and baseball cap, and sporting a five o’clock shadow, he describes waking up outside a courthouse and being doused by the sprinklers.
“And then around one o’clock the cops came and said I had to leave,” he said.
The video, which calls to mind Morgan Spurlock’s CNN show “Inside Man” and CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” also features one-on-one interviews with locals struggling to make ends meet. A young woman stops by a food bank for her mother and a middle-aged man lambasts politicians for declaring that the state has rebounded.
In the Journal piece, Kashkari writes that he made the trip because he wanted to see firsthand what the purported economic recovery looks like for many Californians.
“While the politicians who run California pat themselves on the back and claim a ‘California Comeback,’ they willfully ignore millions of our neighbors who are living in poverty,” Kashkari wrote.
“These problems are of our own making,” he says in the video. “That means they are within our capacity to solve.