Capitol Alert

Republican John Cox exploring campaign for California governor

John H. Cox, a Republican businessman pushing a plan to elect lawmakers from precinct-level delegates, on March 5, 2013.
John H. Cox, a Republican businessman pushing a plan to elect lawmakers from precinct-level delegates, on March 5, 2013. Sacramento Bee file

Republican John Cox, a San Diego County businessman and investor, is exploring a run for governor in 2018, seeding his bid with a $1 million personal contribution.

Cox, 61, confirmed the moves in a statement to The Sacramento Bee on Monday, billing himself as a “Jack Kemp-style” Republican best known for his recurring proposal to create what he calls a Neighborhood Legislature, which would generate scores of elected representatives to advise lawmakers. Cox said he’s taken his proposal to hundreds of groups and wants to push a form of the idea as a 2018 ballot initiative.

Cox, a member of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County and the New Majority Chapter San Diego, would join a contest stocked with better-known Democrats, including State Treasurer John Chiang, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. While Cox would be the first candidate willing to spend big on their own behalf, other wealthy politicos said to be considering runs include Democrats Tom Steyer and Steve Westly.

A more immediate question for Cox and California Republicans is whether GOP San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer decides on an uphill run for governor. Cox said through a spokesman Monday that he knows Faulconer and supported his run for mayor.

“I will be speaking to friends and associates over the next few weeks to measure support, but my preliminary conversations have been very positive,” Cox said in the statement. “But more importantly, I want to reach out to a number of people who have given up on making real change through an election system that they view as hopelessly corrupted by special interest money.

“I believe change is not only possible but desperately needed and look forward to presenting a real plan to effect that change.”

Cox, a trained certified public accountant and attorney who once ran the Republican Party in Cook County, Ill., previously mounted long-shot campaigns for the U.S. Senate, where he debated then-Senate candidate Barack Obama in 2003.

Five years later, Cox ran for U.S. president, reasoning at the time that too often Republicans ran as “conservative when they wanted our votes; only to watch them almost turn into liberals once they were elected.”

“I am a long term, dyed in the wool conservative, brought to the Republican Party by Ronald Reagan; believing that government isn’t the answer to our problems, government is the problem,” he wrote at the time.

Since moving to California, Cox has settled in Rancho Santa Fe, working to lessen the influence of special-interest money in the Democrat-controlled state.

Last year, he unsuccessfully sought to place an initiative on the statewide ballot that would have required candidates to declare their top 10 donors in campaign advertisements. Elected officials would also need to wear badges detailing their biggest benefactors, drawing comparisons to NASCAR drivers. Cox’s neighborhood plan would subdivide existing Senate and Assembly districts, which cover about 500,000 and 1 million Californians, respectively, into what he describes as “tiny districts” that elect local representatives.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago