Capitol Alert

Former Republican congressman – and big Trump backer – moves to replace Jerry Brown

Republican Doug Ose, a politically moderate former congressman from the Sacramento region who last year became one of President Donald Trump’s most vociferous surrogates in California, on Friday opened a committee to run for governor.

The filing allows Ose, 62, to begin raising money for the June primary. He said he will make a formal announcement within 10 days.

“Simply put, I’m running to rebuild the California dream.” he said. “I’ll work with anyone to make that happen.”

In a recent interview as he mulled entering the contest, Ose characterized his approach as that of a straight-talker who won’t sugarcoat the state’s shortfalls or tailor his positions to fit the whims of powerful interests like unions, which he views as captors of the dominant Democratic Party and defenders of an unacceptable status quo.

Everywhere he looks he sees uncontrolled homelessness and nagging crime. Schools are underperforming and roads and infrastructure have been allowed to fall into disrepair, not to mention the high taxes and lack of government oversight.

“It’s fascinating that those in office don’t see all of the problems. You can’t help but see them. I mean, come on. Just drive through any urban area,” Ose said. “Unless you are one of these bazillionaires, California is broken.”

He enters a race to replace Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in which Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has not trailed since launching his committee nearly three years ago. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, another Democrat, has settled into second place in public polls, creating a vacuum on the right that Ose believes should be filled by a challenger with a record in both politics and business.

Under the state’s primary election system, the top-two candidates advance to the fall runoff, regardless of their political party.

Ose’s impact on field of candidates is not immediately clear, and will largely hinge on how much money he’s able to raise from a shrinking corps of Republican donors and how much of his own financial resources he’s willing to spend.

Ose’s Republican opponents, Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach and businessman John Cox, trail all but one of the Democrats in fundraising. Cox’s haul includes $3 million of his own money.

Ose said his early focus in the governor’s race would be fundraising. In 2014, he spent several million dollars of his own against Democratic Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove in the nation’s most expensive House race that year.

On a recent visit to Gibson Ranch, a park Ose helps run with the county, the former congressman greeted a visitor in between spreading heavy boulders from one side of the park to another.

He praised Trump for his handling of the economy and his tough approach to North Korea, but returned repeatedly to what he sees as the biggest issues facing the state and how he would shake things up.

“I can tell you I would stir the pot, but it would be my way, not Trump’s way,” Ose said.

Ose said he would demand action from the Legislature to build new prisons and look to roll back a law that shifted the state’s overcrowding burden down to the county level. Ose said he would similarly target voter-approved measures that reduced certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and gave parole consideration to certain felons.

“We got people who aren’t obeying our laws. And it is showing up in our neighborhoods and affecting our quality of life,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we put these people in a cage?”

He wants more emphasis on standardized school tests and would focus on reducing red tape that slows creation and drives the upfront cost of developing in a state in need of more housing.

Several Republicans active in state politics have been trying to recruit a candidate into the race since San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer declined. Ose said he’s reviewed polling data he thinks shows a path to victory in the race, however narrow. Democrats control all of the statewide offices, both Senate seats and have a significant advantage in the number of registered voters.

Ose said he would likely release his tax returns if he ran, which all of the Democrats have done. He said they would show $300,000 to $500,000 in taxable income per year from his combined investments.

In his first congressional campaign in 1998, Ose, a developer of duplexes and mini storage facilities, led with his private sector credentials: “I’m not a politician,” he would often say. Once in office, he consistently voted to cut spending and make permanent the George W. Bush tax cuts, advocating for what he called a more pragmatic government through the Main Street Partnership.

Ose carried a measure to stop automatic pay raises for federal legislators, chaired a panel on the state energy crisis and helped lead a probe into gifts received by Bill Clinton.

Long before Ose backed Trump, including helping the campaign at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ronald Reagan factored into his legislative record. He co-sponsored a measure to put Reagan’s likeness on the dime and introduced another bill to carve the GOP icon’s face into Mount Rushmore, in space right of Abraham Lincoln.

One proposal of his that generated significant coverage would have banned certain profane words such as “ass” from the airwaves. He touts his ability to work with colleagues, including those “on the other side.”

“In Congress, I cosponsored a lot of things, and you want to know why they brought me in? Because I could always go over to the guy who was a pain in the butt and sit down and say, ‘Hey, what is it you need?’ What do you need to get you on board?’ ” Ose recalled. “I was good at that.”

Ose left Washington in 2005, after pledging to his family and constituents that he would step down after serving three, two-year terms. He ultimately decided against a challenge to Democratic former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Three years later, he ran in a neighboring House district and spent more than $4 million of his own money against conservative Republican Tom McClintock, losing in a rancorous GOP primary where he was beaten up over poor ratings from groups on abortion and gun control. Before Ose was able to take on Bera in 2014, he faced a primary challenge from McClintock’s top aide, Igor Birman, who similarly cast him as too liberal.

Ose in recent years advocated for Trump, worked to get his business affairs in order and looked after the Gibson Ranch partnership with the county.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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