Contending for California’s values: Cox and Newsom face off in race for governor

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Updated 10/16/18: This article has been updated to include information from candidate John Cox. 

As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to leave office, he leaves John Cox and Gavin Newsom to vie for the vacant seat in the next election.

The November election pits Newsom, who has been in California politics for more than a decade, against Cox, a political newcomer.

Newsom, a Democrat, is currently California’s lieutenant governor, and served as the mayor of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011. In these positions, Newsom focused on education, the environment and building housing to combat homelessness. His campaign is framed in opposition to President Donald Trump, who he says is threatening Californian values.

Cox, who is a Republican and a businessman, has built his campaign around his identity as a political outsider. His platforms include making California more affordable by repealing taxes, such as the gas tax, making it easier to build houses and ending California’s sanctuary state policies.

“I will bring change to the capitol, take on the special interests, and ensure that the Californians forgotten by the political class finally see some relief on the issues they care about the most,” Cox said.

One of the hot-button issues that both candidates have focused on is housing. Newsom has proposed developing 3.5 million housing units, investing in affordable housing and increasing tenant protections.

“This is a question of who we are,” Newsom’s website says. “Housing is a fundamental human need — let’s not forget the human face behind the dire statistics.”

Cox, too, emphasized the importance of affordability in addressing housing. In his experience in the housing industry, Cox says on his website that he has been able to build and renovate houses in other states for “less than half” the cost in California. On his website, he attributes this cost to “red tape” and “outdated environmental rules,” among other factors. He proposes streamlining the approval process and removing barriers, making it easier to build housing.

A closely linked issue — homelessness — was also featured in both candidates’ platforms.

“Unlike other states, the majority of those on California streets are there simply because they’ve been priced out of their homes,” Cox says on his website. “By rapidly increasing the supply of affordable housing, we can help those people help themselves.”

Both candidates focused more broadly on economic growth, but with different perspectives.

Newsom highlighted investing in education, building infrastructure and protecting workers’ rights to encourage economic growth. The California Labor Federation, a coalition of unions across industries, has endorsed Newsom.

“(Newsom) thinks a lot about the future of work and job security in a time when we seem to be losing ground,” said California Labor Federation spokesperson Steve Smith.

Cox says on his website that Newsom’s time in office has not succeeded in making California more affordable or decreasing the poverty rate. As a businessman and political outsider, Cox argued that he was equipped to fight lobbyists and “corrupt insiders.”

Newsom has been endorsed by groups representing health care workers, teachers, unions and LGBTQ+ rights. Samuel Garrett-Pate, spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ rights group Equality California, notes that Newsom has a record of supporting LGBTQ+ initiatives.

“(Newsom) has defined what it means to be an ally — not just being in support of, but really leading the fight for LGBTQ+ justice,” Garrett-Pate said.

Garrett-Pate said Newsom was the “clear” choice to endorse. Newsom was an early supporter of marriage equality and plans to strengthen resources for LGBTQ+ students in public schools and launch “Getting to Zero,” an initiative to reduce and ultimately eliminate HIV.

On his website, Cox made no mention of the LGBTQ+ community.

“John Cox has been in lockstep with the Trump administration in attacking this community,” Garrett-Pate said. “Not just our community but the communities to which LGBTQ+ people belong  — we’re also immigrants, people of color, women.”

Cox, for his part, has been endorsed by many conservative leaders, such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and law enforcement groups such as the California Peace Officers Association, or CPOA.

Shaun Rundle, the CPOA deputy director, said that when evaluating Newsom, CPOA did not find that public safety was one of his “priorities.”

“John Cox wants to take public safety in a direction that California needs,” Rundle said. “There’s no accountability anymore. He believes in that accountability and so do we.”

Newsom has championed the kind of criminal justice reforms that the CPOA said are making communities “unsafe,” such as decriminalizing marijuana and changing sentencing laws. CPOA said early releases and other reforms have led to increases in property crimes and local crimes and that Cox has pledged to be “harsher.”

Though they differ on many issues, Cox and Newsom have both built their platforms on what they see as California’s values. Cox emphasized investing in schools and reducing poverty, while Newsom highlights the immigrant communities and championing women’s empowerment.

Madeleine Gregory covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.