GOP Gubernatorial Candidate John Cox Blames California’s ‘Political Class’ For Affordability Crisis
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Photo by Natalie Walsh
John Cox, candidate
In our series of interviews with the candidates running for office in the November election, we speak with Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox.
Q: You grew up in Illinois. Describe how you viewed the California Dream back then.
A: It's interesting because my mom went to school in California. And so I always heard from my mom about how California had the best schools, the best business opportunities. It was the California Dream of being able to rise from the bottom and make your way to the top. Now that dream is almost gone for a lot of people. The amount of regulation in government, the amount of tax burden that's being put on people, the interest groups have driven up the cost of living and made it almost impossible to get started here.
Q: What does that dream mean to you today?
A: Well, I think it means doing what I did and that is starting at the bottom. My mom was a schoolteacher in Chicago. And, making your life a success. And that's the way to cure inequality. The politicians, the political class like to talk — like my opponent likes to talk — about bridging this inequality and the trouble is that what they're doing in Sacramento is making that inequality worse by making it so much more difficult to get a good education, to start a business or work for a small business. I'm a small businessman and being able to work for a small business or start a small business is the best way to get yourself started in life and grow and achieve success.
Q: As you said, you're a businessman, lawyer and an investor, who has never held public office. How do you relate to the nearly half of all Californians who are struggling with poverty today?
A: Because I solve problems and deliver results. The political class, like my opponent, will just talk a good game. They'll say we're going to give you this, we're going to give you that. What I want to do is give people opportunity for growth and to be able to be a success and also to have things made more affordable. The cost of housing has been driven up to ridiculous levels and it's mostly government that's done that. The lawsuits, the impact fees, the regulations, the red tape. Those are the things that are holding back people from living a wonderful life and that's what I'm going to try to change.
Q: Let's talk about housing. You've discussed the affordability crisis in California a great deal. What is your specific plan to make houses more affordable to buy and apartments more affordable to rent?
A: I build in other states for a fraction of what it costs to build apartments here. And the difference? Lawsuits, red tape, taxes. My opponent's answer is to hand out a few subsidies to a few people. That is only going to save a few people. It is not going to provide wonderful, affordable housing to millions. We literally have millions of people who are living in a lot less-than-desirable places. Small apartments, small houses. People can't even afford to buy a house these days and they're moving into other states with fewer specific plans.
Q: What’s your specific plan?
A: Streamline the regulations, end the frivolous litigation and lawsuits, shorten the approval process. Now, it takes five different agencies to approve a housing project. I want local control but I want the process streamlined so that you don't have to go through a million different steps to get something approved.
Q: Do you support more density?
A: In certain spots, that could be the case. But I don't want to take away the dream of having a house and a yard for people. We need to get away from limiting urban environments and maybe expand out. You know California still only builds on about 5 percent of the available land in the state so I think we have plenty of room for expansion.
Q: What's your position on holding back transportation dollars from cities that don't build enough housing?
A: Well, I think we should have a carrot-and-stick approach. I believe in incentives and disincentives. No question about it. But that's not the only answer. We have got to be able to streamline and reform laws, like the California Environmental Quality Act, which is now being used by trial lawyers to sue competitors and bring better labor concessions, which is fine for the people who get paid more. But that means that regular people, who have to buy these houses, have to pay a whole lot more for those houses. We need a balance. We don't have a balance in California today.
Q: What role, if any, should government play in getting the 134,000 homeless people in this state off the streets? Whose responsibility is it?
A: It's political leadership and a lack of political will. We need to give people the opportunity to get off of substance abuse, get treated for mental illness, and then have a chance at an affordable house. We need to have compassion for people. And compassion is not letting somebody live on the street. That to me, is a tragedy and we got to fix it.
Q: What can government do to get them off the street?
A: Foster the development of transition centers. There's one in Sacramento I know about. Father Joe's Villages here in San Diego is another example. Make it so that there's more availability of treatment, of cures, of getting off of substance abuse, of getting treated for mental illness. Also, a start in training to make sure you get a good job and afford a place of your own.
Q: A common complaint from California workers is there simply aren't enough jobs that can support a middle-class lifestyle. What would you do to encourage companies that can pay those middle incomes to come into this state?
A: Well, we have been driving out business. California has the worst business climate in the country, the highest taxes. Nobody in their right mind would move their business here if they didn't have to and that's the problem.
And it's a political class in Sacramento that has done that. I want to cut the regulations and streamline the situation so that more businesses can be here. But we also have to make the state affordable. So many businesses won't move here because their employees can't afford to live. If you can't afford to live in a place, you're not going to be able attract people to actually work for your company.
Q: What would you say to a family which is contemplating a move to another state where the cost of living is cheaper?
Wait until November 6th because help is on the way. Listen, I don't have any magic bullet. What I can do is I can define the problem and that is a political class in Sacramento that loves regulation that loves taxes because it enriches the political class. That's why they drive up the cost of housing. That's why gasoline costs are so high. That's why they're pushing this gas tax. They could have reformed Caltrans. They could have made Caltrans a lot more efficient. It spends twice what Texas does to build a mile-long road. They didn't do that. They raised taxes. They went in the pockets of hardworking Californians because they didn't want to tell their contributors, `We're going to have to cut your profits.’ They didn't want to have to tell the public employees, ‘We're going to have to reallocate our workers a little bit and save money.’ They raise taxes instead, making it tougher for struggling Californians.
Q: One in five people in California lives in poverty. What is your strategy to help them?
A: Reduce the cost of living. Make it so that we can build affordable housing. If I can build for one fifth the cost in another state, we can do it here and still make sure that it's good housing and environmentally safe. You know the reason that people are living in poverty is because the cost of living. A dozen eggs is $4 in San Diego. It's $2 in Phoenix. There's no reason why we should be charging people so much money. And it's about the cost of doing business here. Our electricity rates are the highest in the country. Our water bills are incredibly high when even it's available gasoline is outrageous. We need to bring the costs down.
Q: The state also has one of the highest poverty rates when it comes to seniors. What can California do to ensure that seniors continue to have food and shelter?
A: It's all about making the cost of living a lot less. I mean it's all about government regulation. Really and truly. There's a whole lot of things that are driving up water, electricity. The politicians decided to go to 100 percent renewables recently which would make a tiny, little, minute difference in the quality of the air. But it's a political statement. Well, that's great. And I support those kinds of goals. But we're doing it on the backs of seniors and other people who are having a real tough time of it.
Q: You recently wrapped up a bus tour of California. What did you learn about Californians during this tour?
A: I met Felipe Martinez who lives in a one bedroom apartment with himself and four children paying $1,500 a month. He doesn't want to move to Texas because he loves the Dodgers but he's struggling like a lot of Californians and it's needless. We can build housing that's a lot less expensive. I do it in Indiana and Indiana is a wonderful place to live. They're not environmentally backward there. They want environmental standards. They have wonderful building standards but they do it in a way that allows builders to build in a cost-effective way. Here in California it's all about making builders jump through hoops and raise the cost and it's usually at the benefit of some competitor or some interest group in Sacramento that's literally paying off a bunch of politicians and Mr. Newsom is part of that political class. He is not going to change it. He is not going to do reform. I am going to change the structure of this government so that we make life affordable for people in the state.
Q: Only 47 percent of Californians believe the American dream, the California dream of economic opportunity for hard work still holds true. Can that dream be saved?
A: Absolutely. We just need the political leadership to change the status quo in Sacramento. It is not working. We can see that in the numbers of people who are being pounded into poverty. Our school system is in the nation now one near the bottom. We've got to make sure that we have the leadership and it's all because of interest groups in Sacramento and the political class. There's got to be a change. I'm going to be that change agent because I know what it's like to struggle. I started at the bottom. I had a struggle so I know what it's like and I want to make sure that other people don't have to struggle.
Cox said he would streamline regulations, end "frivolous litigation and lawsuits," and shorten the approval process to help resolve the state's housing crunch.
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