This is the third installment in a series of Capital Public Radio interviews with the prominent candidates for California governor. You can find all the interviews here.
John Cox says the only way to get money out of California politics is to multiply the number of state lawmakers by 100.
He’s dead serious.
So serious, in fact, that the San Diego businessman has just spent $2.5 million of his own money to gather more than 800,000 voter signatures to qualify his “Neighborhood Legislature” initiative for the November 2018 ballot – a ballot he hopes to be on too, as a candidate for California governor.
Cox turned his initiative signatures in to county elections officials last week, triggering the signature verification process that will determine whether his measure will go before voters next fall.
“As long as the districts and the campaigns are driven by media and television and radio, they’re gonna be expensive. And the people who are elected are going to have to dance to the tune of the people who give the money,” Cox told Capital Public Radio in an interview at the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim last month.
“So the only solution that I think I’ve found that would really open up the process and get rid of the power of money is to make the money unnecessary,” he says, “and that’s this idea of a ‘Neighborhood Legislature.’”
Under Cox’s ballot proposal, the current 40 Senate and 80 Assembly districts would be split up into micro-districts of 10,000 and 5,000 constituents respectively. Currently, each senator represents more than 930,000 constituents and every assembly member more than 465,000.
“You’re not gonna need to raise money,” Cox says. “You’re gonna basically almost know everybody in your district. And that way, the funders lose power.”
Because California’s current population is approximately 39 million, the initiative would initially create roughly 3,900 “neighborhood senators” and 7,800 “neighborhood assembly members.”
But only 120 of those neighborhood representatives would head to the state Capitol.
According to an analysis of the initiative from California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office: “Beginning in 2022 and by a majority vote the (1) elected Senators in a Senate district would select one representative to serve on the Senate Working Committee and (2) elected Assembly Members in an Assembly district would select one representative to serve on the Assembly Working Committee.”
“Ninety-nine percent of those people stay home,” Cox says. “And the 12,000 people that are in the neighborhoods go about their life and keep tabs on the people in Sacramento.”
The 40 senators and 120 assembly members who make up the “working committees” would write, amend and approve bills. But other than urgency measures, no bill could advance to the governor’s desk without the approval of the full “Neighborhood Senate” and “Neighborhood Assembly.”
Cox hopes his “Neighborhood Legislature” initiative will be a springboard for his gubernatorial campaign. Although he isn’t well-known, he’s the top Republican in recent polls – which also suggest he has a shot at finishing in the “top two” in California’s open primary system and advancing to the November election.
He describes himself as a conservative fed up with California’s shift to the left.
“We’re a laughingstock,” he says of the state’s business climate. “And I’m just disgusted with the political class in Sacramento that keeps making life more expensive.”
“This is not a functioning state at the present time,” he adds. “We’re careening towards a disaster. And I don’t want to see that happen.”
Cox acknowledges he voted for libertarian Gary Johnson in the 2016 presidential race – but after observing Donald Trump’s opening months, “I will say, today, sitting here today, that it was a mistake.”
“So far, President Trump has come through on reducing regulation, reducing the size of government,” he says. “I am very, very supportive of the things he’s done.”
And he plays up his record as a businessman on the campaign trail. “It’s the politicians that have messed things up” at the state Capitol, he says. “And I’m running against five politicians."