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He Barely Has A Campaign. But Doug Ose Is Running For California Governor. Really.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Gubernatorial candidate and former Congressman Doug Ose

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Doug Ose has heard the snarky questions: Is he really running? Is he a serious candidate for California governor?

The former Republican congressman, who represented a suburban Sacramento district for three terms from 1999-2005, declared his candidacy in early January. This was months — and in some cases, years — after the other prominent Republicans and Democrats vying to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown.

Now, five weeks later, Ose still has no campaign website beyond a splash page with a “donate” link. And beyond a $29,200 personal donation, he’s raised just $5,000 — a pair of $2,500 donations from lumber companies with the same owner.

“Doug Ose is a head fake,” one of his GOP rivals, Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, told Capital Public Radio last month. “Doug Ose doesn’t stay in this race.”

So how does Ose answer his doubters?

“That’s just such crap,” he said in a recent interview. “I am serious. I’m damn serious.”

He says he’s got another $75,000 worth of checks ready to turn in, and his website is ready to launch any day now.

“The California dream is broken,” he says, adding that middle-class Californians are “fleeing the state in droves” because there’s no opportunity for them anymore.

“I’m asking people to stick it out, to give me a chance, to work with me — and let’s rebuild the California dream,” he says.

Ose believes his pragmatic voting record in Congress, combined with his early, outspoken backing of President Donald Trump, will help him consolidate enough support to finish in the top two in California’s June primary. Under the state’s open primary system, the top two finishers — regardless of political party — advance to the November general election.

It’s a fine line to walk in a deep blue state that voted for Hillary Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin in 2016.

As a member of Congress, Ose joined the Republican Main Street Partnership, a caucus that says its members stand for conservative economic and national security principles but “believe in governing in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner.” He remains a member of the organization’s board of directors.

“I’m effective, I’m experienced, I work across the aisle, I get things done,” he says. “In my legislative career, we figured out our differences, and we put the bills on the floor and we passed and the president signed them.”

But Ose makes no apologies for his embrace of the president.

“There’s a lot of what Donald Trump says that needs to be said, that hasn’t been said for decades,” Ose says, citing what he described as a lack of control over America’s borders, excessive regulations, “out of control” homelessness, and taxes “that were too high and now they’re lower” — a reference to the recently passed overhaul of the federal tax code.

He also decries Democrats for giving mental health “nothing but lip service” and holding DACA recipients “hostage,” using them “as just tools to achieve some other goal.”

“I am just so delighted that somebody’s actually speaking, so to speak, truth to power on this stuff,” Ose says. “We cannot progress as a country if all we do is sweep this stuff under the rug because it’s too hard, or somebody’s feelings get hurt. We gotta deal with this stuff.”

Ose barely registers in polls so far, coming in last among the seven major candidates in last week’s Public Policy Institute of California survey. To run a viable campaign, he’ll need to find a way to gain traction with the electorate — either by raising money to communicate with them or by breaking through another way.

And here, he hopes his ties to some prominent California backers of the president — he first endorsed Trump in February 2016 and played an active role in the California delegation to the Republican National Convention — will help him rise above his two GOP rivals, Allen and San Diego businessman John Cox.

An issue that epitomizes Ose’s balancing act is immigration.

In Congress, Ose received a 0 percent rating from the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR describes itself as advocating for “lower levels of overall immigration” and has criticized President Trump’s proposed pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients while praising his calls to increase border security and end “chain migration.”

Asked what he would say to Trump voters who might be concerned that his immigration positions don’t match theirs, Ose proposed a guest worker program for technology, agriculture, construction and restaurant employees. He said it would use biometric identifiers and withhold funds for participants until they claim the money at their home countries’ American embassies after their designated work period ends.

He then launched a full-throated defense of the president’s immigration positions, saying Trump “has been very effective in calling out the Democratic rhetoric for what it is — which is essentially, ‘We don’t want to have any borders; we don’t care where you come from; we’re not gonna vet you. Just come into our country — we’d love to have you.’ Well, that’s not gonna work.”

Ose says Trump’s immigration platform was “one of the things that attracted me to his candidacy, and I hope he succeeds in implementing the program.”

He also backs the federal tax overhaul, scoffing at critics who complain about the new cap on deducting state and local income and property tax payments. “Don’t come telling me about your One Percenter problem,” he says, arguing that only wealthy Californians will be hurt. “Because the vast, vast majority of people are benefitting.”

Among the biggest problems facing California today: soaring homelessness, worsening traffic, and an uneven economic recovery that leaves much of the state out, he says.

To improve housing affordability, Ose argues, “there have to be some trade-offs here.” Rather than mandating “inclusionary” affordable housing requirements and design standards statewide, he prefers to leave those decisions to cities and counties.

“We can’t ask the buyers to provide the financing to correct every social failure over the last eight years,” he says. “But that’s what the Democrats want to do. And it’s driving the cost of housing through the roof.”

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