As the field of candidates hoping to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in his recall election swells, Assemblymember Kevin Kiley on Saturday held a campaign rally at the State Capitol.
The 36-year-old Republican from Rocklin told a crowd — which gathered in the shade of the capitol hours before temperatures would reach 110 degrees in downtown Sacramento — that the state government is no longer serving Californians’ best interests.
“As Californians, we sacrifice the most and we get the least in return,” he said. “When you pay the highest gas taxes while driving over the deepest potholes, your government is broken.”
Though he was short on his specific policies, Kiley’s list of complaints was long, touching on the worsening homelessness crisis, education spending, crime, the cost of housing and the governor’s recent request for Californians to cut their water consumption due to drought.
Kiley is one of five people named Kevin running to replace Newsom but the only state lawmaker to enter the field of candidates. He was first elected to the legislature in 2016. Previously, he worked as a deputy attorney general and a teacher.
The Rocklin Republican has emerged as a vocal critic of Newsom and his administration. In 2020, he and Assembly colleague James Gallagher (R–Yuba City) sued the governor for allegedly overstepping his executive powers during the pandemic. While a Superior Court judge initially ruled in their favor, an appeals court judge overturned the ruling.
Kiley and Gallagher have asked the California Supreme Court to take up the case.
He’s also earned the endorsement of Orrin Heatlie, the lead proponent of the recall. Though Heatlie said he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a representative of the campaign to recall Newsom.
“Kevin has been there from day one, when we first started the recall and he has done more than anybody else in the field to help us push that needle forward,” he said.
Kiley plans to run with that message — painting himself as a standard bearer for the recall and a larger movement to reform California government.
More than any particular policy, “the recall is about ... rooting out political corruption and restoring good government,” he said.
“The most important job of our next governor is to make it less important who the governor is by returning powers to local communities and individual citizens,” he said. “Less power in the governor's hands means more in your hands to live your life as you see fit.”
Speakers at the rally also included a small business owner, a freelance journalist and a founder of the group Reopen California Schools.
Kiley acknowledged that if he replaces Newsom in the recall, he would face a truncated term of barely a year before the 2022 election. But Kiley said if he wins, he would call a special session of the Legislature to hammer out solutions for homelessness.
He also said he would make it clear to state lawmakers that “the era of corruption is over.”
The Rocklin Republican claims he is the only lawmaker who does not accept political donations from special interests. In the 2020 election, he received thousands from corporations and lobbying PACs, including the California Hospital Association, Chevron and several police unions, according to campaign finance records.
While Kiley has a strong base of supporters in Northern California, he would need to reach voters across the rest of the state to rise to the top. That could be a challenge with just weeks until the September 14 recall election.
“Under ordinary circumstances, if you wake up and say, ‘Gee, I'd like to be the governor, and I want to do it in seven weeks,’ that might not be practicable,” Kiley acknowledged after his rally. “But when you're doing it on behalf of a movement the likes of which the state has never seen, that's why this is gonna succeed.”
Other candidates hoping to replace Newsom include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox, former Rep. Doug Ose and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner.
A May poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies showed Faulconer and Cox at the top of the pack with 22% of voters who said they are inclined to support their candidacy. Ose received 14% and Jenner had 6%.
The same survey showed 36% of voters said they wanted to remove Newsom from office, compared with 49% who wanted to keep him as governor.
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