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Republican Kevin Faulconer brings governor campaign to Orange County

Kevin Faulconer made a campaign stop Thursday in Fountain Valley, pledging during a local Vietnamese American news show segment that he’ll make California more livable for everyone if he’s elected governor.

“California is too expensive and people are voting with their feet,” Faulconer said, as he pitched plans to lower taxes, increase the state’s supply of affordable housing and tackle homelessness.

The moderate Republican is fiscally conservative but socially liberal, opposing California’s gas tax and efforts to defund the police while supporting same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Given the state’s political makeup, he’s also simultaneously considered both a longshot and a top contender to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom during a recall election later this year or during the regular 2022 election.

Faulconer was the highest ranking elected Republican official in California until he termed out as mayor of San Diego at the end of 2020. The fact that he won election, then reelection, to both the San Diego City Council and the mayor’s seat in a city that’s dominated by Democrats gave him credentials as perhaps the GOP’s best shot at winning back the governor seat even as California continues moving further to the left.

“Every race that I’ve won has been in a majority Democratic environment,” Faulconer said. “It’s not about partisanship, it’s about leadership.”

Of the 43 people who’ve filed as gubernatorial candidates if Newsom is recalled later this year, Newport Beach-based pollster Adam Probolsky said Faulconer is “the only person of substance and recent election experience that has said, ‘I’m in this thing.’ He’s got a real track record of actually accomplishing things at city hall in a big city that has produced a governor before,” with Faulconer following in the footsteps of former San Diego Mayor and California Gov. Pete Wilson.

“But it still doesn’t change the fact that he is running as a Republican in a place that doesn’t elect Republicans,” he said, with Republicans only accounting for 24% of California’s voter base.

Faulconer doesn’t have the name recognition of Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympian and reality TV star who’s also on the recall ticket and will be speaking to the Republican Party of Orange County later this month. And Faulconer hasn’t made a splash by bringing a bear to press conferences, as fellow GOP candidate John Cox has done.

But Faulconer, 54, is running a serious campaign as a moderate Republican. The Point Loma resident has raised roughly $2.5 million combined for his recall and 2022 governor campaigns, with some of his largest donors coming out of Newport Beach. And he’s drawn endorsements from most GOP state lawmakers, including State Sen. Pat Bates of Laguna Niguel and Assemblymember Janet Nguyen of Fountain Valley.

Even if Newsom holds on to his seat this year, as most experts and polls predict he will, Faulconer’s recall campaign could help build momentum for a 2022 run. But if Newsom is ousted, GOP candidates have a better shot at winning the governor’s seat than during a general election, since they would only need the highest share of votes in what’s expected to be a crowded field.

“I’m often asked, ‘Can a Republican win a statewide election in California?’” Faulconer said. “The answer is of course. If you look at the voter registration in the city of San Diego, it mirrors that of California as a whole.

“So how do you win? You win by addition,” he said, touting past work and policy plans that he hopes will appeal to voters across party lines.

Kevin Faulconer, one of the leading GOP challengers in the recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom, poses for a photo at Bomo Koral Park in Santa Ana on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

A key component of Faulconer’s campaign platform is a promise to slash taxes for the middle class by reducing California’s tax rate to zero for the first $50,000 earned by an individual and first $100,000 earned for joint filers. When asked how he’d pay for the sweeping tax cut, Faulconer cited California’s $75 billion surplus this year.

“Californians need to keep more of that in their pockets,” he said.

To boost affordable housing, Faulconer says he’d scale up a San Diego program that focused denser developments near transit hubs and streamlined construction permits while still doing thorough environmental impact reviews. He says he’d push back against the NIMBY or “not in my backyard” crowd by being strategic about where new housing goes and by tackling the debate head-on to show how smart growth benefits everyone.

Faulconer also wants to replicate a San Diego program that he says reduced homelessness through a combination of creating housing opportunities and then making sure people are using them. His approach to sweep the streets and push people experiencing homeless into housing options drew some criticism from advocates. But Faulconer said the political will to enforce these plans is what’s missing from too many California cities and the state at large today.

“We care about people enough to say it’s not OK to have them living in unclean, unsanitary and unsafe environments. You have to intervene. I did as mayor and I would as governor.”

Faulconer – who enjoys San Diego Padres baseball games, the TV drama “Yellowstone” and reading biographies – has been eyeing politics since he was a kid.

He’d do his homework in the back row at Oxnard City Council meetings while his dad worked as city manager and his mom attended night school. His parents were Democrats, so he registered as one, too. But he said he changed his registration during college after deciding the GOP better aligned with his beliefs about freedom, creating opportunities for success and individual abilities.

After working in public relations on political campaigns, he won a seat on the San Diego City Council in 2006, defeating Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, who’s now an Assemblymember, during a special election. (Probolsky said some pundits have wondered if Gonzalez might throw her hat in the recall ring, so there’s an option on the ballot for a progressive Democrat in case Newsom is recalled. That could mean a second showdown between Faulconer and Gonzalez.)

San Diego was on the verge of bankruptcy when Faulconer became mayor in 2014, so he says he knows what it means to take the reigns during challenging times like these.

He criticizes Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the governor “didn’t follow the science” on school reopenings or outdoor dining and changed guidelines too often. Faulconer, who has two kids in San Diego public schools, said he would have forced schools to open for in-person classes for the spring semester that’s now ending. When asked about how such changes might have impacted California’s low death-rate statistics, Faulconer said, “It’s about saving lives and livelihoods.”

Analysts on Thursday said the Newsom recall will cost taxpayers an estimated $215 million. Faulconer’s campaign shot back, saying that’s “a fraction of the $30 billion in (unemployment insurance) fraud Gavin Newsom has presided over.”

While Faulconer didn’t vote for President Donald Trump in 2016, he did in 2020. He said he thought Trump would be best for the nation’s recovery coming out of the pandemic. Some of his biggest financial supporters also backed Trump, which makes it tough for him to distance himself from a president who’s unpopular with most Californians.

While neither Faulconer nor any of the other 42 candidates in the recall race so far have gained real traction, Probolsky said a few factors could ding Newsom in coming months. Given the likelihood of rolling brownouts and increasing measures to offset the drought this summer, voters could be looking for someone to blame. There’s also the potential for COVID-19 cases to creep back up, which could impact fall school reopenings.

But with the direction California is headed now, and unless there’s a real breakout candidate, Probolsky said, “It’s really hard to see a path for a recall success.”

Source: Orange County Register

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