Conservative Republican John Cox is an attorney, C.P.A. and millionaire venture capitalist who has just announced his run to become governor of California. Raised by a single mom, his biography is fascinating. On social media, John describes himself at a businessman, government reform advocate and a Jack Kemp-style Republican.
In addition to running or Governor, Mr. Cox is mounting a new initiative to restore the balance of power to citizens in California. He is the driving force behind an amendment to the California state constitution called the California Citizens Legislature Initiative. Its aim is to redrawn all the legislative districts in the state, subdividing them so as to dramatically increase local citizen participation in government.
Fmr Reagan economist Arthur Laffer says that the Neighborhood Legislature measure "makes voters relevant again." https://t.co/JEdIL0tuAw
— JohnHCox (@TheRealJohnHCox) March 9, 2017
I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Cox about the California Citizens Legislature Initiative. Here are the highlights:
SS: How would you describe yourself?
John Cox: I’m a conservative. I’m a conservative because I favor free markets. I favor personal responsibility. I’m for liberty. I favor the ability to create your own opportunities in life, which is what I’ve done. I absolutely believe, Susan, that most people are like us, that most people don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck from a government paycheck but they want to make their living on their own without the heavy hand of government. I really believe in the goodness of people.
SS: How would your state constitutional amendment, the California Citizens Legislature Initiative, create a new and more politically responsive citizens’ legislature?
John Cox: Here’s what happens, Susan, mechanically. Mechanically, each of these huge districts in California is subdivided into 100 tiny ones so that there are 100 neighborhood representatives elected to these tiny districts. Representatives from these 100 districts participate in a caucus and delegate their duties to a committee. These 100 members in each district are basically delegating their rule making authority to one person who goes to Sacramento but stays accountable. Those other 99 who stay home make that one who goes to Sacramento very very accountable. They communicate with them using current technology which allows instant communication, right? The 99 can immediately can recall that person when they find out that that person has gone off the rails.
The 12,000 elected neighborhood representatives never meet in one place so they don’t have to rent out the Staples center. They aren’t politicians. They get paid $1000 a year. They don’t need to raise any money in these tiny districts. They don’t get a pension. They don’t get a car. If they vote themselves a car or a pension, they can be easily removed from office by someone running against them. So I don’t think we have to worry about them becoming power hungry and voting themselves huge benefits. If they do, then it’s because we fell asleep at the switch. I think it’s the only way we are going to take back control of our government.
There’s still that class of people, the political class, that has this tremendous control. What I’m trying to do with the California Citizens Legislature Initiative is I’m trying to move that needle along that spectrum more towards freedom.
SS: What is the total number of citizen representatives you’re talking about?
John Cox: Right now the state is broken into 80 assembly districts and 40 senate districts. We are not going to alter that one iota. We made this as easy as we could make it within the confines of the current [state] constitution. We are taking 120 district and we are dividing them by 100 which makes 12,000 districts. The working committee is still 120, still one person from each big district; they’re just elected very differently. They’re elected as part of a committee that delegated their authority by the 100 within their district. There’s accountability. If good people look at what’s going on and don’t like it, they can run against it. Now I happen to believe there are 12, 000 people that would serve. . . that would get involved in politics if it wasn’t the dirty fundraising back-stabbing game that it is now.
SS: Would there be a significant cost to run 12,000 little ballots across the state? How would it work?
John Cox: The scoring estimated a SAVINGS of $130 million a year at least because we cut the staff.
SS: So by breaking up the huge districts we have right now into much smaller local districts, we would have more citizens representing the vote instead of one congressman. Plus, your plan would create a sea change in the way traditional politicians would campaign, forcing them to spend much more money and time campaigning to get votes across so many districts.
John Cox: People also ask me, Susan, why don’t you just make the district 100,000 or 50,000? Why make it go all the way down to 5,000? And my answer is clear. If you’re going to have a campaign of 50,000 in a district, you’re still going to have to raise a lot of money. It may be hundreds of thousands. But that still makes campaigns very expensive and very time consuming. Look at the turnouts – very poor; about half of eligible voters don’t register and turnout rates among REGISTERED voters is only about 30-40%. We have a tiny sliver of eligible voters who actually decide our elections. And frankly most of the people voting have very little information about what they are voting on. They vote based on the “R” or the “D” after their name or whether their last name sounds like their ethnicity.
And [the initiative] provides more accountability because if you live in one of these tiny districts and you don’t like what your local representative is doing, you can run against him. And you don’t need to raise millions of dollars, you don’t need to give up your entire life, you go door to door with your neighbors. Right now they’re accountable to the special interests, accountable to the funders, they are not accountable to us.
SS: The initiative employs the concept of a precinct captain and representative democracy — you can be your neighborhood precinct captain in your five block area and those elected precinct captains will come together to represent their neighborhood.
John Cox: Let’s even the playing field so that ideas and education win not overpowering money and manpower.
The trouble is that [republicans and conservatives don’t] have the resources or the workers to go door to door and make that message clear. They have to do it in these 30 second ads and all these mailers most people probably don’t pay attention to and the other side has almost unlimited money and manpower to go door to door and so they win.
Frankly, Susan, if you look at immigrants as a group, why do people emigrate as a group to the U.S? Most of the time it’s because they are fleeing a corrupt and heavy-handed government that tells them what to do and I think the last thing they want to do when they get to the United States is give their allegiance to another government that tells them what to do. So I absolutely believe that if conservatives could spread a message of liberty and personal freedom responsibility and opportunity they would win most districts hands down.
SS: Decentralize power — the basis of our Constitution. We want power to be with the grassroots.
John Cox: A study [found] 60% of local government officials are actually Republicans. But let’s face it. In California there’s a huge Republican constituency that feeds at the public trough, too. They are not all that interested at least a lot of the lobbyists and the powers that be they’re making a lot of money off of this pay-to-play game as well so they are not all that eager to change.
SS: The media is against us and the Establishment is against us. Your plan is an end run around both of these, but how are you going to get enough signatures?
John Cox: First of all, I have done relatively well. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and I worked and invested for forty years so I’m going to use part of my kids’ inheritance to do this so I’m going to seed it with a couple million dollars and I’m hoping to find some other people, you and others, who will like this idea enough to actually put some effort behind it.
We are going to the rotary clubs, the chambers of commerce and to the tea party groups. We’re going to all these organized groups because it’s obviously more efficient to speak to thirty people than to three. We’re trying to educate people. This is a 501(c)(3) education foundation.
SS: You’ve filed this initiative before and it’s already gone through the preliminary legal vetting. So there wouldn’t be much of a legal challenge on the wording of the initiative.
John Cox: If you don’t think you can collect the necessary signatures you’re better off not starting because you’re wasting your money. Our lawyers have said that it is not constitutionally suspect. It expands people’s ability to influence government. But that won’t prevent someone from suing once it passes (laughing).
By the way the media will still say that it “failed” before. They will still say what they want to say. I’m hoping enough people will hear about it and that I’ll do enough interviews like this one with you and give enough speeches that some level critical mass of [education and information] turns the tide here. I’m hoping people will be able to sort out the truth from the fiction so they will understand why it’s a good alternative to our system.
Mr. Cox’s campaign website is JohnCoxForGovernor.com.
Follow him on Facebook at JohnCoxFor Governor.
And on Twitter @therealJohnHCox