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The race for California governor: Tom Campbell

Former Congressman Tom Campbell is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC
Former Congressman Tom Campbell is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

California Republicans gather this weekend for their semi-annual state party convention. Three candidates seek to represent the party in next year’s gubernatorial election. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze spoke with one of them at a coffee shop in Orange County this week.

Frank Stoltze: Here outside Chapman University Law School with Tom Campbell, one of the candidates for the Republican nomination for governor. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Campbell: My pleasure, Frank. Thanks for asking me.

Stoltze: Take us back to when you first got interested in politics.

Campbell: I was 8 years old and John F. Kennedy was elected president and it sparked a great interest. It seemed everything was possible back then.

Stoltze: That president’s optimism and call to service inspired Tom Campbell and many people in his generation. But Campbell broke from his family’s Democratic roots in 1980.

Campbell: I was privileged to get a full scholarship to the University of Chicago graduate school of economics. Milton Friedman was my faculty adviser. I learned free market economics from the master, and what I learned there was the genius of America is individual liberty.

Stoltze: Campbell, who holds a PhD in economics from Chicago and a law degree from Harvard, decided that less government is better. He went on to head President Reagan’s Bureau of Competition in the Federal Trade Commission and to serve a decade in Congress representing part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

For two years, Campbell served as Governor Schwarzenegger’s director of finance. He knows the state budget perhaps better than anyone else, and he supported deep cuts in social services this year. But he opposed laying off teachers, and increased class sizes.

Campbell: So I said rather than do that, I would support a temporary increase in the gas tax for one year that would generate $6 billion. The sad outcome from the budget this year is we did cut more teachers.

Stoltze: While Campbell’s a fiscal conservative, he refuses to sign a "no new taxes" pledge. That, and his libertarian approach to abortion and gay rights, may get him in trouble with social conservatives in his party.

Campbell: The important issues for me are liberty, liberty. So what is to be pro-choice – it’s to let women make the decision rather than the government. On gay marriage, God makes people straight, why should the state treat people differently?

Stoltze: Another stance that may rile fellow Republicans: his willingness to lift the two-thirds requirement to pass a state budget.

Campbell: That seems to be fair, that seems to be responsive to the people’s will. They have chosen one party to have a majority over another.

Stoltze: Campbell’s caveat: that the budget couldn’t grow faster than the percentage growth in population and inflation.

The 58-year-old former dean of UC Berkeley’s business school, and current visiting professor at Chapman University Law School, then launches into a detailed discussion of the state budget.

Campbell: Yes, it’s occurred to me and good friends have pointed out to me (laughs) such as that I may be a bit too detailed and perhaps occasionally professorial. Well, I’m a professor. I’m supposed to be professorial.

Stoltze: Campbell shows emotion more easily than some politicians. His eyes well up with tears as he talks about his humanitarian trips to Africa with his wife. President Reagan is his hero, but not just because he was a conservative.

Campbell: I want to emphasize the goodness. People liked him. And I think that’s a critical part of leadership. You have to be a good person.

Stoltze: To get elected, you also need money. Campbell has far less of it than two other Republicans who hope to become governor: former eBay chief Meg Whitman and Silicon Valley executive-turned-State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.