SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — Those who have heard of Neel Kashkari know him as the former U.S. Treasury official who was in charge of the bank bailout at the height of the recession.
Now the 40-year-old Ohio native and Orange County resident wants Californians to know him as a possible candidate for governor.
Kashkari, the son of Indian immigrants, is considering entering next year’s campaign as the third Republican challenger to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has raised $13 million for a re-election bid but has not formally announced he is running for another term.
Kashkari spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday about why he is considering seeking the office and about his positions on a host of issues facing California.
A political neophyte who has never run for public office, Kashkari said he has a libertarian view of social issues. He supports gay marriage and abortion rights, for example, but opposes legalizing marijuana.
While he has not committed to a campaign, Kashkari is building a political platform based on improving the state’s economy, reducing California’s poverty rate and improving schools. He has spent the last several months in opposing worlds — meeting with the poor, many at homeless shelters, as well as the wealthy who could help him fund a campaign.
He called it shocking that in California, a state with a wealth of resources, 23 percent of people are living in poverty “and nobody is talking about it.”
“And when Governor Brown, by the way, came out a few weeks ago and said ‘Oh well, it’s because California is so attractive and we attract all these poor people here,’ I mean, that was outrageous,” Kashkari said. “Not only did he abdicate any responsibility for dealing with the issue, he actually blamed the poor for being poor.”
A spokesman for Brown, Dan Newman, called Kashkari’s comment “absurd.”
“This is a guy who his entire campaign is based on giving billions to Wall Street banks, but he criticized the governor who raised the minimum wage, who created over 675,000 new jobs, who did the seemingly impossible in erasing the massive deficit,” Newman said.
Sounding common Republican themes, Kashkari discussed job creation, cutting regulations and providing incentives to businesses to move to California.
He said the $68 billion high-speed rail project that Brown has championed should be scrapped and he is not sure that California should spend $25 billion to build twin tunnels under the Northern California delta to send water to Central Valley farms and Southern California cities. He supports more water storage, which some Democrats oppose.
Kashkari’s education-reform proposals are more philosophical than detailed policies. He says money should be shifted from administration into classrooms and schools should have more control over spending. He said the school-spending law Brown signed earlier this year, which shifted more money to school districts with the highest levels of poor students and gave districts more control over how they spend state money, did not go far enough in making the needed systemic changes.
He listed a roster of Republicans and conservative-leaning organizations from which he has sought education advice, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the Hoover Institution.
“We’re just talking to everybody,” he said.
When asked if he has met with teachers unions, Kashkari said he had not. But he added that he is interested in talking with “anybody who’s dedicated to transforming our schools.”
He also said voters should have a say in a law taking effect in January that gives transgender students in public schools the right to define their own sex when choosing a bathroom or which sports team to play on. Opponents are trying to qualify a referendum to overturn it next year.
Beyond leading the $700 billion bank bailout, Kashkari has little in the way of a public track record and is still trying to grasp the details of state government.
He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the Wharton School of Economics. From 2002 to 2006, he was a vice president at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco.
Kashkari pegs his wealth at less than $5 million, not enough to self-finance a statewide campaign in California. Asked whether voters might see him as simply another rich person with no experience in elective office who wants to govern California, like previous Brown challenger Meg Whitman, Kashkari responds by saying his family was not wealthy. He then jabbed at Brown’s upbringing as the son of a famous politician.
“When you contrast my background with that of Governor Brown, it’s a very different background and a very different life that we grew up in,” he said.
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