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Former U.S. treasury official launches run for Calif. governor

2:30 PM, Jan 21, 2014   |    comments
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The history books are not kind to first-time candidates deciding to enter electoral politics with a run for governor of California.  But the latest hopeful seems to think 2014 will be different.

"We can absolutely do this," said Neel Kashkari, a former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary in an economics speech at CSU Sacramento on Tuesday that ended with him formally announcing his candidacy.

Kashkari, 40, is now the second Republican to throw his hat into the ring for 2014.  Gov. Jerry Brown, widely seen as the odds-on favorite for an unprecedented fourth term, has not officially announced his intentions.  The formal filing period for statewide office doesn't actually begin until next month.

The announcement by Kashkari comes after months of the newcomer traveling the state on a listening tour that doubled as an effort to assemble a campaign team.  And in an apparent attempt to avoid being drawn into other well-known GOP issues, the candidate said Tuesday he will attempt to focus his effort on only the two most pressing issues in California.

"We have to grow the economy and create jobs and give kids a good education, at the same time," he said to an audience gathered for a regional economic forecast event.

The announcement comes just days after the most high-profile Republican hopeful, former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado, abandoned his 2014 race for governor.  The only other announced GOP candidate in the race is Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-San Bernardino County.

Kashkari's campaign is likely to focus, at least on first, on the most notable part of his resume: his almost three year stint as a top treasury official under President George W. Bush and, briefly, under President Barack Obama who was charged with helping write and implement the government's landmark Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), an effort to avoid a national economic collapse after the mortgage crisis that erupted in 2008.

Kashkari's parents emigrated from India, and he is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Ohio.  He moved to California in 1998 and returned in 2009 after his stint in Washington, D.C.

Whether a Republican can win the governorship of California remains a very real question; the party now only represents some 29 percent of registered voters, a 15-point gap with Democrats and just ahead of voters who have registered with no party preference.  Brown, who defeated a billionaire newcomer in 2010, has amassed a pretty sizable campaign warchest and has recently found himself with higher job approval ratings than any other sitting statewide official.

Even so, Kashkari argues the recent California economic recovery is far from acceptable.  In his announcement speech, he pointed in particular to recent reports that show a high and persistent poverty rate in the Golden State.  He also lamented the state's low ranking in recent years in education spending and job creation.

"California is like a rocket ship, with multiple engines, that's running at half throttle," he said Tuesday.  "Don't let the defenders of the status quo get away with it."

The filing period to officially enter the contest doesn't begin until Feb. 10.

John Myers is News10's political editor. Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.

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