Gas Taxes Loom Large As Pro-Trump Candidate Seeks California’s Governor’s Mansion

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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California GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox is slated to take on former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as citizens in the Golden State continue to rail against a Democrat-led gas tax increase.

Cox has received President Donald Trump’s ringing endorsement as the Republican seeks to do what many think is the impossible: use a broadly conservative message to win California’s governor’s mansion. He’s banking on a slew of unpopular tax increases to help accomplish the feat.

“He’s going to raise your property taxes, double the state income tax, he’s going to defend the regressive, horrible gas tax that impacts the working people of this state and drives up gasoline costs,” Cox said Monday at a luncheon in San Diego. He finished second Tuesday behind the San Francisco Democrat in California’s strange primary election process.

Cox is vowing to wage a high-minded and civil contest against Newsom, who is promising to govern like Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. Newsom will have to contend with Republicans who are painting the outgoing governor as the primary culprit behind the tax increase.

The law, passed April 6, imposes a 12 cents per gallon (cpg) hike on citizens and raises the tax on diesel fuel by 20 cpg. It also implements an additional charge to annual vehicle license fees ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the car’s value. Californians have some experience with similar measures.

A similar gas tax increase helped bring down former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 after he signed legislation dramatically increasing the vehicle license fee. No one clamored to recall Brown, but Los Angeles Republicans collected enough signatures to force the recall of state Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat many consider the point-man for the effort.

Nearly 51 percent of registered voters support repeal of the state’s new gas tax hike, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times statewide poll published in May, which have changed very little since the measure initially passed.

Nearly 58 percent of voters opposed the tax increase, including 39 percent who say they strongly reject the legislation, according to a poll the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies conducted shortly after the measure was passed. Only 35 percent of voters surveyed favor the law. (RELATED: Governor Brown’s Move To Hike California’s Gas Taxes Could Doom Dems As Elections Approach)

Opposition against the measure is widespread. Voters in all major regions of the state other than the Bay Area and all age categories over 30 are unhappy about it. Liberal voters are the only group that largely supports the law. Newsom is avoiding the gas tax talk and instead seeking to label Cox a pro-Trump candidate whose out of touch with California values.

“Voters are going to have a real choice this November between a governor who is going to stand up to Donald Trump and a foot soldier in Trump’s war on California,” he said Tuesday in his victory speech. (RELATED: Here’s Why Californians Pay Way More For Gasoline Than Everyone Else) 

Newsome held a commanding 33 percent lead among likely voters leading up to the primary election, according to a statewide poll UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies released the day of the vote. Cox’s numbers skyrocketed as well. He polled second with 20 percent, up from 18 percent in April and well ahead of the nine percent he had in Berkeley’s December 2017 poll.

Cox will have an uphill battle, even if he thumps Newsom with the gas tax. The Democratic Party owns super-majorities in both chambers of the California State Legislature. Democrats have maintained a death grip on the state since 1998, when an overwhelming number of Californians voted for Davis, a Democrat who was later recalled over rising gas prices, among other issues.

Six of eight Democratic candidates for statewide offices won in 1998, which allowed the party to increase its majority in the state Assembly from 43 to 48 seats and in the state Senate from 23 to 25 seats. The party made further inroads across the state during the 2012 elections, winning races in traditionally Republican areas. San Diego, once a Republican stronghold, elected a Democratic mayor for the first time since 1988.

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