- Associated Press - Monday, June 18, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Republican candidate for California governor John Cox on Monday blasted a recent gas tax increase, previewing a central theme of his campaign message about the state’s high cost of living.

Cox, a businessman from the San Diego area who has never held elected office, faces an uphill battle in November against Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Cox is the chairman of a campaign to repeal the gas tax increase - a cause that Republicans will hammer at every turn in their hopes to make inroads in the heavily Democratic state.

“Gavin Newsom and the Democrats decided to do the easy thing in their view, and that is just keep sticking their hands in the pockets of Californians,” Cox told reporters at a news conference in front of the state Capitol in Sacramento.

He spoke ahead of a legislative hearing on a ballot measure that would repeal last year’s SB1, which raised taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel and created a new surcharge on vehicle registrations.

The increase is expected to raise more than $5 billion a year, primarily for road and bridge maintenance.

The initiative backed by Cox hasn’t been certified for the ballot yet, but supporters turned in more than 900,000 signatures - far more than the 585,000 valid autographs needed to get on the ballot.

The initiative would also require voter approval for future increases.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for Newsom, said Cox is trying to distract voters’ attention from his “extreme views that have no place in California.”

Cox and other California Republicans behind the ballot initiative hope it will mobilize conservatives and broaden their message beyond the GOP base as they seek hotly contested legislative and congressional seats. Much of the funding for signature gathering came from Republican members of the U.S. House.

“They’re putting money into this repeal because it helps them re-elect Republican members of Congress,” said Michael Quigley, executive director of the Alliance for California Jobs, which opposes the initiative. “They’re willing to sacrifice our road safety to do that.”

Cox said he’d pay for road construction by making government operate more efficiently.

California is becoming increasingly Democratic and opposition to President Donald Trump - who endorsed Cox - has become a rallying cry for liberals.

Carl DeMaio, a conservative talk-radio host in San Diego, called on Gov. Jerry Brown to end efforts to promote the gas tax hike that include pacing large signs at construction sites funded by SB1.

“Gov. Jerry Brown and Sacramento politicians are using taxpayer funds to campaign against a citizens’ initiative,” DeMaio said during the news conference.

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