Jim Dey | Perennial Illinois office-seeker finds more success out West

Jim Dey | Perennial Illinois office-seeker finds more success out West

"Go west, young man."

So said author and newspaper publisher Horace Greeley in an 1865 editorial that encouraged Civil War veterans to take advantage of the opportunities created by the country's expansion.

The message has resonated far beyond Greeley's target audience and time.

Take John Cox, the former Illinois lawyer, businessman, investor and frequent office seeker.

Unsuccessful in his quest for U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, the presidency and even Cook County recorder of deeds in Illinois, Cox became a full-time California resident in 2011.

Last week, the 62-year-old lawyer, businessman, real-estate investor and perennial office seeker became the Republican Party's candidate for governor of the Golden State. He will face Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the November general election.

In this election year, Democrats are attacking virtually every Republican as a tool of President Donald Trump, and Newsom wasted no time in doing the same to Cox.

He called Cox a "foot soldier on (Trump's) war on California."

Cox, who voted for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson in 2016, quickly returned fire.

"(It) wasn't Donald Trump that made California the highest-taxed state in the country. It was Gavin Newsom and the Democrats," he charged.

The consensus is that Cox has very little chance of actually winning the November election in this Democrat-dominated state. But if that's the case — and surely, it is — his meager prospects aren't slowing him down.

That was the case in Illinois as well, where Cox ran early and often.

Over a period of decade, Cox made a series of daring but unsuccessful runs, as the California news media has noted.

"Before his bid to become California governor, John Cox took on some guy named Obama," stated a headline of a Cox profile that ran in The Los Angeles Times.

That was back in 2004, when Cox sought the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination. Cox and former President Barack Obama actually shared a debate stage in that contest. Cox now jokes that he was the one who "stayed unknown," while Obama went on to the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

Those who recall Cox's political activities in Illinois have watched with amazement as he's made his run in California.

"He was one of those guys who was always kind of out there running," said Chicago lawyer and former state GOP Chairman Pat Brady.

Rockford political consultant Jim Thacker, who worked both for and against Cox, described him as a "self-made guy" who "always had the credentials and the smarts" to be a credible candidate.

"The circumstances were never right for him," Thacker said. "I didn't know he had even moved to California. But he's sure getting his 15 minutes of fame now."

Cox's endless runs for public office here created an image as that of a political gadfly, someone not to be taken seriously by the news media or the political establishment.

But while Cox's political resume is less than impressive, his professional credentials are off the charts.

Raised on the South Side of Chicago by a single mother who was a teacher, Cox graduated with degrees in accounting and political science from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

He earned his law degree from the Chicago Kent College of Law and went out in the world, where he made his fortune.

His successful businesses have included law and accounting, real-estate and investments.

As a multi, multi-millionaire, Cox has been able to fund his political ventures with his own money.

Money, however, only goes so far in a huge state like California. That's why the folks back home are impressed that Cox was able to make the fall ballot.

"Give him credit for getting second in the jungle primary. That's a big state," Brady said.

The so-called "jungle primary" is unique to California. The names of all the candidates for statewide office, including governor, are put on a single primary ballot. Last week, 27 candidates representing five parties competed, with the top two finishers — Newsom and Cox — moving on the November election.

Republicans once had a strong political presence in California. But that has changed as the state has changed.

However, Cox is proudly hoisting the GOP flag, touting himself as a Ronald Reagan-style Republican who contends that California is great for the rich and miserable for everyone else.

He rails against a recent gas-tax hike as an example of state government's voracious and endless appetite for revenues needed to sustain a government that is too big and too costly.

Cox sums up the voter's choice this way: "This election will set up a clear choice between Venezuela, which is what Gavin Newsom wants California to look like, and the California Dream restored, which is what I am aiming to do."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at 217-351-5369 or jdey@news-gazette.com.

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