Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party, said Tuesday that he is running for lieutenant governor.
"It's a key leadership position in state government, and the lieutenant governor's office is what the holder chooses to make of it," Nehring said in an interview.
Current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, "treats it like a taxpayer-funded gubernatorial exploratory committee for 2018," Nehring said. "The office should be used as a platform to develop the type of bold reform plans that the state needs."
A campaign spokesman for Newsom dismissed Nehring's bid, saying the state GOP faltered under his four-year watch that began in 2007.
"Ron Nehring racked up zero statewide wins during his time as party chair and helped steer the California Republican Party to near-oblivion, championing issues such as denying gays and lesbians the right to marry," spokesman Sean Clegg said.
New voter registration numbers released by the secretary of state Tuesday highlight the difficulty for any Republican running for statewide office: Republican registration in the state stands at just under 29%, a historic low.
Nehring, 43, said that although he recognizes the uphill battle, he believes the party must offer an alternative to one-party rule in Sacramento. Democratic dominance, he asserted, has left the state with high taxes, high levels of poverty and failing schools.
If elected lieutenant governor, Nehring said, he would use the post to shape proposals to overhaul California's taxes, schools and pension system.
The job "should be used as an incubator for bold reform ideas, and then the lieutenant governor should advocate for the adoption of these reforms," he said.
Nehring, who lives in unincorporated San Diego County, has never been elected to office. In addition to heading the state Republican Party, he led the San Diego County GOP for six years. He has also served as an appointee on the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection and on the Grossmont Union High School District Board of Trustees.
Newsom has publicly chafed in his job, which he once described as "a largely ceremonial post ... with no real authority and no real portfolio."
He ran for governor in 2010 but dropped out before the primary and ran for second-in-command instead. He has said he would run for governor this year if incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown decided against seeking a fourth term, which appears unlikely.
As mayor of San Francisco from 2004 until 2011, Newsom gained national fame for directing the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in violation of state law.
He was a vocal opponent of Proposition 8, the successful 2008 ballot measure to forbid gay marriage in California that was later overturned. Nehring supported the measure.