California's next governor: Who's running, who's on the fence?

Welcome to your guide to the 2018 California governor’s race. The election may be a little less than two years away, but listening tours are underway, political consultants are doling out advice and pundits are handicapping favorites and wild cards.

Here are the players to keep an eye on:

Gavin Newsom

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Frazer Harrison, Getty Images)

Top jobs: California’s lieutenant governor since 2011. Mayor of San Francisco for two terms, from 2004 to 2011.

Biggest splash: Newsom, a Democrat, created a national firestorm as San Francisco mayor in 2004 when he ordered the city to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Baggage: While mayor, he had an affair with his campaign manager's wife.

Particulars: Newsom, 49, lives in Marin County with his wife and four children. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University.

He launched his campaign for governor in February 2015.

Since announcing his bid, Newsom proposed a statewide initiative to toughen California gun laws and threw his support behind another measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Both initiatives were passed by state voters in the November general election.

Newsom ran for governor in the 2010 election but dropped out of the race after the entry of Democratic rival Jerry Brown, who went on to win. He ran for the lower-profile lieutenant governor's office instead and is now serving his second term.

Newsom gained national attention as mayor of San Francisco in 2004 when he directed the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That was a catalyst for a nationwide political wrangle over the issue that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of gays to marry in 2015.

As mayor, Newsom also launched the country's first universal healthcare initiative. Newsom has proposed the adoption of a universal healthcare program for California.

Status: He's running.

John Chiang

State Treasurer John Chiang.
State Treasurer John Chiang. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Top jobs: Elected state treasurer in 2014 after two terms as state controller.

Biggest splash: Docked state legislators' pay for failing to pass a balanced budget on time.

Family tragedy: Chiang’s sister, Joyce, a government lawyer in Washington, was murdered in 1999.

Particulars: Chiang, 54, lives in Torrance. He graduated from the University of South Florida and Georgetown University Law Center. He is divorced.

Chiang has been elected to statewide office three times: twice as controller and once as treasurer in 2014.

The eldest son of Taiwanese immigrants, Chiang grew up in Chicago and New York and moved west after earning his law degree. He worked for then-state Controller Gray Davis and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. In 1998, he won a seat on the state Board of Equalization, which oversees the collection of tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. It was his first time in elected office.

As controller, Chiang made headlines in 2011 when he decided to withhold state lawmakers' pay after they failed to produce a balanced spending plan by the June 15 deadline.

Two years earlier, Chiang also made news by refusing an order by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to furlough state workers three days a month amid the state budget crisis. The courts ultimately overruled Chiang, but his action made him a hero to organized labor.

Status: He's running.


Jan. 28, 11:23 a.m.: This article states that state Treasurer John Chiang is divorced. Chiang is in the midst of a divorce proceeding and is separated from his wife.

Antonio Villaraigosa

(Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Top jobs: Los Angeles mayor for two terms, from 2005 to 2013. Speaker of the state Assembly from 1998 to 2000.

Making history: Elected as L.A.’s first Latino mayor since 1872.

Baggage: While mayor, he had an extramarital affair with a local television reporter.

Particulars: Villaraigosa, 64, lives in Los Angeles. He is married to his second wife, has four children and is a UCLA graduate.

When he announced his bid for governor, Villaraigosa said the focus for his campaign would be education, poverty and Californians left behind in the “new economy.”

Villaraigosa, a Democrat, served as mayor of Los Angeles for eight years. During his tenure, the city struggled to cope with plummeting revenues amid the nation’s economic downturn. He wrestled for concessions from public employee unions that were necessary, in part, because of raises that Villaraigosa had approved before the recession hit.

Villaraigosa successfully led the campaign for Measure R, a $35-billion transportation package passed by voters in 2008 that imposed a countywide half-cent sales tax. The measure is credited with reshaping the region's notoriously inefficient transit system. Under his watch, the city also hired hundreds of new police officers and violent crime plummeted.

He considered a run for governor in 2010, as well as a U.S. Senate bid after Barbara Boxer announced her retirement. He eventually decided against both.

Status: He’s running.

Delaine Eastin

Former state Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin.
Former state Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin. (Delaine Eastin for Governor campaign)

Top jobs: California superintendent of public instruction from 1995 to 2003. She served in the Assembly from 1986 to 1994, including as chairwoman of the Education Committee.

Biggest splash: The only woman elected as California superintendent of public instruction.

Particulars: Eastin, 69, lives in Davis. She earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Davis and a master’s degree at UC Santa Barbara. She is a Democrat.

Eastin began her career in politics as councilwoman in Union City on the east side of the San Francisco Bay and later served two terms as the state’s superintendent of public instruction. During her tenure, she was a vocal advocate for the state's class-size reduction law.

Eastin has been out of elected office since 2003. She is chairwoman of the board of Educate Our State, a nonprofit organization that advocates for California schools. She is also chairwoman of ClosetheGapCA, a political group that focused on electing more women to the Legislature in 2016.

Eastin said she believes that public school funding is no longer a top priority among politicians in Sacramento. She criticized them for failing to provide additional money for preschool and failing to adopt full-day kindergarten.

Status: She’s running.

John Cox

John Cox.
John Cox. (Photo provided by John Cox)

Top jobs: Attorney and certified public accountant in Chicago.

Biggest splash: Cox, a Republican, in 2003 ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in Illinois against Barack Obama.

Particulars: Cox, 49, lives in Rancho Santa Fe and is married with four children. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned a law degree at Chicago Kent College at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe venture capitalist, announced his gubernatorial bid in early March. He said he plans to jump-start his campaign with $1 million of his own money but said he has no plans to self-fund his bid to succeed Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

Cox also is pushing a proposed ballot initiative to overhaul Sacramento by establishing a “neighborhood legislature,” which would add 12,000 “citizen legislators” elected in neighborhoods to the 80 Assembly members and 40 senators who currently make up the California Legislature. To pass, legislation would require approval from all of those representatives. This more-representative Legislature will help end the influence of money in Sacramento, he said.

“This campaign is going to be about the neighborhood legislature,” he said, “to take our government back from the funders, the cronies and the corrupt.”

Status: He’s running.

Travis Allen

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach)
Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Top jobs: Three-term Republican assemblyman from Orange County, first elected in 2012.

Biggest controversy: Widely criticized for claiming that a recent California law would “legalize” child prostitution.

Particulars: Allen, 43, lives in Huntington Beach with his wife, Arielle, and their 8-year-old daughter. He is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach.

As a member of the California Legislature’s Republican minority, Allen has earned a reputation as an outspoken conservative who invites controversy.

He came under fire in December after writing an opinion article in the Washington Examiner with the headline “California Democrats legalize childhood prostitution” — an allegation that created a national stir. Travis was referring to a new law that decriminalized prostitution for minors, allowing law enforcement officers to treat minors as victims of sex trafficking rather than offenders.

Several news outlets declared Allen’s allegation an outright falsehood.

In May, Allen launched a drive for a ballot measure to repeal new gas taxes and vehicle fees, which polls show are unpopular with Californians. The increases, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April, would raise $5.2 billion annually for road repairs and mass transit.

Allen grew up in Chula Vista, where his father worked as an attorney and his mother served on the school board. Allen, an avid surfer, earned a degree in economics at Cal State Long Beach. He worked as a financial advisor for A.G. Edwards & Sons before launching his own firm.

Allen said he decided to run for the Assembly after watching friends, family members and clients move out of California because of rising taxes and the declining business climate he said was caused by Democratic policies.

Status: He’s running.

Zoltan Istvan

Zoltan Istvan.
Zoltan Istvan. (Provided by Zoltan Istvan)

Top jobs: Writer and real estate investor.

Biggest splash: Ran for president in 2016 as a Transhumanist Party candidate and rode around in a campaign bus shaped like a coffin.

Particulars: Istvan’s full name is Zoltan Istvan Gyurko. Istvan, 43, is a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in philosophy and religion. He lives in Mill Valley with his wife and two children.

Istvan announced his campaign in February and said he will run as a Libertarian. He said his campaign will focus on the radical economic and lifestyle transformations being brought about by new technology and science, from the effects of driverless cars to genetic engineering.

During his run for president, Istvan campaigned on a platform that advocated for advances in science, health and technology to extend human life span and intellect. He also supports providing a state-funded “universal basic income” for all Californians.

Istvan said he was sentenced to probation in Idaho in 1993 after he was arrested for possession of marijuana. He was 18 at the time.

Status: Says he is running.

Kevin Faulconer

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

Top jobs: Elected mayor of San Diego in 2014, and reelected in June 2016. Formerly a San Diego City Council member and public relations executive at Porter Novelli.

Biggest splash: A Republican elected mayor in a heavily Democratic big city.

Political roadblocks: He is not well known outside San Diego and has a reputation for playing it safe.

Particulars: Faulconer, 48, lives in Point Loma with his wife and two children. He is a graduate of San Diego State University.

Faulconer rose to power in San Diego after his predecessor, Democrat Bob Filner, was forced to resign midterm in 2013 amid accusations of sexual harassment.

During his 2016 campaign for mayor, he said he will not run for governor if he is reelected. But one never knows, and 2018 is far, far away.

The very fact that a Republican was elected in the Democratic-leaning city elevated his stature within the California GOP, a party in desperate need of strong, top-shelf candidates. No Republican has won an election for statewide office in California since 2006.

Faulconer has bucked the national Republican line on two key issues. He was a strong supporter of the city’s climate action plan to cut carbon emissions by relying exclusively on renewable energy within 20 years. He also advocates for a so-called pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

However, the San Diego mayor toed his party's line when he vetoed the San Diego City Council’s effort to raise the minimum wage.

Status: Says he is not running.

Eric Garcetti

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

Top jobs: Mayor of Los Angeles since 2013. Served as president of the Los Angeles City Council.

All in the family: Son of former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti.

Hot seat: Criticized for taking a trip to Washington, D.C., last year amid demonstrations over a police shooting of Ezell Ford, a mentally ill black man.

Particulars: Garcetti, 46, is married and lives in Los Angeles. He was a Rhodes Scholar and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Columbia University. Garcetti, a Democrat, served in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Garcetti was elected to a second term as mayor in March 2017 and is widely believed to have aspirations for higher office — possibly California governor or the U.S. Senate, if Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires.

The most ambitious policy initiative of Garcetti’s term as mayor was his successful push to raise L.A.'s minimum wage, which after some adjustments by the City Council will increase to $15 an hour by 2020. Garcetti also scored political victories with expanded earthquake safety regulations for apartment buildings and plans to restore the Los Angeles River.

Still, the mayor has faced criticism for failing to respond adequately to the city’s growing homeless population and the city has seen an uptick in crime during his term.

Status: May run.

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer.
Tom Steyer. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Top jobs: Steyer formerly ran the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management and is president of environmental advocacy organization NextGen Climate.

Wallet size: He has a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes.

Baggage: Farallon Capital Management pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into companies running coal mines and coal-fired power plants overseas.

Particulars: Steyer, 59, is married with four children and lives in San Francisco. A Democrat, he is a graduate of Yale University and earned his MBA at Stanford University.

Steyer transformed himself from a billionaire hedge fund titan to one of the most aggressive environmental activists in the U.S.

He was the nation's biggest individual donor in the 2014 elections, spending more than $74 million on congressional and gubernatorial contests across the country and pledging to make climate change a top issue in hotly contested races. In 2016, Steyer was a major donor behind seven state ballot measures, including an unsuccessful proposition to end the death penalty. Steyer was the largest contributor in support of Proposition 56, which was approved by voters and will raise the cigarette tax by $2 a pack, spending $11.6 million.

Steyer left Farallon Capital in 2012, saying he wanted to focus on promoting alternative energy. His NextGen Climate Action organization is touting an effort to boost the use of renewable energy nationwide to 50% by 2030.

He is a board member of the Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports Latino candidates.

Steyer was considering a run for U.S. Senate after Barbara Boxer announced her retirement, but he opted not to run after Democratic state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris jumped into the race.

Steyer in November said he may forgo a run for governor and devote his efforts to fighting President Trump on issues like climate change, immigration and other Democratic policies that reflect “California values.”

Status: May run.

Ashley Swearengin

Former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
Former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. (Los Angeles Times)

Top job: Former Republican mayor of Fresno for two terms, first elected in 2008.

GOP star: In the 2014 state controller's race, she received the most votes in the June primary election, but lost in the general election.

Backed Brown: Supported Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for a high-speed rail network.

Particulars: Swearengin, 44, lives in Fresno and is married with two children. She has a bachelor's degree and an MBA from Cal State Fresno.

Swearengin was Fresno mayor at the height of the nation’s financial meltdown, and is credited with steering the city away from bankruptcy, a fate Stockton and San Bernardino could not avoid. During that time, Swearengin cut back the city payroll and persuaded unionized city employees to contribute more for their pensions.

Because of those accomplishments, she remains one of the state Republican Party's brightest prospects for statewide office. As a teen she moved with her family to Fresno, where she attended high school and Cal State Fresno, then worked on a series of efforts to help area businesses and improve the region's chronic unemployment. In 2005, she joined the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, a public-private working group created by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In her 2014 bid for state controller, Swearengin received the most votes of any candidate in the primary election — besting the top two Democrats in the race, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

That provided a glimmer of hope for the Republican Party, but it was short-lived. In the November election, Yee won handily.

Swearengin in mid-January became president and chief executive of the Central Valley Community Foundation. She says she has no interest in running for governor, although some of her Republican supporters may try to talk her into it.

Status: Unlikely to run.

Steve Westly

Former state Controller Steve Westly.
Former state Controller Steve Westly. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez / Associated Press)

Top jobs: Former state controller and EBay executive who is now a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

Prior run: Spent $35 million of his own money in a failed 2006 gubernatorial bid.

Baggage: Sought to help advertising startup executive Gurbaksh Chahal during Chahal's domestic violence case.

Particulars: Westly, 60, is married and lives in Atherton. He earned bachelor's and MBA degrees from Stanford.

Westly, a Democrat who runs a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, has been eager to return to public office since he lost the 2006 Democratic primary for governor.

San Jose Inside, a politics blog, reported in April 2015 that Westly told a few dozen technology executives and others at a private gathering in Atherton that he’d made up his mind to run.

Westly is a longtime Democratic Party activist who made a fortune as an early executive at EBay Inc. He was elected state controller in 2002.

Westly has not run for public office since 2006, so reintroducing himself to the California electorate could be a difficult, expensive task.

In November, Ms. magazine cofounder Gloria Steinem and other women’s rights activists cautioned Westly against running for governor. They alleged Westly sought leniency for Chahal, who was accused of hitting his girlfriend 100 times. Westly was a board member at the company Chahal led.

Westly said he supported Chahal’s eventual dismissal, and that he has been a strong supporter of programs to help victims of domestic violence.

Status: May run.

Other possible contenders

Long shots

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Democrat

California Controller Betty Yee, Democrat

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles)

Former California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Republican

Former California Treasurer Phil Angelides, Democrat

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Democrat


U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Republican

A number of low-profile potential candidates have also declared their intentions to run and are listed in this chart under the “governor” contest designation.

Dropped out

Former Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach)

Former football star Rosey Grier


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Will they run or won't they? The undecideds could wreak havoc on California's governor race


July 31: This article was updated with news that Rosey Grier and David Hadley have dropped out of the race.

July 5: This article was updated with news of David Hadley’s announcement.

June 22: This article was updated with news of Travis Allen’s announcement.

March 14: This article was updated with an announcement from David Hadley.

March 8: This article was updated with announcements from Zotan Istvan and John Cox, plus Eric Garcetti’s reelection as mayor of Los Angeles.

Feb. 6: This article was updated to eliminate Peter Thiel, who says he’s not running, and add John Cox.

Jan. 27: This article was updated with news from Rosey Grier and Peter Thiel.

Jan. 5: This article was updated with new details about some candidates.

Nov. 10: This article was updated with news of Antonio Villaraigosa’s announcement.

Nov. 16: This article was updated with news of Delaine Eastin’s announcement.

This article was originally published on May 17, 2016.

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