Cox served with subpoena, Elder blasted for remarks on women at California recall debate

Candidates for the California recall governor race: from left, Kevin Faulconer, John Cox and Kevin Kiley.
Candidates for the California recall governor race: from left, Kevin Faulconer, John Cox and Kevin Kiley.

Republicans hoping to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election focused their criticism on the Democratic governor and a leading replacement candidate who both declined to join them at a Tuesday debate, which included a moment of spectacle in which one hopeful was served with a subpoena on stage.

Just three of the 46 candidates running to replace Newsom in the Sept. 14 election participated in Tuesday’s debate at Sacramento’s Guild Theater, though seven were invited — former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Rocklin.

Larry Elder, the conservative radio talk show host who has topped recent polling, did not attend, nor did former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner. A campaign spokesperson said she would be assessing wildfire damage in Plumas County this week instead since Newsom declined to participate in the debate. Former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose was slated to attend, but announced Tuesday he would drop out of the race after suffering a heart attack. Ose said he is expected to make a full recovery.


As in a previous debate among Republicans this month, the candidates used the platform to rail against Newsom and the Democratic policies they say hurt Californians. But the event also marked the first time front-runner Elder was targeted by the candidates from the debate stage.

Faulconer blasted Elder for past derogatory remarks on women, including those in a 2000 column for Capitalism Magazine in which Elder said Democrats had an advantage over Republicans because they were supported by women, and “women know less than men about political issues, economics and current events.” The former San Diego mayor called the comments “bullshit,” saying later that he used such strong language as the son of a mother who worked as a secretary while going to night school, the husband of a career woman and “a girl dad.”

“I feel strongly about it and I’m going to call it out,” he said, calling Elder’s remarks “indefensible.”

Elder’s previous remarks on eliminating the minimum wage also drew scrutiny during the debate. During an interview with McClatchy’s California-based editorial boards this month, Elder said “the ideal minimum wage is $0.”

Kiley said he doesn’t believe California should eliminate the minimum wage, but that the scale is currently “way off” and “probably needs to vary a bit more by region.” Kiley added that the state unemployment system has been so poorly managed that it’s become “economically irrational to go back to your jobs so small businesses continue to suffer.”

Faulconer said Elder’s position was “absolutely indefensible” and that he supported a minimum wage, while Cox said he believes there should be a federal minimum wage, but not a state minimum.


“Frankly, the minimum wage right now isn’t an issue because people are getting paid beaucoup bucks for doing things that used to get minimum wage because of a shortage of labor,” Cox said. “Certainly, the federal government can set a minimum wage so there isn’t sweatshops and things like that. That’s fine.”

The leading Republican candidate to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election has blocked access for one of the state’s biggest papers.

Aug. 18, 2021

Hosted by the Sacramento Press Club, the Sacramento Bee and CapRadio, the debate came just as the first ballots were arriving in voters’ mailboxes across California. A recent poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and cosponsored by The Times showed that the race is tight among likely voters, with 47% supporting the recall, compared with 50% who are opposed.

The result will ultimately come down to turnout, and whether conservative candidates can excite their base enough to remove the governor in a state where Democrats far outnumber Republicans in voter registration.

Newsom spent the evening in Santa Cruz County touring Big Basin Redwoods State Park a year after it was burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fire. The governor has largely ignored the contenders fighting for his position, advising voters to vote “no” on the recall and leave blank the second question to select his replacement should he be ousted.

Only recently did Newsom also begin taking jabs at Elder for his support of Trump and positions on climate change, abortion, the minimum wage and COVID-19 response.

The issue of mask mandates has been a key talking point of Republican candidates during the campaign, with each gubernatorial hopeful saying they would allow local school districts to determine whether to require masks. Students and teachers have returned to classrooms across the state with a statewide mandate that they wear masks indoors.


“I believe that’s a decision absolutely that should be made at the local level,” Faulconer said at the debate. “You’re sensing a theme I think tonight, which is we cannot have a top-down policy, because the facts on the ground are very different in virtually all parts of the state.”

Kiley, a former teacher in Los Angeles, noted that California is in the minority when it comes to states requiring kids to wear masks in schools. Added Cox: “The mask mandate is not the way to go.”

Earlier in the night, a spectacle interrupted the debate at the onset when a private investigator yelled that he was serving a subpoena to Cox and threw plastic wrapped court documents onstage before being asked to leave.

In February, San Diego Superior Court Judge Daniel F. Link ruled that the Cox campaign failed to pay Virginia-based GOP firm Sandler-Innocenzi nearly $55,000 for political ads and about $43,000 in attorney’s costs, interest and other fees from Cox’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2018.

Founding partner Jim Innocenzi told The Times in May that he paid the California-based cast and crew for the Cox campaign ads out of his own pocket and was never reimbursed though Cox, a multimillionaire, refunded himself more than $66,000.


Cox continued through his opening remarks, despite the interruption. After the debate, Cox called the incident “a garbage thing,” despite a judge ruling he should pay.

“It’s one creditor who didn’t get paid from the 2018 campaign because he didn’t deserve to be,” Cox said.

The three Republican gubernatorial hopefuls are scheduled to debate again at 7 p.m. Thursday in San Francisco in an event that will be televised on KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles.

Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.