EXCLUSIVE: In his first interview since announcing a run for California governor Tuesday, former “Real Housewives” star Vicki Gunvalson‘s fiancé, Steve Chavez Lodge, called on his fellow Golden State residents to “Make California California again.”
The run comes as Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall election part-way through his first term in office, with critics skewering him for his handling for the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s wildfire crisis, homelessness and the high cost of living.
Lodge, 62, a California native who served in the U.S. Army and as a police officer, says he aims to appeal to voters of all political stripes to help revive the Golden State’s lost “luster.”
“Hollywood can’t afford to be in Hollywood anymore,” he said, panning the high cost of living and doing business in the state, which he said is causing people to pack up and leave.
“I was born and raised in California,” Lodge told Fox News. “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth like some of these folks we know.”
The candidate has a major proposal for tackling California’s growing homelessness crisis – a bold departure from the ineffective solutions offered up by the state’s controlling party.
He said Dallas County, Texas, could serve as a model for the program, although a Golden State effort would occur on a much larger scale.
Lodge would target the root causes of homelessness, including mental health issues and substance abuse.
“When I was a cop in the ’80s and even before that, we’ve always had a certain number of homeless in the community, and we knew what their issues were,” he said. “They were either drug-addicted, alcoholics, mentally ill. It’s the same population, which is the majority of the homeless.”
Only a tiny fraction of people become homeless after suffering an economic crisis, he said. Authorities managed the issue with rehabilitation and mental health treatments, he said – until former Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 109 into law.
“Which was basically the taking of the [state] prison population and pushing it down to the local jail and county jail population,” he said. “They couldn’t handle that kind of of of mass relocation of the prison population.”
As a result, authorities started granting prisoners early releases to free up space. Combine that with additional criminal justice reforms that decriminalized certain minor offenses, “And everybody just kind of floated out into the system, into the communities,” he said.
“They have really taken a problem and made it a hundred times worse by their legislation decriminalizing drugs to allow everybody to take whatever they want,” he said. “Well, a portion of those people end up not being able to function in society, [out] on the street.”
The result, a poorly managed mass release of people unable to live on their own, led to the current crisis, Lodge said.
“They didn’t have a plan to merge them back into society,” he said. “They didn’t have a plan to rehabilitate them. They didn’t have any plan at all. Instead of working inside the jails and prisons and rehabbing and detoxing and that sort of thing, they just let them go.”
Simply placing them in housing won’t help, he said, because the homeless population largely suffers from underlying issues that require treatment or rehab.
“You can’t take drug-addicted people or alcoholics or the mentally ill and just put them in their own house, even if it’s a ‘tiny house,’ and expect this to be an answer to anything,” he said.
His answer is replacing the state’s shuttered mental health hospitals by retrofitting jails or other facilities to both house and treat the people who need it.
“They’re doing something similar to this down in Dallas County, Texas,” he said. “Retrofitting the inside of a jail, it almost looks like a hospital, but it’s secure. It’s a lockdown. You cannot allow these folks to just walk away from their treatment or walk away from their rehabilitation. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s not the compassionate thing to do for them.”
“If it were going to be a compassionate society,” he added, “we have to take that role and put them in a secure rehabilitation facility.”
To pay for the ambitious overhaul, he said he would use money already been spent on the state’s homeless crisis and providing dismal results.
“The money that they’re spending now on the homeless, that is not getting us anywhere, that will fund this program,” he said. “And this program will work.”
As a lifelong Californian, he said it pained him to see his state fall from a destination where everyone wished they could be to a punching bag for critics of liberal policies.
“We lost almost 200,000 people last year, first time in the history of California that we lost instead of gained residents,” he said. “That’s a big issue, and it’s one that we have to tackle immediately. Because we’re losing people every day, and we don’t want to – especially our middle class.”
California has the highest cost of living of any state, he said, but mainly because of high taxes and overregulation.
As governor, he would “get government off our backs, and out of our lives, and out of our wallets,” he said. “The government doesn’t make any money. They just take it from people, and I think people are getting tired of having it taken from them.”
Lodge was born in the industrial city of Fontana, Calif., home of Kaiser Steel, at the state’s first Kaiser Hospital, he said. One of his first jobs was at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, where he met his campaign manager Randy Economy, as a teenager.
He joined the Army to follow in his dad’s footsteps, a man who served in both the Army and Marine Corps during World War II and in Korea.
Then he became a cop – working “just about every possible position,” he said.
He patrolled in a squad car and even on helicopter and motorcycle units. Then he made detective, investigating gangs and narcotics – and eventually found a place on the homicide squad in Santa Ana, where he was officer of the year twice. He helped investigate California’s first RICO case – against organized crime in Mexico.
“I love the state, it’s a great state,” he said. “But we’re losing the luster we used to have because we’re taxing people, and we’re regulating people, and we’re driving them out…It’s got to stop, and it’s got to stop now.”
Lodge originally announced his campaign on Tuesday on his Instagram.
“Good evening. Over the next few days you’re going to hear my strategy on how to save California. I was born and raised here in this great state, and I raised my children here, and I’m watching my grandchildren be raised here. But I cannot stand idly by while we allow government to destroy this beautiful state. We the people need to turn this around and take our state back and I have a plan to do that. That’s why tonight I am announcing that I am running for the governor of the state of California. I hope you are with me,” Lodge said in a video posted to his account, which boasts nearly 88,000 followers.
Additionally, in his lengthy caption, Lodge said California is “being destroyed by bad decisions made by Sacramento career politicians.”
“It’s time for the people of California to regain control of their government, not only at the state level, but in the counties, cities, and school boards. Over the past decade we have seen the consequences of horrible state policies and even worse legislation. We now have the highest cost of living in the continental U.S. and it’s still going up with no end in sight,” Lodge’s caption continues.
Lodge went on to claim the public safety in California is “being eroded,” causing an increase in crime. He spoke about his solution to homelessness, an issue he says has become “out of control directly caused by decisions in Sacramento.”
“Enough is enough California. Help me ‘Make California, California Again.’ I will lead this movement with your help to see California once again as the Golden State she once was.”
Lodge also used the hashtags #recallnewsom and #votelodgeforgovernor.
Gunvalson was one of the first to react to her fiancé’s announcement, writing in a caption, “You got this honey” with emojis.
She also took to her own Instagram account writing in a post, “I’m so proud of Steve! Go get ’em!”
The former “Real Housewives of Orange County” star got engaged to Lodge in 2019.
Lodge’s announcement comes just days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall became official with over 1.7 million signatures against the Democrat verified.
Newsom’s recall effort will be the second that comes to a vote in Golden State history. The first brought the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger into office in 2003, replacing Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
“This is the turning point of California right now,” Lodge said Wednesday. “If we don’t recall Newsom and replace him with somebody like me, then it’s going to continue toward the edge of the cliff – and it’s not going to come back.”
Major Williams, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, told Fox News earlier this month that Newsom had “mishandled the pandemic.” The entrepreneur and founder of Major Kicks for Kids, was the first Republican to announce his candidacy for governor. Businessman John Cox, whom Newsom defeated in 2018, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and 1976 Olympic decathlon champion and TV personality Caitlyn Jenner have since entered the fray on the GOP side, among many other candidates.
“This is this is no longer a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, declined to state, [issue],” Lodge said. “This is not individual groups. This is all of us in California…You just can’t stand by and watch a beautiful state destroyed.”
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