State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell wants to be governor. But the Democratic officeholder says he's struggling to put together the money to make a credible run to be California's next chief executive.
"We're trying to put it together for governor, but it's just regrettable that it's so costly and so expensive and I'm not a multimillionaire," said O'Connell in a brief interview this week. "That makes it very challenging."
O'Connell, 57, has continuously held state elective office in California since 1982, when he joined the state Assembly. He later served as a state senator and will finish his second term as state schools chief in 2010.
Asked if financing the campaign is what's standing in his way of a run for governor next year, O'Connell replied, "You got it."
Though he has won twice statewide, O'Connell does not boast a statewide profile like that of potential Democratic candidates Jerry Brown, the attorney general and former governor, or Dianne Feinstein, California's senior U.S. senator.
Nor does he have the political sizzle of the younger San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
In a mid-2008 poll, he pulled in 9 percent support along with Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, another declared Democratic candidate for governor.
Running for governor in California is an expensive proposition. Ex-state Controller Steve Westly, for instance, spent more than $40 million running for governor in 2006 -- and he lost the Democratic primary.
As of last June, O'Connell had some $830,000 left over from his 2006 reelection campaign that he could transfer to run for governor in 2010.
That would be but a down payment for a 2010 run. Still, O'Connell holds out hope -- and often keeps up a frenetic public schedule. This Wednesday, he hopscotched across the Central Coast for four different public events.
He also has at least one very wealthy backer. In 2007, Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix and a former member of the state board of education, deposited nearly $1 million in an independent expenditure account urging O'Connell to run.
Earlier this month, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown floated the idea in his column in the San Francisco Chronicle that O'Connell would run for lieutenant governor.
With Garamendi taking his shot at the state's top job, it's a wide-open race, with Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, both exploring runs.
But O'Connell dismissed that idea.
"I'm not running for lieutenant governor," he said.
Photo: State Superintendent of public Instruction Jack O' Connell, attends the California Delegation kickoff breakfast in Denver, Colorado, Sunday, August 24, 2008. Credit: Brian Baer/ Sacramento Bee