By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Congressional candidate TJ Cox was in Lemoore Friday (Sept. 28), attending the local Chamber of Commerce Under the Arbor event.
Congressional candidate TJ Cox was in Lemoore Friday (Sept. 28), attending the local Chamber of Commerce Under the Arbor event.

TJ Cox appears to be a bundle of energy. The wiry, energetic candidate for the 21st Congressional District – who hopes to bring the incumbent’s three-term tenure to an end on November 6, election day – is making all the stops in his vigorous crusade to convince the region’s voters that he’s their guy.

On Friday (Aug. 20), Cox found himself in downtown Lemoore at the intersection where the Lemoore Stadium Cinemas meet the Downtown Arbor. He was there for the Friday night “Under the Arbor” event where hundreds of Lemoore’s finest gather for music, food and drink.

Upon his arrival, Cox sauntered over to nearby Boba Island, a local restaurant and mainstay in Lemoore, where instead of ordering up a plate of its trademark sushi, agreed to a sit-down interview with the town’s only newspaper.

After completing the question and answer session, Cox walked the short distance across the street where the monthly Lemoore Chamber of Commerce event – Under the Arbor – was in full mode.  He immediately set about meeting the locals, shaking hands with prospective voters and a few elected officials in attendance, all of whom either campaigning or enjoying the evening’s near-perfect weather.

TJ Cox is shown here at a campaign event in Hanford earlier this year.
TJ Cox is shown here at a campaign event in Hanford earlier this year.

Cox has indeed been a busy man of late, and despite the length and breadth of the 21st District, the congressional candidate managed to find his way to Kings County. Just the night before, he was in Hanford enjoying the splendors of the city’s weekly Market Place, and for past several months, he has crisscrossed the Central Valley, pursuing every vote he can from Bakersfield to Lemoore.

Cox has to know that he’s in an uphill struggle in his efforts to defeat three-term incumbent David Valadao, but he doesn’t seem deterred. This sojourn isn’t his first campaign rodeo. He ran once before, losing a contest about 12 years ago to George Radanovich, a congressman who has long since retired.

Cox originally signed on to challenge Congressman Jeff Denham in the 10th District – comprising all of Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County – but when Valadao’s potential challenger Emilio Huerta (he ran against the incumbent in 2016) surprisingly left the race, Cox immediately jumped in.

Cox certainly has a glimmer of hope. The 21st District, by the numbers, is democratic and in 2016 voted for Hillary Clinton, but Kings County is a much different story. The conservative district overwhelmingly votes Republican and has helped elect Valadao three straight times. There’s no getting around the fact that despite the makeup of the overall district, Valadao has enjoyed rock-solid support in Kings County, his home base.

Certainly, Kings County remains a Republican stronghold, but Democrats have been successful here, including Cal Dooley and Jim Costa, both of whom struggled to earn votes but still managed to represent the area for several years.

Cox says he’s getting plenty of positive feedback when he talks to voters. “At Hanford’s Farmers’ Market last night, person after person was coming up to me and saying ‘I’m voting for you. I’ve been voting for Valadao, but we’ve got to put a check on this president.’”

The 55-year-old engineer is a native Californian. He was born in Walnut Creek, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada School of Mines and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. He is married to wife Kathleen, a pediatric intensive care physician. The couple has four children.

Cox owns several businesses in the Valley, and he’s also currently the president and chief operating officer of the Central Valley New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), a certified community development entity (CDE) that uses the Federal New Markets Tax Credit program to foster economic development in economically distressed neighborhoods throughout the Central Valley.

“We focus on bringing capital and investment into economically distressed areas throughout the Central Valley,” said Cox.  “We’ve been pretty successful over the last years. We’ve secured over 120 million dollars to build things like community health centers, clinics, job training facilities. We did the West Hills Community College Golden Eagle Arena out here.

“We took the proceeds from bonds, and we leveraged them with a tax credit to get another three or four million dollars, (and) it worked out pretty well.”

He also put together a project to help fund West Hills Coalinga’s Farm of the Future.

The focus of the program is on the poorest of the poor communities. The NMTC promotes job creation, community services, cleaner air and water, more housing opportunities and more access to health care and education.

The Central Valley NMTC has an eight-member board of local elected officials and valley county economic development professionals.

Cox has lived a somewhat nomadic life, residing in locales all over the world. He put his engineering credentials to work in far-away places like the Middle East and Africa working in the mining industry and helping to build dams in developing countries.

He’s made errors, including admitting to a mistake about his second home in Maryland that he initially listed as his principal residence. According to The Fresno Bee, a spokesman for the Cox campaign, after claiming the declaration was the result of an error by the state, later said it was Cox’s mistake.

He says he gets things done. He cited specifically the recent opening of a United Health Center in Sanger, a project that Cox and his agency helped finance. He said it created 75 jobs and provides health care for much of the city’s population.

“What did Valadao do about this clinic?” asked Cox, who said Valadao’s “people” were at the February opening. “He voted against the ACA (Affordable Care Act) which pays for everyone to come to the clinic. He voted to get rid of the community development fund which is the capital source that I used to fund the clinic. He voted against it.”

Getting his message across to voters has at times been difficult, even more so as he attempts to engage the incumbent in a series of debates. Cox has offered to meet his Republican opponent in at least three debates across the district. He’s already accepted a Valadao proposal to debate in what Cox refers to as a closed-studio debate on October 25 in Bakersfield.

Cox compromised, but still wanted at least two public debates, including one at West Hills College Lemoore. Valadao’s campaign never responded. The Leader contacted the incumbent’s campaign at least twice but was unable to solicit a response.

“Let’s go to the places where the issues are right there in front of the people, and let’s take questions from the voters,” Cox demanded. He disparaged Valadao for not accepting public debates at places like Mendota, Sanger, Lemoore.

“The fact is that David Valadao doesn’t even think he needs to talk to the voters. It’s beneath him to talk to the voters. He won’t talk to the voters in the district, and he won’t fight for you in Washington.”

Cox has also accepted an invitation to attend a public debate hosted by local radio stations KQED and Radio Bilingue on Monday, October 15 at 6 p.m. in Sanger at the Sanger Woman’s Clubhouse, located at 1602 7th Street. Cox said that Republican Representative David Valadao declined to attend the debate.

“My parents taught me that in order to succeed, the first thing I need to do is show up,” said Cox. “Communities across the Valley – Arvin, Corcoran, Lamont, Lemoore, Sanger, and many, many more – have asked us to come to discuss local issues, and we have shown up. People want to know how you are going to work for them to make their lives better.”

Where is Cox on the issues relevant to the Central Valley, in particular, Kings County?

“Health care is one of the primary focuses as to why I’m in this race. You need two things to be successful in America,” insisted Cox. “You need an education and good health. I know that we can deliver quality, affordable health care for all, for everyone in America, because that’s what I do every day. I see the health care access and health care that’s being delivered by the community health plans that we fund. Those are very cost-effective, and they keep people healthy rather than having a sick care system."

What does he think about Trump?

“It’s not that I’m not a big Trump fan, it’s that I know guys like that, and I’ve worked with guys like that. It’s all about themselves,” said Cox, adding that guys like Trump forget about you eventually.

“Whether there are hundreds of suppliers that he stiffs on bankruptcies when he’s done deals, or something’s gone bad, there’s no making it square with them. Forget about it. And the thing is really, where’s the moral leadership? Does character count? Absolutely, character counts. I can tell you my kids (that) there are some principles I hold very dear, and I think they’re shared American principles about compassion and truth.”

Cox toes the line on agriculture insisting its one of the primary drivers of wealth in America.

“Ag is so important on so many levels, and I look at this from a mining background,” said Cox. “You can’t grow it, you have to mine it. Naturally the source of true wealth in any nation (is agriculture), People always have to eat, so you can either produce, and you can utilize your natural resources, particularly your ag, and that’s what you see here in America and the Central Valley.

“You know we’re net exporters of ag, so we make so much money on ag, and that’s what’s so nuts about these tariffs. They’re killing the golden goose, and I don’t think this president travels around enough to see how fierce the competition is in every other country – in a Brazil, in Australia. In Australia, you can hear the high fives down there when we slapped tariffs on US almonds, or when China did. “

“Under Obama, we had an ag policy that was working. And now we’re going backward. This guy (Trump) is dangerous for ag, not only on the trade side but the immigration side.” Cox says Valadao has toed the Trump line. “He’s shown his true colors now. He’s working for Trump and not his district.”

Cox, who states that he has a background in water issues, says upstream storage is one part of the solution. He also cited underground water banking and downstream storage as keys to providing California with the future resources he says will be needed for residents to thrive. “In good years we need to get the water to where it’s needed most.”