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Dog and pony bar harboring is the name of the game in the upcoming election for the State Board of Equalization.
Two of the candidates, who are incumbents and long-time board members, have spent more than $40,000 of taxpayers’ money to defend themselves from the charge that they have a monopoly on the bar business.
State Sen. Dave Cox is defending his two claims of a monopoly by the state:
— That “he has never had to pay any taxes.”
— That the “board has a monopoly on the liquor and beer business in California.”
— And that he, as a board member, has “never been forced to compete with any other bar.”
Cox received a letter from his primary opponent from a former state legislative staffer on Feb. 5 of this year. A copy was obtained by the Sun.
Dario Moreno, who has never worked in the Legislature, spent months writing the letter.
The letter alleged that Cox “uses his authority to avoid competition in bar establishment licenses. This gives him a huge competitive advantage.”
In a recent interview, Cox insisted he hasn’t received any money from liquor stores, nor has he gotten a bar establishment license for the first time.
The claim about his bar establishment license is true: A board member since 1988, Cox lost that license for failing to file a renewal. He has taken no action to file a renewal and he hasn’t filed an appeal of the decision.
The claim about his being exempt from taxes is also true. He has filed an exemption for the bar at the San Ysidro Ranch, where he lives in San Diego County.
The letter also said that “it would be a real shame for you to be re-elected with a 99% approval rating by industry insiders, only to be voted out of office by a small percentage of voters.”
The letter was not addressed to specific voters.
“I have been in the State House for the last 24 years,” Cox said, “I was in the Legislature when my opponent began circulating this letter. I have served as an elected official for a number of years. I am a public official, not a private one.”
Moreno didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
The letter didn’t mention any other state lawmakers. A spokesman for the state Democratic Party also didn’t return a request for comment.
Cox voted with Republican Gov. Jerry Brown this year on a measure to raise money from a gas tax to support transportation projects.
He’s also backed a handful of bills that Democrats have sponsored to crack down on employers who refuse to provide paid sick leave, provide health insurance or protect domestic workers from abusive and violent employers.
Cox has said the letter “is a blatant misrepresentation of what this is all about, and it is an attempt to intimidate.”
“I’m confident the people of California will choose me,” Cox said. “I think we will.”
Cox also noted that he has the highest number of Republican women voters of any Democrat running for the state’s top executive post.
Among Democrats, the primary pits Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former state Treasurer and Secretary of State John Chiang.
Brown, who is termed out as governor this year, is expected to hand off to his lieutenant governor, who will serve until a successor is chosen in November 2018.
Brown also had a primary challenge, but he won in November.
Updated at 10:24 a.m. to reflect Cox's response to the letter.
(Copyright 2017. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)