Cig tycoon woos Nevada County votes
If gubernatorial hopeful Ned Roscoe runs California like he does his string of discount cigarette stores, voters in the Golden State will be rich.
And if he’s elected, Roscoe plans to give many of 60,000 state workers who have contributed to the $35 billion deficit a special gift.
“I’d like to give them a package and have them go someplace else,” said Roscoe, who stopped by two of his Cigarettes Cheaper stores Tuesday to tout his campaign to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall election.
Roscoe visited his stores on Freeman Lane and Sutton Way during his statewide campaign as a self-proclaimed “smokers’ candidate” to replace Davis.
He arrived with no fanfare in a suit, carrying a small attache case, stopping to sit on plastic chairs amid the cigar-store Indians and roll-your-own cigarette makers and chat with customers.
At the Sutton Way store, he greeted patrons with a simple “Hi. I’m running for governor,” and a wave of his hand.
While the Napa businessman’s pitch seemed subtle, his drive for the governorship as a Libertarian candidate is not.
“I’m running to win,” said Roscoe, who with his father, John, built a 780-store empire of cigarette outlets nationwide. “Five weeks is a long time in California politics.”
Roscoe, 43, said he can win by securing the votes of 5,000 smokers per each one of 150 stores his family owns in California. He’s using each one of the stores as an unofficial headquarters for his campaign.
In speaking to store customers, Roscoe unearthed a few tidbits about his stance on the issues and his own personal desire to seek the governorship.
He favors cutting workers’ compensation rates, which he said have driven business out of California; cutting the vehicle license fee; fixing the deregulated energy market and opening the California State University and University of California admissions process to everyone while rolling back tuition fees.
“If I were elected, I’d be optimistic and trustworthy,” said Roscoe, recently endorsed by the state Libertarian party for the governorship.
Roscoe is one of 135 candidates hoping to replace Davis. The list includes Democrat and former Nevada County supervisor Jim Weir, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Roscoe also said he’d take a week off every year to go Cub Scouting with his 9-year-old son, “but we’re not going to use a California Highway Patrol motorcade to get there.”
Roscoe, an economics major from the University of Chicago, admitted that his campaign was a bit of a publicity stunt.
He’s never met Gray Davis or Democratic front-runner Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, but he and candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger do share attorneys.
Roscoe generally is a nonsmoker, preferring to light up only for reporters.
And he’s never voted for anything in his life, save for Proposition 28, a failed March 2000 repeal of a 50-cent-per-pack tobacco tax to pay for child-smoking prevention programs.
Roscoe runs a Web site, http://www.smokersparty.com, that asks the state’s 4 million smokers to get involved and speak out against unfair taxes on the tobacco products they buy.
Susie Ghormley, manager of the Cigarettes Cheaper store on Sutton Way, is an ex-smoker and said Roscoe and his business practices are worthy of merit.
“This is the best company I’ve worked for, and I’ve worked for some big ones,” she said.
The privately-held company offers managers a 25 percent stake in each of the stores they oversee.
Nonsmoker Arthur Johnston of Grass Valley listened to Roscoe’s stump speech Tuesday and was sold.
“This election is so strange, people can afford to vote on their principles,” said Johnston, who voted in 2002 for Bill Simon, who also appears on the Oct. 7 ballot despite publicly dropping out of the race.
“I like what I hear this guy saying.”
Candidate profile: Ned Roscoe
Occupation: Owner/founder of the Benicia-based Cigarettes Cheaper chain. The Roscoe family owns 780 stores nationwide.
Family: Married, three children ages 4, 7 and 9
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