Californian businessman and philanthropist Kyle Kirkland spoke to Fox News Digital recently about his decision to enter the field of nearly a dozen candidates vying for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s vacated House seat, pointing to the border crisis and the restrictive economic regulations that he blames for unfortunately driving talent from the Golden State.
Billing himself a “media underdog” among those running in the March 15 nonpartisan primary for California’s 20th district, Kirkland is the owner of Club One Casino and president of the California Gaming Association, the trade group for what amounts to a $5.6 billion industry impacting about 30,000 workers in the state. He said that although he’s relatively unknown nationally, he enjoys a strong local base of supporters who personally know of his decades-long reputation as a “highly effective business person,” namely in Fresno County and the Central Valley.
“I’m not a career politician,” Kirkland told Fox News Digital. He said voters want solutions to the high cost of living, crime, the border crisis, inflation, and government regulation amid Washington’s “grandstanding.”
In a district former President Trump largely carried in 2020, and that McCarthy represented from 2007 until his resignation in 2023, Kirkland explained what it means to him to be running as a Republican in what’s considered a heavily red area of the widely blue state of California. Though the most populous state, California lost the second-highest number of residents in the nation last year, ranking behind only New York in population exodus. And Kirkland says the migrant crisis and California’s business climate are to blame.
“I often joke to people that I live in a red state in the middle of a blue state, right? I’ve been in California now for three decades,” Kirkland told Fox News Digital. “I’m very proud of my roots back east and have brought those values with me to California. I think California has some real challenges… in terms of, you know, messaging that they’re giving to business and messaging that they’re giving to people. We need to keep talent in this state. And the way our economy works now is it’s very easy to work from other areas.”
“Talent is exiting the state. And I think it’s important for us to recognize that we need – California needs to keep talented people, certainly a lot of talented folks in the state,” he said. “It’s routine for me to be talking to our friends. And they’ve said, oh, I moved to Texas. I moved to Georgia. Oh, I moved to Florida. I’m in South Carolina now. Right. And California needs to recognize that it needs to be California for all Californians and not just, you know, throw open the borders, let everyone in unchecked, you know, and hope for the best.”
“I think what’s most important for California to understand is, hey, listen, people, businesses in the state want to know that it’s going to be a friendly environment to them. Where it can be regulated — but there’s a difference between regulation and suffocation,” Kirkland further explained. “And I think that’s what a lot of people feel certainly in the business community that, you know, there’s 900 new bills every year, and they’re probably well-intentioned but probably not well-read and thought through, and they’re dumped upon the business community to try to sort out with, you know, plaintiffs lawyers looking over their shoulder. And that’s a very challenging environment to operate our businesses. So, I’m bullish on California, but we’d be naive to think that, you know, smart people are looking at saying, hey, is there a better opportunity elsewhere?”
While grateful to Trump for showing non-career politicians there’s a path to get involved,” and holding “deep respect for Kevin McCarthy,” Kirkland said he wanted to focus on the current race, championing his “unique background” compared to other primary opponents.
He’s worked with very large and visible companies, noting how he started his career at Bain & Company, around the same time Mitt Romney was at the consulting firm. In the 1980s, Kirkland said he worked in management consulting for global manufacturers analyzing oil fields during a challenging time for the energy industry. He then took on health care clients and transitioned to finance, working for a Beverly Hills firm very visible on Wall Street. Later, he moved into entrepreneurship, founding a “little fledgling music company,” with a partner that they built through acquisitions, including the global piano company, Steinway & Sons.
He said he turned that venture into a company that operated on six continents with 2,500 employees and was the longest running chairman who wasn’t named Steinway. When he sold it, he said the company had the highest product quality and profitability in its history.
From his work transforming the gaming industry from a struggling sector in California to now bigger than that of Nevada, Kirkland says he knows first hand what it’s like to deal with California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration.
As for the border, Kirkland said he’d bring his “ability to look at complex problems” and be “very realistic” in his approach, while avoiding the “bickering” seen in Washington.
“I mean, it’s chaos, right? A direct result of the Biden administration’s policy of, you know, pulling down the no vacancy sign and putting up with basically saying, hey, free buffet, come on in. And what happened was exactly what you’d expect to happen as a business person, where it went from 400,000 folks a year trying to come to the United States to 2.2 million and is overwhelming the borders,” Kirkland said. “I believe in lawful immigration. I think it’s important for the United States, certainly important for the agricultural community and the economy. A lot of folks are here lawfully, legally, and you know, again, to pursue the American dream. I’m all for that. At our core, we’re all immigrant based, right?”
“But very clearly, voters are saying we want it to be legal. We want it to be fair. It’s fundamentally unfair to let folks in unlawfully and then give them access to free health care and housing and, you know, food and cellphones or whatever, when, you know, most folks are making or struggling to make ends meet,” he continued.
“And we have in our existing infrastructure, we have housing shortages, we have an overtaxed healthcare system, in the state of California, depending on who you ask, it’s a $30 to 60 billion budget deficit. I think it’s unfair, and people definitely feel that, to say, hey, listen, we want to be humane, but we have to be realistic.”
Noting the California Gaming Association pays about half a billion in local taxes annually to benefit largely underserved communities, he stressed how the “hypocrisy” of COVID-19-era lockdowns impacted business in the state. He also took a swipe at Newsom for flouting restrictions to attend indoor dinner parties while telling everyday Californians not to gather.
“Throughout [the pandemic] we were consistently negotiating with Governor Newsom’s administration on our ability to open what parameters we could take. I also pushed back against what I think is the inequity there, frankly — the government’s saying certain industries are allowed to operate and others of us aren’t, you know, that seemed very arbitrary to a lot of us that were shut down and struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “But more than anything, it was the inequity of some of these things. I’m very big in fairness. The hypocrisy. Hey, listen, if you’re asking me to wear a mask and not participate in outings, don’t shop at French Laundry with your friends, you know, with your mask off, enjoying $1,500 person dinners, right?”
Kirkland contrasted himself with some of the other primary candidates, namely California assemblyman Vince Fong, a former McCarthy staffer. Kirkland explained that he hasn’t built a career in politics to earn him the bigger endorsements. Fong, who McCarthy endorsed as his potential predecessor, as well as Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and teacher and small business owner David Giglio have received the most attention so far in the primary contest. After March 15, two finalists, regardless of their party, will move forward to the May 21 special election.
Also a board member of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, and founder of the Kirkland Foundation, an animal rescue that aims to help reduce overpopulation, Kirkland, a Harvard and Stanford graduate, said this next stage of him entering the political realm represents a “natural extension” of him trying to make a difference.
Scroll down to leave a comment: