SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Republican gubernatorial candidate and Rancho Santa Fe-based businessman John Cox revived a controversial campaign tactic Tuesday when he appeared with Tag -- a Kodiak bear the candidate first used in his official campaign kickoff event in Sacramento last week.
Cox appeared with Tag for the second time at Tuesday's event on Shelter Island Drive.
Cox, who is running to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom in a likely recall election later this year, used the animal to illustrate his campaign theme of "Beauty and the Beast." Newsom, who Cox presents as an elitist out of touch with the needs of Californians, is the "beauty" in that equation.
"The beautiful politicians have failed California," Cox said. "We need big beastly changes to save it. I'll cut taxes, make California more affordable and shake up Sacramento."
The stunt drew criticism from animal rights groups and at least one local politician.
After the Sacramento appearance, Tag was absent at subsequent Cox campaign events. Anthony Ramirez, Cox's press secretary, told City News Service on Tuesday that additional events with the bear are to be determined.
"The bear represents the beastly changes that John Cox would make to save California," Ramirez said. "Every care was taken to ensure Tag's comfort and safety with the approval of several government agencies. California needs beastly change and that may ruffle some feathers of left wing activists."
Last week, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, said he was "disappointed and appalled to see gubernatorial hopeful John Cox parade a live bear to his press conference in Sacramento.
"Two years ago I introduced SB 313, which was signed into law and bans the use of wild animals in circuses. While the letter of the law pertained to circuses, the spirit of the law protected animals, such as Kodiak bears, from being used in events as props, such as Mr. Cox's publicity stunt," Hueso continued.
Senate Bill 313 was signed into law in 2019 by Newsom and protects wild or exotic animals by prohibiting any person from sponsoring, conducting, operating or participating in a circus that uses any animal other than a domestic dog, domestic cat or domesticated horse.
Judie Mancuso, the founder and CEO of the political advocacy group Social Compassion in Legislation, also had choice words for Cox.
"It was horrific to see the blatant disrespect for wildlife coming from political candidate, John Cox, today," she said. "Californians love their wildlife, and the last thing we want to see is a 1,000-pound bear dragged around the state to somehow make up for a politician's brawn that he aspires to own."
Cox claimed the bear is tame, well taken care of and would die in the wild.
Tag, who has appeared on TV shows, comes from Working Wildlife in Frazier Park, a business that rents out wild animals for entertainment purposes, according to the Desert Sun.
"We made sure that everything about this bear is taken care of in the utmost," Cox said.
"It was done to get attention, I'm going to be honest about that, but it also was done to show the seriousness of a beast. We've got to tackle these problems," Cox added.
Newsom bested Cox in the 2018 gubernatorial race by nearly three million votes.
The field of Republican challengers includes former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, reality TV star and Olympic decathlete Caitlyn Jenner and former Rep. Doug Ose.
Newsom has criticized the need for a special recall election, calling it a "waste of time" and money because the 2022 gubernatorial primary will be a few months later.
Newsom and his allies have tried to link recall supporters to former President Donald Trump, who is extremely unpopular in California.