Joe Mwangi Symmon
Joe Mwangi Symmon

Maybe Barack Obama makes it look too easy.

A Kenyan-American preacher is citing the successful election of the president as his inspiration to run for governor of California next year to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Joe Mwangi Symmon, 59, calls himself “a moral voice of hope and change,” echoing two of the most dominant themes in the 2008 Obama campaign. His platform, however, diverges considerably from that of Obama and his already-declared Democrat challengers for governor on moral issues.

“Leaders of our state don’t speak of moral issues,” Symmon, who holds degrees from three Christian theological schools in California, told Nairobi’s Daily Nation.

He describes himself as pro-life and says he opposes “gay” marriage. He also cites his own marriage “to one wife for 33 years” as evidence that he has run his own house well and earned the opportunity to lead California.

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His more conservative leanings notwithstanding, Symmon lays out a platform on his campaign website that is more likely to appeal to California Democrats:

Economy: Implement a simple majority to pass the state budget, no new taxes and a “giving back plan” to be revealed in the first 100 days;

Education: Employ “technocrats and professionals” to change the current system, pay teachers well to motivate and retain them and provide college students with grants so they don’t have to work two or three jobs. “Many have snoozed and died on the wheel working multiple shifts,” Symmon notes;

Environment: Harness sun and wind power to run California transportation and industry. Capture all water running into the Pacific Ocean and recycle it to irrigate trees and change Southern California’s dry landscape to “run arsonists out of business”;

Health care: Guaranteed affordable, accessible health care. “I wholeheartedly support and would adopt Obama’s health-care plan,” Symmon says;

Immigration: Ensure immigrants are accorded the same respect and legal status like every one who has come here to seek an opportunity to better their lives. “Legal residency for all immigrants shall be my priority,” Symmon says.

In the Democrat primary, Symmon is already facing three well-known candidates – Attorney General Jerry Brown, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – who can be expected to raise the millions needed to conduct an effective campaign.

Symmon was elected student president while attending graduate school in 1984.

While declining to say how much money his campaign has raised thus far, Symmons said he believed he would be able to overcome his lack of name recognition “by means of information technology.”

Symmon, who was born in Murang’a, Kenya, and lives in Rancho Cucamonga, operates Jubilee Children Center, a 20-acre orphanage in Nairobi that has taken in almost 200 street children, feeding and educating them.

“On the campus is a drilled 300-foot well, two dormitories for elementary school to house over 400 kids. Today, children drink clean fresh water, eat a healthy diet, receive quality education and are ignited to face the future with confidence and determination,” he says on his website.

But will this – and Obama’s Kenyan coattails – be enough to make Symmon a contender?

“I don’t see him making any headway at all,” said Rev. Abel Oriri, a Kenyan pastor ministering in Ohio. “Being Kenyan is the biggest part of his platform.”

Oriri recommended Symmon run first for his local city council before taking on the state of California.

Symmon’s campaign website indicates the novice candidate is not ready to be deterred:

“What is critical to human progress is vision – seeing a future that is achievable and worth attaining. ‘Without a vision and sound judgment, people perish.’ California’s political change is long overdue. And this is our moment to bring that change, to restore hope and reclaim our Golden State for ourselves and our emerging generations.”

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