Jenner told PEOPLE last year that she's "always been more" on the "economically conservative" side but is "much more progressive" on social issues

By Sean Neumann and Jason Sheeler
April 26, 2021 03:36 PM
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Caitlyn Jenner announced Friday that she is running for governor of California, vying to become the latest celebrity-turned-politician in a state that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger nearly 20 years ago.

In her announcement, Jenner, 71, took aim at Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke broadly of wanting "solutions" and more "prosperity."

Jenner and her aides also took pains to downplay her partisanship, particularly in a state where conservatives have little sway and where former President Donald Trump — with whom Jenner spilt over LGBTQ rights — is widely unpopular.

Though she is running as a Republican, Jenner cast herself as an "outsider," and an adviser maintained to Axios that she "will talk to anyone, Democrat or Republican. Donald Trump is not going to be the deciding factor for the state of California."

Jenner said Friday that a more "formal announcement" about her campaign would "follow in the coming weeks," and she has not yet released her platform or many of her specific positions.

But speaking with PEOPLE last year, she opened up about her political perspective and how her advocacy work for transgender rights inspires her views — giving a glimpse into what may be in store for her gubernatorial bid.

Echoing her campaign's message, Jenner told PEOPLE that she's "always been more" on the "economically conservative" side.

But socially? Jenner said she's "much more progressive."

"I want to see the government out of my face, out of my regulations," she told PEOPLE.

"I want a thriving economy so we have the money to help the people who need to be helped," she said.

Caitlyn jenner
Caitlyn Jenner
| Credit: MediaPunch/Shutterstock

The former Olympic gold medalist will be attempting to unseat Gov. Newsom, 53, later this year. She is likely to be running in a crowded field and polling shows Newsom, though increasingly unpopular, may not be as vulnerable as the last ousted governor, Gray Davis.

Still, the recall campaign — which Newsom argues is driven purely by politics — appears to have gathered the necessary 1.49 million signatures, triggering the election later this year.

"I am not going to take this recall attempt lying down," Newsom said in March. "I'm going to fight because there's too much at stake in this moment."

In her announcement on Friday, Jenner decried the lack of GOP influence in California while highlighting her ties to the state: "[It] has been my home for nearly 50 years. I came here because I knew that anyone, regardless of their background or station in life, could turn their dreams into reality."

In recent days, she has tweeted against bans on fracking and against prosecutors who she feels are not sufficiently tough.

"I've always been more conservative and I've always been on the Republican side, just because that expresses my views on the economy better," Jenner told PEOPLE last year, adding that she would enter politics if there was ample opportunity to pass "the right legislation" to advance LGBTQ equality.

"We need hardcore, on-the-books legislation on equality for the LGBT community, for the gay community, for everybody, even religious freedom in a lot of ways," said Jenner, who launched an eponymous foundation supporting the transgender community in 2017. "We need that."

Jenner backed Trump until 2018, when she rescinded her support in response to his administration's divisive LGBTQ policies, particularly regarding transgender people.

"I thought Trump would help trans people," she wrote in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. "I was wrong." ("What a jerk," she told PEOPLE of Trump in her interview last year.)

However, Jenner has reportedly relied on some former Trump campaign aides for the launch of her own bid for office. 

According to Axios, she leaned on Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale — a friend of hers — for his advice, and her team includes Trump's former top pollster and a former White House communications adviser.

Despite her advocacy and her criticism of Trump, Jenner's GOP ties have drawn fresh backlash in California.

Caitlyn Jenner
Caitlyn Jenner
| Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

"Make no mistake: we can't wait to elect a #trans governor of California," the organization Equality California tweeted on Friday. "But @Caitlyn_Jenner spent years telling the #LGBTQ+ community to trust Donald Trump. We saw how that turned out. Now she wants us to trust her? Hard pass."

In her interview with PEOPLE last year, Jenner reflected on what she had learned — and how she said she had been misunderstood — when it came to her politics, which she called "the one thing I totally stopped talking about."

As a lifelong Republican, Jenner held views that didn't match those of most in the LGBTQ community. She was uninvited to fundraisers she'd donated to. "They said I'm 'too controversial.' And that hurt," she told PEOPLE.

Jeff Olde, who co-created Jenner's show I Am Cait and has defended her within the LGBTQ community, previously told PEOPLE that she knew she made mistakes. "But what I respect about her today is that she's willing to learn," he said. "And learning can be painful."

For her part, Jenner said last year she felt like she made meaningful progress.

"I've changed my thinking in a lot of ways," she said, adding, "I just want to try to do the best I possibly can."