WATCH: Businessman reveals plan to flip California House seat as these top 2 issues take center stage

A businessman who says sitting on the sidelines isn’t his style is aiming to flip one of California’s battleground House districts away from Democrats as crime and immigration take center stage across the Golden State.

Republican Matt Gunderson, who built multiple auto dealerships from the ground up and serves as chairman of a local hospital foundation board, says his plan to turn California’s 49th District red starts with his involvement in his Southern California community.

“The reality is there’s something in my DNA that believes public service is valuable, and more people should participate, and too few people do,” Gunderson told Fox News Digital in an interview. “You can’t sit here on the sidelines and look at what’s happening in California and not decide, you know what, things have to change.” 

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“The California that I moved to 25 years ago is so different than the California my four daughters are growing up in,” he said. “You just can’t sit by and watch it all happen without trying to jump in and help push us in the right direction.”

Gunderson sold his businesses in 2021, and became increasingly involved in his community while also supporting Republican candidates in what has traditionally been a competitive battleground pocket within a deep-blue state.

He first ran for political office in 2022, narrowly losing a state Senate race, before ultimately deciding to take his desire to fix the problems plaguing California to the next level of government.

Crime is one of those problems, and Gunderson says the way to fix it is “pretty simple.”

“When you don’t punish crime, it just emboldens it and empowers the criminal,” he told Fox. “Zero bail is a huge problem when there’s this constant back in and out, and recidivism among the same people doing it. We’ve got to put a stop to it.” 

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Gunderson said that ever since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, police have been “demoralized,” “immobilized,” and just not allowed to do their job.

“We have these ridiculous levels of theft that are allowed. When there are no repercussions and no punishment, what’s the incentive for these criminals to stop doing what they’re doing? And I think people have finally become completely at wit’s end on it,” he said, before expressing his support for rolling back Prop 47, a state ballot measure passed in 2014 that softened penalties for certain crimes.

Another issue Gunderson said needed to be addressed was the ongoing crisis at the southern border, something he blamed squarely on President Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Biden, with his executive orders on the first day of his presidency, opened the floodgates at the border. And it’s become a major issue in California because we’re now the epicenter for the illegal crossings,” he said, praising Texas and Arizona for taking action at the state level to address the problem.

“Sacramento, under the leadership of Gavin Newsom, and our country under the leadership of Joe Biden, do nothing to tighten the border of California,” he said.

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Calling it a public health, human rights and economic crisis for Southern California, Gunderson warned of deadly fentanyl continuing to flow over the border, and of illegal migrants overrunning medical and educational resources intended for tax-paying Americans.

“I came to California 25 years ago, and I didn’t come here to buy a business, I came here to build a business. And I built three of them, and I created hundreds of jobs. And so, I know on a personal level what California politics and Sacramento one-party rule does to strangle entrepreneurs and small businesses,” Gunderson said when asked why he was the best choice for voters in the district.

He argued that excessive taxation and regulation were driving economic conditions and prices to a point where people were being forced to leave the state, permanently damaging communities.

“I came up through the school of hard knocks, and the building of business and working alongside your fellow community members to build better communities and stronger communities. And I think that gives me a completely different perspective than an environmental lawyer who is immersed in bureaucracy and thinks government is the answer to every problem,” he said, referencing his opponent, incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike Levin. 

“I don’t think government is always a solution. There’s a proper role for government. But man alive, the closer to home decisions are made, the better off we are,” he added.

Fox News Digital has reached out to Levin’s campaign for comment.

Although elections analysts rate the race for California’s 49th Congressional District as “likely Democratic,” it is expected to be among the most competitive in the state this year.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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