Laguna Beach resident Neel Kashkari, 40, has raised nearly $1 million in the first two weeks of his campaign for California governor. (Coastline Pilot / February 12, 2014)

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Neel Kashkari recently hit a campaign milestone: raising $1 million in his bid for governor.

That may fall short of the $17 million an undeclared Gov. Jerry Brown had amassed by Jan. 31, but the 40-year-old Laguna Beach Republican is hoping voters respond to his plans to create jobs and improve schools.

"The state is really struggling, and I don't see people fighting to turn the state around," Kashkari, a former PIMCO executive who held top posts in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, said in a recent phone interview. "Students are graduating college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and many have to move back home. That is a huge problem."

Kashkari said he wants taxpayer money going straight to schools, not wasted in layers of bureaucracy.

He added that teachers, principals and parents should have the freedom and flexibility to use those dollars to innovate while the educators are held accountable for results, according to a campaign statement.

Kashkari said he will focus on safe, environmentally conscious energy development and that this strategy will help add jobs.

Kashkari first considered running for the state's top post following the 2012 presidential election. He resigned after four years with Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co. in January 2013 to campaign full-time.

It is not the first time Kashkari, who grew up in a middle-class family near Akron, Ohio, left a secure job in the private sector to seek out a new endeavor.

In 2006, he left a position helping Silicon Valley engineers raise capital to grow their companies for a position with the Treasury Department.

Then-President George W. Bush appointed Kashkari to connect experts from government and the private sector to develop alternative-energy sources that would benefit the environment and boost national security.

"At the time people thought I was crazy [to leave a private-sector job for a government position], but it was a no-brainer once I had the chance to serve," Kashkari said. "Public service is a passion of mine."

In 2008, the U.S. Senate confirmed Kashkari as assistant secretary to the Treasury.

Kashkari wants to limit the number of Californians relying on welfare, a situation that he argues could be reduced with greater access to higher-paying jobs and stronger schools.

"Laguna Beach is such a special place, but when you move inland, away from the coast, most of the California economy is struggling," said Kashkari, who likes to kayak and walk his two Newfoundland dogs in Heisler Park.

"One of the things that struck me was how friendly everyone is to one another," said Kashkari, who moved to Laguna in 2012.

Kashkari earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

"My family was not wealthy, but I got a good education, and all the doors opened for me," Kashkari said.