State GOP Chairman Ed Cox said he was “surprised” to learn of the political fundraising improprieties that have forced Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to forgo his re-election bid this fall, but would not say he regretted trying to woo the Democrat-turned-Republican into the 2010 governor’s race.

In fact, Cox heaped praise on Levy, saying he had been a “terrific county executive who always fought for the taxpayers of his county and was very effective in implementing pro-growth policies.” The chairman insisted Levy would be doing the same thing at the state level had he been successful in his gubernatorial bid.

“His policies were not only fiscally responsible, but pro-growth, and that’s what we need as governor,” Cox told me.

“What I’m saying is that the policies that he stood for and fought for in Suffolk County and implemented very effectively are eaxctly the policies that we need in New York State.”

“…We do need nuclear power in this state. We do need to get rid of LIFO for teachers. We do need to make sure that, over time, the rent controls in New York City will continue on the path they’re going. These are the kinds of things I think (Levy) would be fighting for as governor.”

When I pointed out that if Levy had been governor at this moment, we might very well be facing yet another gubernatorial investigation that could have cost the state its top executive – something that might very well drive scandal-weary New Yorkers right over the edge, Cox said:

“Those are hypotheticals. I don’t know the history and I don’t know what’s involved.”

Levy gave $10,000 to the state GOP back in June 2010.

As you’ll recall, Cox was adamant in his demand that the Democrats return all the cash they had received from Sen. Carl Kruger after he was slapped with federal corruption charges, even going so far as to say that the ethics mess is Albany is a “Democratic problem” (aside from former GOP Sen. Vince Leibell, of course).

I asked Cox if he would be returning Levy’s money, pointing out that it was fundraising that caused his downfall, and it appears that only his willingess not to run saved him from charges. Cox said he’s traveling and hasn’t had time to bone up on all the facts of Levy’s case, but did accuse me of comparing apples to oranges by bringing in the Kruger question.

“There’s a criminal complaint against Kruger; the facts are there,” Cox said. “I don’t care if he turned his money back to the US attorney for the Southern District. That was a criminal complaint, and that’s not the situation here. I do know that.”

Cox said that while he doesn’t know the facts in Levy’s case, he does believe the county executive will be able to make a comeback if he so chooses.