By Mark E. Derry
Editor-in-chief, South Valley Newspapers
There's only one earmark Chuck DeVore, conservative Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, wants to embrace — the "earmark" he hopes voters put next to his name in California's June 8 primary election.
DeVore is working hard running a grass-roots campaign, relying heavily on Tea Party gatherings, talk radio and new media to beat two more widely known opponents who are competing for the GOP nomination, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former Rep. Tom Campbell. The GOP winner will take on the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Barbara Boxer, in November.
DeVore, a lanky 6-foot-5-inch state assemblyman who represents Orange County, minces few words. An opening slogan on his website speaks volumes: "No need to compromise."
Sticking to principles
That attitude and his straight talk have made him a favorite at Tea Party events and won him the endorsement of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. DeVore believes the only way to change the current government mess is to stick to principles. If elected, he won't, for example, cast a single vote for any bill with an attached earmark, the pork barrel provisions linked to congressional bills that direct funds to be spent on specific projects.
"No earmarks. I look at it on the basis of how we've been crushing our children and grandchildren under a debt they can't possibly afford to repay.
"Today we have 1,000 times more earmarks than when I worked for Ronald Reagan as a congressional liaison at the Pentagon 25 years ago. What's happened is that otherwise fiscally prudent representatives rationalize voting for routine appropriation bills that are 10, 15, 30 percent more than the year before because they're getting a bridge or a library for their district.
"When you think about it, it's pretty stupid because all we're doing is we're taking money from all over the country and spending it on specific projects all over the country as if all of us are trying to game each other at each other's expense. The money comes from somewhere. We're killing ourselves. We're choking on debt. That will make it highly likely that my children and God willing they have kids, my grandkids, will have a less vibrant economic future than I had — and that will be the first time in American history that that's happened," DeVore said in a wide-ranging interview.
Those firm stances, he believes, appeal to a new political group — the catalysts for the Tea Party movement — which formerly stood on the sidelines and watched the American political ship sail by.
"You've got this thing called the Tea Party movement going hot that's attracting all of these people to the political process that have heretofore not been active. These are people who have not done anything in politics in their entire lives and they've now been motivated to come out in large numbers. I'm the guy that can motivate them, not some corporatist establishment pick like Fiorina and not some liberal Bay Area Republican like Campbell," said Devore, kicking his voice up a notch.
His steady climb in the polls, he believes, is attributable to this new political force — a force he calls "completely remarkable" — that has embraced him.
At about 50 Tea Party rallies and meetings in the last few months, DeVore has asked: "How many of you have ever been politically active prior to this year?" The answer at a recent event in the city of Rolling Hills Estates in Southern California was typical, he said — 55 percent indicated they hadn't been politically involved at all.
His campaign is a grass-roots effort that has raised more than $2 million.
More than 12,000 online contributions have been made, and DeVore delights in the opportunity to characterize those Internet contributions. "As I like to say, it's using Al Gore's invention against his friends."
His pitch to traditionally moderate Republican voters — especially those who may disagree with his socially conservative stances against gay marriage and abortion — is twofold.
"The Constitution is under assault right now, we're growing government with money borrowed from China in a completely unsustainable fashion, and I'm the sole Republican with a proven record of standing up to big government, telling it like it is and doing battle with people who would grow government and who are more worried about maintaining their friendships in the Capitol than they are in doing the right thing," he said.
Making a game plan
To fight the good fight in Washington, D.C., DeVore has to first beat front-runner Tom Campbell. The game plan, he says, is to tell Republicans that Campbell is, essentially, a Democratic wolf in Republican sheep's clothing.
"What the polls show is that Campbell is enjoying a large amount of support from conservative Republicans who don't know that while he was running for governor, he supported the largest tax increase in U.S. history at the state level, that he supported a 32-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike on what's already the nation's highest gas tax, and that he's in favor of same-sex marriage and in favor of abortion.
"Once they find out those things, they come to me because Fiorina is perceived as a moderate," said DeVore.
DeVore is counting on conservatives to flock to him and the moderates splitting votes between his opponents. The former Ronald Reagan White House appointee who served as a special assistant for Foreign Affairs in the Pentagon dismisses the idea that a conservative can't win in California.
"Repeating it many, many times doesn't make it so."
DeVore has climbed steadily in the polls since August 2009, and in most head-to-head matches with Boxer, he trails by a mere 3 percentage points. He believes he can beat Boxer, but won't soft-pedal the message to broaden his appeal.
"If you think social issues are more important, maybe you should just vote for Barbara Boxer because her economic positions aren't all that much different than Campbell's," he says.
Tackling welfare woes
In California, reducing the size of government means a few things.
DeVore points out that California, with one-eighth of the nation's population, has almost one-third of the nation's welfare recipients.
That's a statistic from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and he calls it a "travesty" that must change to revive the state's economy.
"We have this because we're the only state in the union which has not enforced the welfare-to-work reforms signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. We're the sole state in the union that the five-year lifetime limit for an able-bodied adult to be on welfare is optional, not the law, because we offer a waiver for it. As a result, people who have been serial welfare recipients from all over the country, they come here.
"Texas, the second-largest state in the country. We have 10 times the number of people on welfare than does Texas. There's something wrong with that picture. You can't sustain that with a $20 billion deficit," DeVore emphatically says, adding that if California were more in line with average costs, it would save at least $1.5 billion annually.
Problems in prisons
Ballooning costs in the state's prison system are another huge problem.
Californians are paying double the national average to incarcerate. If the $11 billion annual price tag were in line with the national average, $5.5 billion would fall to the state's bottom line annually. He blames Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Gov. Gray Davis for agreeing to American Civil Liberties Union demands for better health, dental and mental health benefits for prisoners rather than taking up a politically charged court fight that would have extended beyond the liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"So, what's happened is that prisoner health care, which cost about $2,500 a year per person about 12 years ago, now costs taxpayers $19,000 per year per prisoner in our system," said DeVore. The rest of the increased cost has to do with overtime abuse and generous contracts for the prison guard union signed by Davis, who granted them a 37 percent raise. More than 2,400 rank-and-file correctional officers' pay exceeded $100,000 in 2005, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Plagued by pensions
Public pensions are out of control, too.
"It used to be that if you were a civil servant at the federal or the state level that you earned less money in exchange for greater job security and a better pension and better health care. Now, at both the federal and the state level, our civil servants earn more money than the average citizen of comparable education and they earn far more in pensions and fringe benefits with good health care."
Adopting a two-tier system is the only answer, DeVore says.
"What you're going to start to see in California, as well as in other states, is that you'll begin to see jurisdictions literally lay people off and start shutting down vital services just to pay for pension obligations.
"It's a devastating situation, and it just serves to underscore the enormous power of the public employee unions in America today."
Dissecting the hyperbole
On the issues of immigration and energy independence, DeVore draws clear-cut conclusions. Both generate tremendous amounts of hyperbole that he enjoys dissecting.
He would have signed Arizona's new tough immigration bill, recently enacted by the Arizona Legislature and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, which makes it a crime to be in the country illegally, specifically requiring immigrants to have proof of their immigration status.
DeVore says the law makes it abundantly clear that racial profiling is not allowed.
"The bottom line is that for the last 15 years or so, state and local law enforcement agencies have been invited to enforce federal immigration law if they wanted to, and Arizona just decided to get a little more serious about it.
'A cry for help'
"There's a lot of irresponsible demagoguery occurring right now. As I look at it, this is a cry for help. The administration and the Democrats in control in California in the Legislature and at the national level not only are not serious about curtailing illegal immigration, to the contrary they celebrate it. They celebrate it because they see that as an avenue for power for themselves," DeVore said.
The majority party isn't serious at all about securing our borders, which, DeVore says, is the sovereign right of every nation.
The solution is clear. "To the degree the topography will support it, you have to have a double fence with a road in between," said DeVore.
The fence, nearly complete in California, has made the Border Patrol guards more safe and crossings have plummeted in California and have shifted to Arizona, he contends.
"The bottom line is that fences work."
A stand on amnesty
At the federal level, DeVore is opposed to a general amnesty for illegal immigrants, but he adds a caveat. "What we have to be mindful of is that anything we do cannot be unfair to people who have tried to follow the law waiting patiently." He wants the people in the system who have followed the law not to feel "like chumps" and thinks that illegal residents should repatriate themselves, get an entry visa and then seek citizenship.
Once the borders are secure, a flexible, workable guest worker program that's responsive to the needs of agriculture and the needs of business should be adopted. But there can't be so much red tape that it forces business operators to return to the black market.
DeVore thinks the H1B visas — the worker exemptions pushed by many Silicon Valley businesses — are a sorry excuse for landing cheaper labor in higher-paying positions by importing workers from foreign lands. Not only that, such visas disincentivize American college students from studying math and science. If the pay rates were higher, DeVore says, students would, in this age of information, learn that and be willing to study harder to get those well-paying jobs.
Keys to energy independence
His approach to energy independence includes an endorsement for both nuclear power and qualified offshore drilling. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, where water can be a mile deep, is tricky, but slant drilling on the California coast — done from a sideways angle — is safe. The physics make it so, he said. Foreign tankers are a far greater environmental threat.
"Those who say 'no drilling' present no viable alternative. When you say 'no drilling off the coast' what you're really saying is, 'Yeah, I'm all for a whole lot more tankers coming in from Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia.' And that's more dangerous for the environment."
DeVore thinks that without energy provided by modern nuclear power, it's literally impossible to meet the parameters of AB32, the law that requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in 10 years. If the state legislators are serious about meeting those goals, then the ban on nuclear power that has been in effect since 1976 has to be lifted.
Otherwise, DeVore fears, the unelected State Air Resources Board will begin to take control of Californians' lives by enacting measures such as the recent proposal that would have banned dark-colored cars and required dark window tinting, ostensibly to reduce the air conditioning load on auto engines, thereby reducing emissions.
That's directly counter to his mantra.
"I believe in limited government. I believe in Constitutional values. I believe in freedom and liberty, and those beliefs lead me to be an opponent of big government and big taxes."
That's DeVore's story, and he's sticking to it.
South Valley Newspapers are sister papers to this publication.
South Valley Newspapers are sister papers to this publication.