Politics 2003Week of September 15

WALKING TALL IN CALIFORNIA SENATE PRIMARY Should State Assemblyman Tony Strickland win the Republican primary for U.S. senator from California next March and run against far-left Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, he would be the first state legislator to be a major party Senate nominee in the Golden State since State Sen. H.L. (Bill) Richardson — a conservative stalwart and the founder of Gun Owners of America — carried the GOP standard in the so-called “Watergate Year” of 1974. and Strickland, who turns 34 in February, would also be the youngest major party Senate standard-bearer of a in California since 32-year-old State Assemblyman Sam Yorty ran as a Democrat against venerable Republican Sen. (1916-45) Hiram Johnson in 1940. (Rabid isolationist Johnson demolished Yorty, who ran under the slogan “Isolation Has Failed — Stop Hitler Now!;” Yorty went on to serve in the House and as mayor of Los Angeles.) As California Republicans Last week prepared to gather in Los Angeles September 12-14 for their second state convention of the year, talk of the race against two-termer Boxer (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 2%) is sure to take a back seat to the ongoing, nationally watched gubernatorial recall election. But this has not stopped Ventura County lawmaker and stalwart conservative Strickland, who meshes the “hard-core” philosophical grounding of Richardson with the drive of the young Yorty, from mobilizing a highly professional campaign and courting conservative support. “Barbara Boxer has to go,” Strickland told me last week, confirming that he would run for the Senate in ’04, when he is “termed out” of his assembly seat after six years. “She’s just too far to the left and, if she had her way, Saddam would still be in power.” He went on to cite in particular “[Boxer’s] consistent votes against national security” as the pivotal issue in a Senate race. But, Strickland quickly added, “there are a lot more issues with which to debate her and win over voters—partial-birth abortion, opposition to tax cuts, failure to deal properly with illegal immigration, and a thwarting of a vote by the full Senate on judicial nominees such as appellate court choices Miguel Estrada, Bill Pryor, and Priscilla Owens. But we only get to make issues out of those positions if the Republican is a genuine conservative.” Although he did not mention their names, Strickland was obviously referring to the other two GOP prospects for the Senate race—neither of whom could be characterized as conservative: Former Los Altos Mayor Toni Casey and former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin. Casey first caught press attention at the 2000 Republican National Convention, when, as a member of the Platform Committee, she was the most vocal advocate of removing the party’s strong pro-life plank. She also raised eyebrows following revelations that she had a long history of making large donations to liberal Democratic candidates, including $1,000 to the 1996 Clinton-Gore Committee, $5,00 to the Dukakis for President Committee in 1988, and to California Representatives. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eschoo—both of whom opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion. Casey also was a faithful donor for seven years to EMILY’s List, a political action committee that promotes pro-abortion women for office. Although the views of former Treasurer Marin (who is also exploring a bid for the Republican Senate nod) are unknown, it is known that the Los Angeles County native is not pro-life and, as a small-town mayor in 1994, opposed Proposition 187 (the statewide initiative to deny public education, non-essential health care, and welfare to illegal immigrants). “CONSERVATISM IS WHAT I DO” In striking contrast to Casey and Marin, Tony Strickland is the epitome of former presidential candidate Alan Keyes’s self-characterization: “Conservatism is what I do.” Strickland became extremely interested in politics at the age of 12 after watching Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address on television and was soon handing out leaflets and licking envelopes on behalf of Reagan-style conservative candidates such as Republican state legislator Tom McClintock. At Whittier College (Calif.), the 6-foot 5-inch Strickland was a star basketball player and voted Most Valuable Player. He even received overtures from professional teams but, for the founder of the Richard Nixon Republican Club in honor of his alma mater’s most famous alumni, a competitive sport of a different kind was beckoning. Following graduation, the young Strickland worked on the campaigns of conservative state legislator Bill Morrow, managed the initial campaign of fellow conservative legislator Howard Kaloogian, and worked on the staff of early mentor McClintock. In 1998, he achieved his childhood dream of holding office by winning an assembly seat from Simi Valley—site of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and of the 1992 trial that acquitted the Los Angeles Police officers from brutality charges in the capture of Rodney King. As a legislator, Strickland has been both creative and aggressive. He helped craft and guide to passage legislation that would permit drivers to have a picture of Reagan on their license plates and to commemorate Highway 101 (which goes through his district as the Ventura Highway) in honor of the 101st Airborne Division, the famed “Screaming Eagles.” The Ventura County lawmaker has also been in the forefront of efforts to thwart Gov. Gray Davis’s tax increases and, while other elected officials adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude, joined Kaloogian and McClintock early on in the effort to recall Davis. Several of his Republican colleagues have already endorsed Strickland for the Senate and an impressive group of activists have agreed to take on fund-raising chores for him before the primary, among them Salem Radio co-owner Edward Atsinger, Los Angeles “super-lawyer” Sheldon Sloan, and former State Republican Chairman Shawn Steel. In addition, Strickland has already recruited a crack political team that includes consultant Dan Schnur, long associated with former Republican Gov. (1990-98) Pete Wilson; JoAnn Davis, who had been the chief fund-raiser for former State Atty. General Dan Lungren; Coalitions’ Director Steve Frank, who had the same position with ’02 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon, Jr; and Jimmy Camp, political director for state Republican headquarters under Steel. Besides, fund-raising prowess and political expertise, Strickland maintains that “the key to victory is mobilizing a lot of eager folks who will do the necessary campaign work as volunteers. That’s what my past campaigns have always been about—motivating the real workers.” In speech after speech and small coffees with potential backers, Strickland often cites other conservatives who have had an influence on him and who he would perform like in the Senate: former California Rep. (1996-2000) and impeachment manager Jim Rogan, 1992 U.S. Senate nominee Bruce Herschensohn (“Either of them could win any of the Republican House districts in California if one became open”) and early heroes Reagan and McClintock. But when it comes to mentioning heroes, he inevitably speaks of his mother and father: “Mom was always a real activist in the party and Dad was a veteran who really served his country in Korea and Vietnam,” Strickland says, “They drove me to the campaign offices to work when I was young and encouraged me in all they did. Thanks, Mom and Dad—this campaign is dedicated to you.” FOLEY FALL-OUT Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley‘s surprise decision last week to pass on this state’s Republican Senate primary so that he can care for his ailing father has had an impact on his former rivals. For a long time, there had been considerable worry on the right that the four more conservative candidates than Foley (lifetime ACU rating: 81%)—who takes non-conservative stances on abortion and other cultural issues—would permit the Palm Beach-area lawmaker to win the primary with a plurality. With that worry removed, the odds are diminished on a withdrawal by any of the four: State Sen. Daniel Webster, a former House speaker, who has just signed on Republican National Committee deputy political director Timmy Teepell as campaign manager; Rep. and physician Dave Weldon (lifetime ACU rating: 94%), who is still in the exploratory stages of the race; State house Speaker Johnny Byrd, whose political operative Todd Harris recently left for California to be spokesman for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial race; and former U.S. Rep. (1980-2000) and 2000 Senate nominee Bill McCollum, whose campaign chairman is the Sunshine State’s most revered Republican, former Rep. (1988-2000) Connie Mack. At least three heavyweight Democrats — including U.S. Representatives. Allen Boyd and Peter Deutsch — have signaled their desire to run for the Senate if incumbent Bob Graham retires. But Graham, a Democratic presidential hopeful, has yet to say whether he will relinquish his seat.