[Robert Rodriguez joins us in the comments to chat about his candidacy. As always with Blue America threads, please keep the discussion on topic and polite. And please stop by and give Robert a big FDL welcome — and say thanks to Howie for another great introduction to another great Blue America candidate. — CHS]
California is home not only to some of the most extreme right-wing Republicans in the entire Congress, but also home to many of the most outrageously corrupt. In fact, in many cases, the most fanatically right are also the most fanatically on the wrong side of the law– when it comes to graft and personal corruption. It’s hard to fathom how anyone– regardless of political identification could consider voting for men like Jerry Lewis, Dick Pombo, John Doolittle, Ken Calvert, Gary Miller, Duncan Hunter, just to pick out the half dozen worst examples.
But sometimes the best target isn’t necessarily the worst fascist or most greedy crook. I want to introduce a district few in California have ever been to, the 25th CD. It starts in the extreme northeast corner of Los Angeles (Santa Clarita and Palmdale), heads east and north through northern San Bernardino, Victorville and Barstow and on up along the Nevada border as far north as Sacramento and encompassing sparsely populated Inyo and Mono counties. It’s a gargantuan district, the biggest in the state.
In fact, it’s bigger than Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware combined! And the population is growing… fast.
Who’s moving there? Well, you can probably guess. In 2000 approximately 25% of the population was Latino. Last year the Latino population crossed the 35% mark. And last year it became another California congressional district with a non-white majority. The incumbent, Buck McKeon, may not even be aware of this since when he does venture back from Washington — where he’s lived since 1992 — he almost never gets out of Santa Clarita. And Santa Clarita, where he once served as mayor, is the whitest and the most Republican part of the district.
A few months ago PoliticsTV’s Mike Lux and I went to dinner with 3 young men who had come to downtown L.A. for a labor union meeting– Robert Rodriguez and two of his friends from Harvard, where they all went to school. Robert, the son of a railroad worker, was born in Barstow and he’s proud of the working class values his family taught him. He is running against McKeon for the 25th CD’s congressional seat.
He starts his campaign bio with a statement that warms my heart:
"At a time when the dollars of big corporations speak louder than the voice of Americans, Robert wants to give our country back to its rightful owners: the American people."
Mike and I listened to all their enthusiastic optimism and idealism. I walked out of the restaurant thinking that Robert, who’s still in his twenties, is unlike almost any other congressional candidate I have spoken to. He’s dedicated his life to public service and he isn’t fooling around. I said to Mike at the time, "It’s one of those red, red, red districts (Kerry barely managed to eke out 40% in 2004) but can you imagine how someone like Robert would shake up Congress if he ever managed to win!"
In my never-ending investigation of Jerry Lewis’ corruption I’ve been staying in touch with the presidents of the local Democrat clubs in his district. Lately they all manage to tell me that though things look dismal for getting rid of Lewis, at least at the voting booth, the young man in the neighboring district, CA-25, is setting his race on fire. "Watch that campaign; he’s going to shock everyone."
I’ll come back to Robert in a second. I just want to tell you a little about Buck Rubber Stamp McKeon– or is a 96% party line robot not a rubber stamp?
Although McKeon’s name doesn’t get mentioned much when people talk about Republicans likely to get indicted, he is known for playing fast and loose with the rules: expensive trips from lobbyists, odd — and over-priced — car leasing arrangements from political cronies, a $20,000 donation to Tom DeLay’s defense fund…that sort of semi-legal monkey business.
And, strangely, especially considering how crucial the military and military contractors like Boeing and Lockhead Martin and Northrup Grunman are to the district’s economy, just as the corruption investigations started closing in on McKeon’s pals like Duke Cunningham, Duncan Hunter and Jerry Lewis, Buck resigned from the tainted House Armed Services Committee.
McKeon is the head of the Education and Workforce Committee. And under his stewardship — and while he raked in over a quarter million dollars from student loan vendors, more than anyone else in Congress — federal student loan programs were cut by $12.7 billion (the worst cuts in history) and student loan rates went up by 2.4%. Pure sleaze…but not the kind you go to prison for.
That’s up to the voters. And that brings us back to Robert.
In CA-25 the name of the game is voter registration. That’s the whole ballgame. And Robert knows that ballgame well. After working for Barbara Boxer and then Linda Sanchez (the progressive Sanchez sister) he ran the California Voter Registration Project which registered over 28,000 voters while he was there. And that’s what he and his campaign volunteers have been working on for the last half year.
"It’s the first grassroots campaign anyone has ever seen in this district," Robert told me. "All summer long we went to concerts in the park every weekend in Santa Clarita… all ages, very family oriented. The bands were all covering U2 and The Eagles and DEVO but we walked around meeting as many people as we could and listened to what they had to say. They’re angry about the high gas prices and they are connecting that pain to the fact that overdevelopment in the housing area hasn’t brought new industry or employment to the district. People have to commute long distances, often both husband and wife. Kids get home from school 3 hours before their parents. And there are no after-school programs anymore. Crime rates have been skyrocketing."
When Robert worked for Congresswoman Sanchez he was her healthcare liaison. It’s an important issue for him because he watched his sister’s battle with kidney failure and lupus as she dealt with the hardships of living on Supplemental Security Income. Her struggles to overcome the obstacles within the health care system inspire him to fight this battle — and fight it hard.
In fact, his actual moment of inspiration to go home from Washington and take on McKeon came when he was on the House floor with Sanchez. He watched McKeon vote for Medicare Part D, which was a gift to the Big Pharma campaign donors at expense of America’s elderly and sick.
"McKeon was laughing after he voted yes. He was part of DeLay’s team and they were dragging reluctant Republican congressmen who knew it was wrong, back into the cloakrooms to get them to change their votes. The abuse of power disgusted me. It’s when I decided to run for Congress."
The American Senior Citizen’s Alliance in the Antelope Valley has invited both candidates to a debate. Robert accepted immediately. He may be debating an empty chair. McKeon is trying to make believe there is no race. Robert’s campaign has been working with the immigration rally organizers in each community and with Southwest Voter to bring more citizens into the democratic process to which the Republicans pay so much lip-service (at least in the Middle East).
Let’s give Robert some help getting his message out and see if we can’t surprise all the pundits and prognosticators come November. First 25 contributors on our Blue America ActBlue Page today get the 2-CD set, The Essential Herbie Hancock.