MY INTERVIEW WITH "CANDIDATE X," RUSS WARNER, THE DEMOCRATS' BEST CHANCE IN YEARS TO RETIRE DAVID DREIER
This is going to make more sense if you read the article I posted yesterday called MEET THE DEMOCRATS' CANDIDATE X. I'll take it from there. The incumbent is the execrable David Dreier, another hypocritical, self-loathing Republican closet case, who has misrepresented California's 26th CD for 25 years. (It's a moderate suburban L.A. district not unlike the Northern Virginia districts that used to vote Republican but went overwhelmingly for Democrat Tim Kaine in the gubernatorial race there a couple months ago. It's usually thought of as the San Gabriel Valley, but it also extends into San Bernardino County and some of the better known communities are La Canada, La Crescenta, Flintridge, Rancho Cucamonga, Altadena, a bit of Pasadena, San Marino, Glendora, La Verne, Monrovia, Arcadia, Claremont, Upland... There is no primary and the challenger, yesterday's "Mr. X," is Russ Warner, a successful local entrepreneur.
I met Russ and one of his 3 sons, Greg, at a rally for Wes Clark on October 28 in Cheviot Hills. Greg, who's in the Army and had recently returned from Iraq, had urged his dad to run for Congress. I prefer to be able to look at someone in the eyes when I talk with them but I had trouble enough getting an interview with Warner to be too picky, so tonight I sat down and had a nice, relaxed, friendly conversation with him on the telephone.
I was half expecting a what I've been referring to on DWT as a Rahm Emanuel shill candidate; I thought I had it all figured out in advance. I didn't. Russ had his own point of view on issues-- some identical to mine, some very different from mine, all probably well-suited to the district he's lived in for the last 25 years. My best guess it that he'll be a moderate Democrat-- in the real sense of "moderate," not as a polite way of saying a "right-wing Democrat" like Jim Marshall, or Henry Cuellar or Ben Nelson.
On some of the tough issues, his reflexes were absolutely spot on. He's adamant that America needs universal health care and that the country is ready for it now. He speaks about it with conviction and passion and it's obviously a topic he's thought long and hard about. Most everything we talked about flowed through his life-experience as an entrepreneur, something I'm very comfortable with, having come from a similar background. His analysis of the state of the union finds grave fault with the greed, avarice and arrogance of Big Business. And, for Warner, salvation is the hard work, sweat and dedication of the enlightened entrepreneur and small businessperson. It could be a lot worse-- and for CA-26, it's pretty close to perfect.
One crucial issue for the race is going to be immigration. The loony and extremely xenophobic/racist Minutemen are strong in Southern California and some local right-wing drive-time radio show targeted Dreier in 2004 and hammered him mercilessly. Their motto is kind of "Anything But Dreier" because he supports Bush's corporatist immigration policies. (That wing-- as opposed to the neo-Nazi Tancredo wing-- of the GOP encourages a flood of immigration, illegal better than legal, in order to drive labor prices down for their corporate allies and to undermine union's bargaining power. The Republicans have always hated minimum wage laws, safety in the workplace laws, child labor laws, all the kind of stuff that differentiates free citizens with dignity from serfs and slaves-- the right-wing's ideal condition for the non-wealthy.) Anyway, the radio loons, "John & Ken," still hate Dreier, who fears them the way a 10 year old girl lost in a forest would feel a pack of hungry wolves. Dreier has tried to move a bit in their direction on the issue but they're not having any of his weasel-words and they never shut about how terrible and corporate he is. And he has some Minuteman type challenging him-- ineffectually-- in the GOP primary. Warner understands the immigration issue and his response is very reasonable: to crack down on the big businesses that encourage illegal immigration by hiring illegals.
His answer about equal protection for gays and lesbians was very matter-of-fact-- sort of like a moderate version of Paul Hackett's: we're all Americans and all entitled to equal protection under the law-- and he specifically brought up civil marriage. Funny how a happily married man, confident in his own skin, has no problems with gays while a closeted, self-loathing and petrified homosexual like David Dreier feels the need to victimize gay people every chance he gets as a legislator. Dreier's homosexuality, his hypocrisy in that area, and the scandal of his taxpayer-financed lover's inordinately large salary are issues Warner refuses to talk about-- even when prodded. He's a decent guy who is determined to take the high road.
My biggest specific problem with Warner was, probably predictably, Iraq. I think what drives Warner is his life's experience as an entrepreneur, a husband and a father and that these experiences are determinative of his positions. He's not an ideologue; he seems like a considerate and fair-minded problem-solver. The conclusions he's come to about Big Pharma's role in the deteriorating state of our medical system is a great example of how real life experience, not ideology, brought him to a common sense conclusion about the corrosive nature of Big Business in a democratic and middle class-oriented society. When it came to Iraq, however... his experiences are different from mine. When I put the question to him-- how do we get out-- he fumbled around a bit, perhaps still trying to get to the best solution to a problem that has too many grays. He started talking about troop rotations and getting Arab and Muslim and even NATO countries to send troops as we bring our boys home. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I pointed out that other countries, even the ones we bribed initially, are withdrawing troops and that no one wants to send new troops in. He pointed out that that's because no one trusts Bush. I pointed out that he's running for Congress and that, in all likelihood, Bush will be around for his entire first term. In the end came what I was afraid was the inevitable answer: the way out of Iraq is to... elect Wes Clark president. Warner is a true believer and has tremendous faith in the general. I don't want to start another war with the Wes Clark supporters (and risk hundreds of pieces of spam, most of it either filthy, racist, homophobic or a combination, all over my blog again) but this illusion that history depends on a (military) strongman disturbed me-- big time. I respect Clark and I respect Warner's admiration and trust in him, but as right as Clark was about the Iraq war in the beginning (that it would be a terrible and costly blunder), he has been wrong ever since. Somewhat astonished that Warner seemed to be equating an end to the problems in Iraq with the election of Clark as president, I asked him if that was the only way out. He said the Democrats have a strong line-up of potential candidates who he trusted could solve the problem. He mentioned 3 others: Mark Warner, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
I think Russ Warner is a good challenger for David Dreier in the 26th CD. And a much better candidate than what I've come to expect from the DCCC. I think he has an excellent chance of winning and I think he'll be a decent congressman if he does-- far, far better than the inherently dishonest, conflicted mess we have in that seat now. Is he a DFA candidate? He seems to think so (although he doesn't even mention he's a Democrat on his website). I'm sure some DFA grassroots workers and donations would be welcome and useful. But this is a campaign that I think is one I'll be rooting for rather than participating in myself. The local DFA folks appreciate him and want to help and that doesn't really bother me if they have nothing better to do. (Francine Busby should be an incumbent by then. Progressive Californians in solidly Democratic districts should also consider helping Jerry McNerney to topple Richard Pombo and Charlie Brown to rid California of John Doolittle.) Still, on the very day-- today-- that DFA has endorsed 4 proud progressives, Francine Busby, Christine Cegelis, Mary Jo Kilroy and Lois Murphy, for Congress, I think it would be too much of a stretch for me to ask that organization to do likewise for Warner. Instead I'm calling my pals Bob, Mary and Grace in San Marino and asking them to give Warner a hand.