Saturday, November 19, 2005

The “Joy” of Being a Lawmaker – or, How I First Met American Independent Congressional Candidate Jim Gilchrist and His Merry Band of Followers

This message is another in the occasional series of “a day in the life of a lawmaker.”

This evening I was tapped to help present a much-deserved award from the National Guard Association of California’s Yellow Ribbon America to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Being a Guardsman, a member of the National Guard Association of California and a friend of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), it was a no-brainer for me to participate in the event.

On my way in I saw and spoke to Michael Medved, a talk radio commentator and observer of the popular culture whom I much admire, chatted with a few constituents, and briefly spoke to Sen. Tom McClintock, the evening’s keynoter.

During introductions I was mentioned as the local lawmaker. American Independent Party candidate for Congress Jim Gilchrist was also announced to a smattering of applause. That Gilchrist, one of Sen. John Campbell’s opponents in the Dec. 6th runoff election for Chris Cox’s old Congressional seat, was there was a slight surprise in that the RJC is a REPUBLICAN organization while Gilchrist is an AMERICAN INDEPENDENT candidate – but, I suppose Gilchrist paid his admission fair and square.

A few minutes later Mr. Gilchrist, his lovely wife, and a supporter approached me. I stood up, immediately noting that Mr. Gilchrist was not nearly as tall as I imagined him to be (perhaps that’s a bit unfair, as, at 6’4-1/2”, virtually no one ends up as tall as I imagine them to be). We briefly chat, Mr. Gilchrist asking my about the Meritorious Service Medal lapel pin I wear.

Then, it happened.

One of candidate Gilchrist’s aides asked from behind my back if they could get a picture with me. Normally, such a question elicits in a new politician the inward response of, “ME, you want a picture with little ‘ol ME? Oh yes, it’s the office I hold that makes you desirous of a photo with me…” Instead, my instantaneous internal reaction was, “Oh heck, they just want to use this photo for the campaign, for their mailers and on their website!”

I said, “No! You may not have a picture with me because Jim Gilchrist is an American Independent and I am a Republican!”

They persisted, trying to cajole the now reluctant elected official into the photographic ambush.

I replied, “I cannot have my picture taken with a man registered with the American Independent Party, the party of George Wallace.”

The Gilchrist posse stalked off, leaving me with my tablemates who uniformly were pleased that I stood firm and surprised that they just saw a politician refuse to kiss the “you know what” of a man with a bit of a following.

A few minutes later my table was in the buffet line when Chris Simcox, the owner of the tiny Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper and Minuteman founder, popped into line across from me and began aggressively challenging me on my refusal as a Republican to be photographed with Jim Gilchrist, an American Independent.

“You are discriminatory!” Simcox accused, among other things, claiming that my hewing to the Republican Party line was somehow inappropriate.

I responded, “Jim Gilchrist is an American Independent, the party of George Wallace and John Schmitz. I am a Republican, the Party of Abraham Lincoln. Parties mean something to me. I would no more endorse Gilchrist than I would a Democrat!”

There were further exchanges. If my buffet line colleagues were paying attention, I didn’t notice.

Mr. Simcox persisted.

I finally said, “Look, you can engage in semantic gymnastics all you want, but the fact remains, Jim Gilchrist is an American Independent and he was a Democrat. It looks to me like he is a bit confused.” I finished loading my plate with a heart-healthy dose of salmon and walked off.

Simcox evidently persisted, however, engaging a friend of mine, fellow Guardsman and Yellow Ribbon America leader Brad White, in discussion. Simcox proceeded to denigrate my military service. Mr. White defended my service, asking Mr. Simcox what he had ever done to serve his nation in uniform, whereupon Simcox replied, “DeVore’s a *#$$^ (using a term that’s synonymous with “cat”).

Well, my my, that’s an intelligent argument, “DeVore’s a *#$$^.” Classic. Welcome to the heated and wacky world of the ONE ISSUE candidate and his singular-minded group of followers.

For the record, I do think illegal immigration is a critical issue. I’ve spoken up about it on the Assembly floor and have been subsequently threatened with punishment for my oratorical transgressions by Democrats. I also think U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter’s (R-CA) recent suggestion to build a triple layer fence from California to Texas for about $2 billion deserves further serious consideration. Lastly, I think Jim Gilchrist and his followers are mostly a well-meaning bunch – but, I think that a few of them are a little nuts too.

After tonight’s encounter, more than ever, I’ll be voting for John Campbell for Congress on December 6th.