On Tuesday, I had an opportunity to listen to someone running for statewide office in California today and a short time later spend time with someone who helped many candidates run for office decades ago, including one who won the highest office in the land. Ashley Swearengin is running for controller; Stu Spencer was the campaign manager who helped put Ronald Reagan in the White House.
Ashley Swearengin, mayor of Fresno and Republican candidate for state controller, told a Town Hall of Los Angeles meeting that her run for office was to challenge the status quo. She praised recent budgets in Sacramento to right the ship but said the current fiscal fix will not be sustainable.
The budget’s long-term problems, she said, are because of the state’s indebtedness and unfunded liabilities. As controller, Swearengin promised to create a comprehensive list of those debts and liabilities and make them transparent for all to see.
Swearengin called for a 90-10 budget plan – spending 90-percent of yearly dollars on current bills and placing 10-percent aside for debt and unfunded liabilities.
Business and economic development will sustain California in the long term, Swearengin argued. As controller, she would audit the state’s economic competitiveness and use the audit to put together an economic development plan.
Tellingly, Swearengin used the first half of her talk to inform the Los Angeles audience about her accomplishments in Fresno. An effort to introduce oneself a week before the election speaks to both the low recognition of the office and the difficulty of a statewide candidate to become known without tremendous resources.
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Sitting around with Stu Spencer was a feast of stories from California politics of days past. He was in Los Angeles supporting an old colleague, Thomas C. Reed, a close Reagan advisor and former Secretary of the Air Force, who just published a book, The Reagan Enigma 1964-1980.
The book covers Reagan’s political years from his speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential run, through his governorship of California to the 1980 presidential campaign. From his close association with the man who would become president, Reed’s intention is to disclose, “What made Reagan tick” as he put it in the book’s prologue. Reed told me that the Reagan campaign was in deep trouble until Nancy Reagan called in Stu Spencer in the summer of 1980 and invited him to run the presidential campaign.
Spencer offered a few comments on the declining status of the California Republican Party. He said there is a lot of work to do but he believes the Republicans can be competitive in the future. He defined competitive as perhaps picking up six or seven more legislative seats and having a shot at a statewide office. But, he emphasized, as he has before, the need for Republicans to reach out to Latinos.
Spencer helped elect one Republican president. Looking over the potential Republican field for that office, he said the race was wide open. He was not concerned with “Bush fatigue” if Jeb Bush decides to run, especially if another Clinton (Hillary) is his opponent. He noted a potential “sleeper” Republican candidate for the nomination: former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. His record as governor was pragmatic, Spencer said, and yet he felt Huckabee can speak comfortably to different wings of the party. But Spencer emphasized again: “It’s wide open.”