Why is Wendy Leece running against Dana Rohrabacher?

When I first heard that popular, termed-out, Costa Mesa Republican councilwoman Wendy Leece was planning to take on entrenched, deeply embarrassing 12-term Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, I thought, “Well, we Democrats haven’t managed to take him out in 24 years, why not let a nice reasonable Republican try?”

Dr. Savary

Of course there IS going to be a Democrat in the race as well – Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club chair Dr. Sue Savary – so far be it from me to choose one over the other outside of the privacy of the ballot box.  But bear in mind that it IS still a heavily Republican district, and trading in old Dana for Wendy would be a huge load of shame off our backs.  May the best lady take #2 in June, and then let’s ALL unite behind whichever one that is, Dems, independents, and Republicans with consciences!

As Moxley will never tire of reminding you, Dana rode in on a Republican wave in 1988, having written a few minor speeches for outgoing President Reagan, and promising notoriously to serve no more than three terms.  Lazily sticking out his sweaty palm now for a thirteenth term, he is our County’s longest “serving” career politician, and a boisterous novelty act to the rest of the nation world.

Speaking personally, he’s been my Congressman since 97, and I started trying hard to get rid of him in 2002 when he was one of the loudest and most ridiculous cheerleaders for Bush II’s invasion of Iraq, responding to my reasoned letters with neo-con bullshit and platitudes.  You know, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Freedom, 9-11, all that.  I remember him clearly raving on the floor of the House, “I know those people out there, they’re gonna THROW FLOWERS AT US!”  That was a common cliche in 2002.  More cringe-inducing was his appearance on Bill Maher a few years later, after 4000 dead troops and countless wounded:  “I’m telling you Bill, they’re throwing flowers at us out there!  The liberal media just won’t let you see it!”

So that means I tried to help Gerri Schipske beat him in 2002, and Jim Brandt in 2004 and 2006.  Those were not exciting candidates.  But we really thought we had the magic bullet with Debbie Cook in 2008, and I put ALL my time into trying to make that happen.  No matter what though, the knuckledraggers, airheads, and walking senile dead of HB and Costa Mesa pull the lever for the guy with the R, the name they know, the one who talks shit on immigrants, taxes, and global warming.  After 2008 I gave up, it was too depressing – it’s enough to make you despair over your friends and neighbors, and democracy in general.  Rohrabacher is like a stinky armchair in the corner that you just avoid.

But, who knows?  Maybe Wendy could be the charm.  Hey.  Why is she running against a fellow Republican anyway?

Wendy Leece and the OC GOP

First, let’s talk about how this quite conservative Councilwoman came to be at odds with the OC GOP leadership and insiders, because that is connected to this, and it happened in late 2010, and I watched it closely and catalogued it.


Oh but before that I want to give her credit for all the work she did keeping our Fairgrounds from being sold to profiteers – she and her Democratic colleague on council, Katrina Foley, went back and forth to Sacramento several times to lobby against the sale, while her Republican colleagues seemed more compromised and following secret instructions, oscillating between protecting the public property and sudden loyalty to privateers like Facilities Management West.  And Jim Righeimer, not yet on council, was pursuing some kind of Orwellian game with his “Save the Fair” movement which agitated for sale of the public property to a “nonprofit.”  Wendy and Katrina seemed like the most honest players of the Costa Mesa politicians at that time, which I only mention because it seems like she was already not getting the OC GOP memos that the other Republicans were getting. And I also want her to get credit for all the work she did to ACTUALLY save our Fairgrounds.

Throughout the same period she and Councilman Gary Monahan were in charge of negotiations with both the police and fire associations of the city, a process that went on for half a year and in which both groups made major concessions to save the cash-strapped city money.  Not to bog you down in boring details, which we COULD get into in the comments section, but Wendy’s and Gary’s negotiations managed to save the city well over a million dollars.  Which was still not enough for council candidate and hardcore labor basher Righeimer, and his doppelganger OC GOP chairman Scott Baugh, who was on the verge of a new anti-labor crusade.

Baugh, the newly-christened bane of labor.

And as the final vote on these two major labor agreements approached, so did the 2010 elections, and the necessity for Wendy (pursuing re-election) to get the OC GOP endorsement.  Chairman Baugh’s condition was that Wendy pledge to support “pension reform,” and she agreed.  Problem is, Baugh and Leece had two different ideas of what the phrase “pension reform” meant.  To Wendy, the agreement she had worked so hard on, with the harsh givebacks from the “unions” and the $ million-plus savings – THAT was pension reform.  When Baugh said “pension reform” what he meant was saying NO to the whole long process they’d just been through, and starting again from scratch with Righeimer on the council, to make Costa Mesa a petri dish for mass layoffs, outsourcing of city jobs, and doomed, costly lawsuits to defend those draconian moves.  But to Wendy’s mind, killing the deal after all the work they’d put into it and everything labor had given up, would have been unconscionable bad faith.  When Leece voted (with Foley and Monahan) to approve the deal, she suddenly became the OC GOP’s enemy #1, and Baugh instructed (too late) Republicans not to vote for her.

Another thing she agreed to to get the OC GOP endorsement was not to accept any money from unions or associations like Costa Mesa’s fire and police.  And she didn’t.  But when these associations saw her being crucified by the anti-labor forces, they did give her a lot of support, independently, at the last minute – something she couldn’t help, but was also held responsible for.

I’ve noticed different people mean different things when they say “conservative” or “moderate” or “right-wing.”  A lot of Democrats are afraid to support Wendy because they “hear she’s really right-wing” – probably a relic of the Allan Mansoor days when she voted in lockstep with him and Eric Bever.  Since 2010, rightwing Republicans call her a “RINO” as she is insufficiently hostile to public employees.  I would call her a conservative who lives in the real world and cares about people;  also, like Tom Tait, a sincere Christian whose religion causes her to empathize a little more than we’re used to seeing on the right.

But it was interesting to see the changes in Wendy, as she was attacked ruthlessly by the Party that had always been her home – attacked for doing what she was sure was the right thing.  It caused her to start questioning other Republican truisms.  She told me once around that time, I hope I’m remembering right, “My loyalty is to my God and the Constitution, not to my Party.”  She also has come to the conclusion that her Party is very unfair to women in general.  But she’s not leaving the Republican Party, because she still believes in what she considers its founding principles, and feels she can make it better.

Wendy’s reasons for running

Classic pic of Dana from the Weekly.  Absolutely captures the gravity of the man.

So, it’s a pretty impressive thing to see a woman of Wendy’s age (65 now) start questioning so many of her old certainties, and now to go against an established relic of her Party.  Dana IS part of the inner Baugh-Righeimer-Bucher circle that declared Wendy persona non grata.  But it’s not just personal.  When you ask her the defining moment that made her dream of supplanting this dinosaur in Congress, the first thing she brings up is the Government Shutdown.  (WHICH ONE?  Doesn’t matter.  I’ve lost count, haven’t you?)

The Government Shutdown which rightwingers like Dana are actually proud of, and which comes from them just saying no to anything the Democrats want to do, and refusing to work together or compromise.  What Wendy sees in Washington reminds her of what she’s seen in her own town over the last 4-5 years – Republicans who just really don’t care to sit down with the other side and make government work for the people.  And that’s what she wants to do if she can get to Washington.

She’ll go on about how useless Dana has been and she’s absolutely right – 24 years in his seat and has never led any major committee or passed any serious legislation.  He refuses to “roll up his sleeves” and get anything done;  he is “not representing us.”

Wendy also feels entitled to boast – after this last term of hers – of her independence;  that she “doesn’t let anyone tell her how to vote,” but follows her own logic, research and conscience.  Just as she has refused to let Baugh and Righeimer pull her strings in Costa Mesa, so will Boehner or the Tea Party or whoever is calling the shots in the Republican House fail to control Wendy Leece!

Sounds good so far…

Second from left, with grandma Leece and three Leecelets! (aka daughters.)

Wendy wants me to tell you that she’s been a widow for 14 years, has brought up five kids mostly by herself, and knows how to budget! One thing she’s been working on for a decade now, that she is most proud of, is building up non-profit after school programs in her town – including programs like “Think Together,” MIKA and SOY.

She’s also proud of spending a lot of her spare time the last few years teaching (mostly Latino teenagers) at juvenile hall. “Homies have my back!” she jokingly texted me, recently. “You want me to print that?” “Sure!” This seems in striking contrast to the anti-immigrant reputation she still carries from when she mostly voted with Mansoor… but she says that was ONLY about keeping dangerous CRIMINALS out of the country, not an anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican thing at all.


Rohrabacher playing Warrior.

One thing that has always disgusted a lot of us about Dana Rohrabacher has been his frequent eagerness to send our young men and women out to die on the battlefield for foolish causes or none … especially bearing in mind that when he was called on to serve in Vietnam, he had a BAD HIP (although he still managed to surf regularly.)  This is popularly known as being a chickenhawk, and he manages it quite obnoxiously, frequently talking about himself as some kind of brave warrior for freedom.

On top of that, he’s always meddling in foreign affairs, conducting what I’ve called his own “rogue foreign policy.”  We still don’t have a full explanation of what he was doing meeting with Mujahadeens and other Afghans right before the 9/11 attacks;  and every time you turn around he’s involved in some other obscure rebellion in another part of the globe – Laotian tribesmen, was it, last?  I could go on and on, but his activities are loose-cannon and frivolous, and sometimes embarrass our nation.  I believe he still has a huge sign hung above his office reading “Fighting For Freedom While Having Fun!”  At least he did for years.

Wendy’s Marine daughter Emily

I like the contrast with Wendy Leece.  Her father was gravely wounded in World War II, and now her daughter, and son-in-law, are actually Marines.  Having skin in the game tends to make one less of a thoughtless warmonger. Wendy believes, as I think most of us do by now, this late in the long bloody history of humanity, in war as only a very last resort.

Which it most certainly was not in our nation’s tragic first aggressive war, the one against Iraq in 2003-10, which Dana cheerled so long and stridently.

Other Issues we wanna know about!

How about IMMIGRATION REFORM?  That’s been not only something Republicans REFUSE to get on board with (and I can see why – for the foreseeable future most Mexicans who become citizens are gonna vote Democrat!) but it’s been like Dana Rohrabacher’s most favoritest hobby-horse.  We literally had drinking games when we’d listen to Dana at debates – a nice big shot EACH TIME he would blame one of our country’s problems on “THE ILLEGALS.”  He could blame ANYTHING on them!

The kneejerk word on the right these days, whenever the possibility of reasonable reform with a pathway to citizenship comes up, is “AMNESTY.”  Supposedly anyone who wants to fix the system is REWARDING the horrific CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR of those who came across the border to DO WORK WE NEED THEM TO DO.

Well… I could go on and on, but … where does our girl Wendy stand?  She is EAGER for immigration reform.  She wants a quick path to citizenship for 1) all those who have been waiting in line doing things the right way;  2) kids brought here by their parents, AKA “Dream Kids”  3) families and 4) workers … well… sounds like everybody except criminals!

Dana’s OTHER hobby horse has been pooh-poohing climate change or global warming.  Along with James Inhofe, he is the Congress’ most accomplished climate change denier.  His website is a treasure trove of denialist pseudo-science, as befits a man who owes his political career to the Koch family. And also let me just say, while I’m thinking of it, Dana seems to surround himself with ONLY people who believe the same things as him, so when he’s confronted with the facts, his eyebrows raise themselves into little teepees of incredulity as he attempts sarcasm.

Dana’s position (and that of most deniers) seems to be

  1. There is no climate change or global warming.
  2. If there is, it’s not a problem.
  3. If it is a problem, then well at least it’s not caused by human activity.
  4. If it is caused by human activity, then there’s still nothing we can do about it.
  5. And if we do, it’ll be too expensive, cut into profits too much, so let’s just not.

Wendy?  Well, I say if Wendy is the lady who makes it through June to REALLY take on Dana, we need to call in someone like Debbie Cook or Mark Tabbert to give her a tutorial on this vital issue.  At this point she is “I have listened to both sides, they both make good points.”  This is not that kind of thing.

TORTUREDana thinks torture is funny.  Wendy agrees with Barack Obama and John McCain that our country should NEVER do it.

“SOCIAL ISSUES”  Some Democrats will be loath to vote for Wendy because she is well known as a “Christian Conservative” who is “pro-life.”  Well, none of us like abortion, we pro-choice folks would like to make them “safe, legal and RARE” as Clinton put it.  But I ask Wendy what I always ask “pro-life” people:  If you had your way, who would go to jail – doctors who perform abortions, women who get them, or both?  Hemming and hawing always ensues, as it did with Wendy.  She answers that she is very supportive of “crisis pregnancy centers,” adoption, and something called “Project Cuddle.”  Possibly all good things as far as I know.  Pushed a little further, she owns that “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and I’m not going to try to make abortions any harder to get.”  [Did I remember that right, Wendy?  Get back to me if not…]

[UPDATE – Wendy writes in: 

Yes, it is the law, I wouldn’t WORK to make abortions more difficult–I would make HELP more available to any woman who feels her pregnancy is a “crisis”. Yes, I believe life begins at conception.

 Project Cuddle (see FB) has saved hundreds of lives of babies who would have been killed or abandoned.  Many women are in a CRISIS and don’t know what to do.  Adoption is an option over abortion too. If, after visiting a pregnancy center, a women decides to go ahead with an abortion, that is her choice. But many women do not have the information to make a choice they will live with for the rest of their lives.]

I tell her, SOME “social conservatives” are so extreme that they’re even against contraception.  “Oh, that’s ridiculous,” she answers.  “I’ve used contraception myself.  And I think health plans should cover it.” 

[UPDATE – Wendy clarifies:

I think health plans should cover it if the employer or insurance company agrees. Here we go with freedom of conscience. If the employer is paying, he should have the CHOICE.

 Of course I had five kids and love them all so contraception didn’t work so hot for me! I am not sorry!]

That’s a relief.  GAY RIGHTS and MARRIAGE EQUALITY?  “My daughter has two fathers-in-law, and we all get along just fine!  I have nothing against it, but I think it should be decided state by state.”  [Again, do I have that right, Wendy?  I’m tired, it’s after midnight.]

UPDATE – Wendy clarifies:  “I do believe, as a Christian, that marriage is a religious sacrament, a promise, between a man and a woman.”
Great, that’s the standard euphemism meaning “It’s for us and not for you.”  You’re not making it easy for me here, Wendy…


Wendy needs $6000 by Friday to make it official – and she’s not taking any donations bigger than $100 because she doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone as Dana is to energy billionaires the Koch Brothers, whose late father basically started Dana’s career.  I said, “Really?  Don’t you think it’ll be hard to say no if somebody offered you a few thousand today?”  After a pause, she allowed … “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”  So come on, friends, help out Wendy! 

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.