California may be a Democratic Party bastion these days, but one outspoken conservative lawmaker wants to change that. Capital Public Radio’s Katie Orr took a ride with the tea party candidate hoping to become California’s next governor.
Knock on the door of Tim Donnelly’s brightly painted Liberty Express, and the candidate himself might open it for you.
This is no deluxe operation -- this is campaigning for governor on a budget. At the end of 2013, Donnelly’s campaign had just over $54,000 cash on-hand. Gov. Jerry Brown had nearly $17 million. Donnelly insists money isn’t everything.
"Ask Meg Whitman," Donnelly laughs, "She had $170 million. Jerry Brown beat her.”
Still, Donnelly knows he needs some money to keep his campaign going. So, while on the road to a fundraising event, Donnelly directs his staff to make a last minute detour to meet with donor Debra Massie. She says Donnelly represents her principals.
“He believes in freedom for people and liberty," Massie says. "He believes in less government. And he does not compromise.”
While getting a private tour of Donnelly’s bus, Massie asks for a moment of prayer.
It’s those kinds of personal connections Donnelly is counting on to propel him through the election. He isn’t likely to get much support from his party. Donnelly’s ultra-conservative reputation is a turn-off to many of his Republican colleagues. Assembly leader Connie Conway offers faint praise.
“Donnelly’s been out there for awhile. I think this has been important to him and he’s been working hard every day," Conway says. "And we’ll see if all that hard work pays off for him or not.”
Donnelly first gained attention as the founder of a Minuteman chapter that camped out at the California, Mexico border in protest of illegal immigration. Since his election to the Assembly in 2010 he’s railed against gun control laws, tax increases and government regulation. In recent months he’s generated buzz with a series of off-the-wall videos his campaign has produced.
In 2012, he was sentenced to three years probation after bringing a loaded gun into an airport.
“We need to make California the sexiest place to do business. Because right now the only thing sexy to me in the state of California is my wife," he says in one video.
Republican political consultant Mike Madrid says such tactics may get Donnelly past the primary, but not much further.
“I think he believes a lot of what he’s conveying and I think there’s probably a lot of truth in some of what he’s saying," Madrid says. "But I think the tone and the PR, which is a very big part of politics, the presentation, I don’t think, sits well with modern day California.”
Donnelly brushes off the lack of state and national party support.
“I don’t know of a single consultant in the state of California that could win an election here state-wide," Donnelly says. "Where are they? I mean, that would be my question to them. And, as far as the national party? Who cares? The national party is never going to help California.”
Donnelly found a like-minded crowd when his bus finally arrived at the Sutter County Republican Central Committee meeting. His speech was greeted with head nods and clapping. And at the end he received a standing ovation.
Physician Jay Grassell says Donnelly’s message of less government regulation resonated with him.
“This morning I sat in a meeting for two hours and we did nothing but talk about what regulators wanted us to do," Grassell says. "And it had nothing to do with patient care. And that’s why I support somebody like Tim.”
But Liesl Schmidt, a banker, worries Donnelly might be promising too much.
“When you’re talking about immigration and not giving amnesty and all of that I think that’s going to be really, really difficult to get approved in the state," Schmidt says. "So I think you have to pick your battles.”
And Donnelly is risking a lot on his battle to be governor. If he loses he’ll also be out of the Assembly. But he says what’s at stake for California is more important than whether he has a job next year.
VOTING RECORD - from votesmart.org
|Marital Status||Married to Roweena Donnelly|
|Children||Five sons, one grandson|
|Hometown||San Bernardino Mountains, CA|
|Education||BA in English from UC Irvine|
|Organizations||Founder, Minuteman Project, 2005-2006|
|Political Career||Assembly Member, California State Assembly, 2010-present|