Ashburn: GOP Needs Freedom Focus


SEPT. 21, 2010


A recurring question during a meeting last week with Sen. Roy Ashburn was did he leave the Republican Party or did it leave him? Ashburn thinks that what he once knew as “the Freedom Party” has greatly changed, but is salvageable.

I met with Ashburn last week and talked at length about his career in politics, what’s transpired during the past year, as well as what’s next for the termed-out politician. He may be at the end of his legislative career, but he’s certainly not planning on retiring.

Currently representing Senate district 18 from Bakersfield, Ashburn served first for 12 years as a county supervisor, six years in the Assembly, and eight more years in the Senate. Before becoming an elected representative, during the 1980’s, Ashburn worked for a congressman.

In November he will be termed out, and frankly he does not have a job.

But that does not mean he doesn’t have prospects or a list of interesting ideas for his future.

At the top of that list is finishing his book. Ashburn was reluctant to discuss too much of the book, but gave a teaser indicating that it would include the story of his difficult journey to becoming openly gay, the complicated double life he found himself living, as well as his unwavering conservatism and love of politics and public service.

Ashburn’s openness and honesty about the private part of his life may now seem less important than the quality of man he wants people to see and strives to be, as well as his level of sincerity about public service.

But that wasn’t the case six months ago, on the day he described, “the day I thought my life was over.” Ashburn said, “I’d been drinking too much, and then I was caught driving drunk, and arrested…” Ashburn was charged with driving under the influence and driving with a blood alcohol level higher than .08 percent – both misdemeanors – after leaving a downtown Sacramento gay nightclub.

But Ashburn said that the night of the arrest was a turning point for him; albeit difficult at times, life is only getting better.

Ashburn’s voting record is indicative of a mostly fiscal conservative, except for his vote last year for a record tax increase during the budget talks, to the dismay of GOP colleagues. He joined five other Republicans – Senators Dave Cogdill and Abel Maldonado, and Assemblymen Anthony Adams, Roger Niello and Mike Villines – for the vote that eventually broke the budget stalemate.

Ashburn voted “no” on nearly all legislative attempts to expand government. In the last few years, Ashburn has voted “no” on passing animal rights bills, environmental and global warming legislation, most legislation that would result in tax increases, government health-care bills, nanny state laws, expansion of welfare, and Harvey Milk day.

However, Ashburn voted “yes” on the state’s water bond measure, as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water management amendments. While he said that the overreach of government is overbearing, state government has failed to deal with the need to expand water services commensurately with population growth in the state. “It’s not perfect, but something has to get started on the water issue,” said Ashburn. “Water, electricity, lights, heating and cooling – providing these services is the role of government, but we’re not doing a very good job of it. We used to be a self-sufficient state – now I am concerned that even our food supply will go the same way as other product and services – to foreign sources.”

Critical of “environmentalists who are responsible for cutting off the water supply in the state,” Ashburn said “endangered critters and plants take precedence before humans with environmentalists.” Even in his district, Ashburn said “Solar and wind are a growing industry and power sources. But environmentalists not only didn’t like the wires that carry the power, they stopped a massive solar project to save a rodent instead.”

Ashburn voiced his concern over the smelt controversy, which in his opinion, has all but stopped Delta water from irrigating central valley farmland, and of how the state has been “irresponsible with allowing so much of our water to be just dumped into the Ocean.”

Ashburn was critical of the influence special interests have on politics, but said he has conflicting views on term limits. “If a legislator’s interest is with his own district, that’s good, but if the interest is aligned with special interests and only acquiring the next job, then term limits are a good thing,” said Ashburn, who is termed out. “We’ve tangled ourselves like a pretzel. Until we deal with the laws and regulations of special interest, nothing will change,” said Ashburn.

He described himself as a Reagan Republican and said a return to “courage and will” from our politicians is overdue. “I am so frustrated by the money in politics. So much time is taken chasing dollars,” said Ashburn.

And Ashburn said he is opposed to public campaign financing through taxes, because, “My involuntary payment to government should not be used against me.”

I’ve led a complicated and interesting life,” said Ashburn. “My interest in politics developed when I was eight years old. Even with this year’s big changes, Ashburn said, “I think I still have a lot to offer.”

When talking about his adult children and grandkids, Ashburn grew concerned. “We live in perilous times. So much is riding on this next election,” he said. “We fear our government. It’s too big, too powerful and takes too much of our money. It’s why the Tea Party candidates are winning. Our government is unresponsive and arrogant with spending. There is no regard for those who will be obligated to pay back the debt being created today,” Ashburn said.

He said that he longed for the Republican Party once known as “the Freedom Party,” and said he would continue to work in public service toward that end. “Maybe I’ll become a consultant, and I’d like to teach public policy on the college level,” said Ashburn.

But what’s driving Ashburn in part, is gay rights. “Gay rights are for everyone – except if you are a gay Republican,” he said. “My party should be leading on the core values of who they are,” said Ashburn. “We need to continue to champion, openness, accountability, and in a bi-partisanship way, for everyone.”

Currently, Ashburn said he is the only openly gay elected state level Republican in the country, and wants to use this unique status to “encourage Republicans to get re-focused back to the Republican issues of limited government, maximum individual independence, and keeping government from prying into the private lives of its citizens. It used to be the freedom party,” said Ashburn. “I didn’t leave the party, but I’d like it back.”

Photo of Sen. Ashburn & the Governor at Olliver Middle School

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  1. Fred Mangels
    Fred Mangels 22 September, 2010, 12:18

    “Water, electricity, lights, heating and cooling – providing these services is the role of government, but we’re not doing a very good job of it….”.

    Ashburn sounds pretty good except for the excerpt I’ve pasted above. I hardly think government’s role is providing water, electricity and lights.

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