Californians, especially in Sacramento, are familiar with businessman and property developer Doug Ose. From 1999 to 2005, he represented suburban Sacramento County in Congress and later in 2014 lost narrowly to that area’s current Congressman Ami Bera. The self-described center-right conservative then ran for governor in 2018, and last month, Ose launched his candidacy for this Fall’s recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The SactoPolitico will be offering Newsom and the other major recall candidates the same chance to answer questions in this space. Here is Ose’s conversation.
S/P: In 2014, you lost to Bera by just 1,500 votes out of more than 180,000 votes cast. What are your reflections on that race?
Doug Ose: First of all, it was 1,455 votes. [He laughs.] I’d rather lose by 100,000 votes than 1,455 votes. That’s because when you lose narrowly it could mean if I had walked just a few more precincts, I might have reversed things.
I was very disappointed at the outcome. My disappointment was not eased with the criminal litigation that followed with Bera’s family. I am not angry, but I am very disappointed I wasn’t able to pull that off. I thought I made a great case. I do think I talked about too many issues. In a campaign you can talk about too many issues, and that is a lesson I learned there.
S/P: With your new race for governor, it appears a steep hill to recall Newsom, and the Republican field is already crowded. What motivates you to make this longshot bid?
Ose: Let’s acknowledge the obvious. Running as a Republican in California is uphill. But one of the ironies here is that Newsom himself and the policies he has advocated give us a great opportunity to make a great case to the voters. My case is focused on getting kids back in school so parents can get back to work, and businesses can reopen. I mean it is really basic.
I think each of the known Republican candidates today has a geographic base from which they will draw. That is a way of saying each of us have geographic advantages and geographic disadvantages. So you just have to step up and meet them. I have done very well so far in the areas where I am well known. I have a distinct challenge south of the Tehachapi Mountains [north of Los Angeles], and I am going to address that.
S/P: It seems many California conservatives have a very exaggerated picture of the state. They often compare it to a third-world country with half the population wanting to flee. You clearly see room for improvement or you wouldn’t be running, but do you see things in such extreme terms?
Ose: Look at the data: 25% of Californians, in one way or another, live in poverty. Nearly a quarter of L.A. Unified students don’t graduate, and nearly half of the Class of 2019 didn’t qualify for admission to either the U.C. or Cal State University systems. Cost of housing is out of control. People cannot afford it. Those are the ingredients you find in third-world countries like Mexico or Venezuela or elsewhere, where the rich are very well taken care of and everyone else is just scrambling to make ends meet.
These are all failures of government, failures of public policy. The Democrats have been in charge for the last ten years. Newsom is now leading them. Nothing is getting better. So yeah, the charge is appropriate, and the Democrats are running around talking about things that have nothing to do with what I call kitchen-table issues.
[Editor: S/P found no confirmation for Mr. Ose’s 25% poverty figure. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent state rate (2019) is less than half this at 11.8%. This was above the national average of 10.5%. Ose stood by his figure, but did not provide his source when asked for one.]
S/P: My question was more about properly characterizing the degree of the problem. Mexico and Venezuela have much higher poverty rates than the U.S. So is it appropriate to claim California is comparable to those countries?
Ose: I will push back on that. If you are saying 25% is acceptable, you and I will not agree. That is just not acceptable.
S/P: It has been a little more than 100 days since the deadly Jan. 6 riot in D.C. Where were you when you heard what was happening, and what were your thoughts about the state of our democracy?
Ose: I was in Sacramento watching it on television. I want to be clear. I have no problem whatsoever with peacefully protesting. This includes on the plaza on the east side of the Capitol, the plaza on the west side of the Capitol, the area on the north side or the south side. That does not bother me. But when you break into the U.S. Capitol and violate direction from Capitol Hill police, you’ve crossed a line and gone too far.
That is not a recent position of mine. On Jan. 6 in the midst of that activity, I posted on Twitter that the police needed to go in and clear the building. What happened there was unacceptable, pure and simple. You do not get to break into the United States Capitol and walk away without any consequences.
I worked there. Every time I went into that building I had a sense of reverence, and when this activity occurred, it felt like somebody was just violating 200 years of U.S. traditions. Again, I have no problem when you set up protests outside the building, but when you violate direct directions from the Capitol Hill Police and break into the building, you’ve crossed the line.
[Editor: Mr. Ose referred twice above to the Jan. 6 riot as an “activity.” This seemed a soft term for what happened that day. Asked if he disagreed with those who call Jan. 6 an “insurrection” or “riot,” he did not provide a comment.]
S/P: Your campaign’s recent news release last week listed as your top issue fully re-opening schools. Given the rate of vaccination, most schools will likely be fully re-opened well before the recall election this fall, but what are other top longer term education issues you’d like to tackle as governor?
Ose: There’s the question of curriculum in public K through 12, as well as private K-12. That curriculum has been tweaked constantly over the last 15 years, to where children going into public K-12 today are getting a far different education than what you or I benefited from.
My point in bringing this up is we need to go back to a much more traditional American public school education that teaches children civics and math and history with a broad exposure to different subjects, rather than the mandated focus on very narrow subjects. I say this respectfully: ethnic studies have a place in the curriculum, but it’s not the only subject in history that needs to be addressed.
Two plus two – even today – still only equals four. It doesn’t equal five or equal three. Allowing children to move through K-12 with the belief that it is okay they get close in math will absolutely undermine their ability to thrive once they get out of school. I’ll give you a perfect example. If our children learn two plus two equals five, then we would have never seen NASA engineers flying a helicopter on the surface of Mars.
S/P: Have you been vaccinated and what advice do you have for others?
Ose: I have. I had Pfizer. With the first shot, I was fine and went right back to work. With the second shot, about three hours afterward, I was about flat on my back for 20 hours. But the next day I went back to work and was fine.
Everyone needs to make their own decision, but I’ll share this. My mom is 95. She grew up in the back hills of Tennessee. When the availability of vaccines came out, I had a long conversation with her. She point blank said to me, “I grew up in a community that was isolated from other communities. It was the 1920s when I was born. When diseases came through the region, different communities would be shunned or closed down until the disease burned itself out. So if you can get a vaccine for polio or measles or rubella or Covid, go get the vaccine,” she advised.
S/P: Regarding reopening businesses, you said in your news release, “Business owners are smart, adaptable, and know how to operate safely during the pandemic.” Does this mean, you support rescinding all restrictions and letting any business operate fairly laissez-faire, whether it is a nursing home, cruise line, or a mosh pit at a small indoor concert venue? Ose: Laissez-faire is going too far. The business owners who I interact with either as a consumer, an investor or an observer, they do not want to take on any undue liability. They understand that this Legislature in particular – even though they abdicated its responsibilities, turned over all its reins over to the governor and then fled the capitol – the business owners picked up on the fact that our state government they did not provide a safe harbor for any of the businesses to stay open.
However, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, and all of the big guys could afford to stay open, provide masks, and do the temperature checks at the door continued on as if nothing was happening. The little guys, the folks who make up the small-business job-creator element of our economy were in a terrible box. But just like the private schools that figured out how to get students and staff safely into class, these business owners are able to do the same but weren’t allowed to under the current rules.
Compare that to the public school unions and the union bosses who said, “Don’t you dare try to open our schools and put our teachers back in the classroom.” This became an opportunity for the union bosses to try to achieve their political agendas of Medicare for All and open borders and all of this other stuff. But business owners are not stupid. If they had been given the freedom to do so, we would never have experienced the kind of economic distress that we did. That’s a major reason why there needs to be change at the top and in the Legislature.
S/P: Your third top issue was homelessness. You noted, “We need to be able to compel treatment when necessary” and to “re-establish drug courts and expand mental health courts…” What do you say to critics who say this appears to criminalize distressed individuals with mental disorders or an addiction? Ose: These are the same people who have concocted the current scheme by which drug-addicted individuals and mentally ill individuals are suffering from exposure to the elements and being preyed upon by criminals in these homeless camps. They have no solutions to the drug addiction or mental illness problem.
What I am saying is “What you are doing is inhumane and borders on a violation of these people’s rights.” I am trying to get them treatment so that if they are drug addicted, they can get off the drugs and back to a productive life. If they are mentally ill, they can get counseling and get back to some semblance of a normal life.
If you want to accuse me of criminalizing a medical problem – a public health issue – because I insist the disease underlining that public health issue be addressed directly, then go ahead. I am happy to have that debate.
S/P: I think it may be the word “compel” that really leaps out in your news release. How can we compel someone to kick an addiction or address a mental disorder if they don’t desire to?
Ose: There are 4th Amendment limitations to what the government can compel a citizen to do. I get that, and I am respectful of that. We do have mental health courts, but we used to have the drug courts in our criminal justice system. We now have no drug courts by virtue of Prop 47, 57 and AB 109.
But ignoring the stranglehold of these drugs – whether its meth, fentanyl or some other opioid – or letting them walk away from available treatment is absolutely an abdication of good public policy. This is especially disappointing because we have the ability to make it so that people who are addicted to drugs are more concerned about the consequences of not getting treatment than continuing on with the failing policies we have today for dealing with drug addicted persons.
Similarly, Hotels for Homeless is an absolute disaster of a policy. The only thing it achieves is we provide hotel rooms for people who have some degree of drug addiction or mental illness without requiring them to get treatment. If you pick a drug addict off the street and put them into the Motel 6, and then you ask them “Can I get you over to drug treatment?”, they are going to tell you to go “pound sand.”
The people who are attacking me for this are usually the authors of the current system. They are drinking from the trough of all the funding that is dependent on maintaining the status quo. It doesn’t solve the problem. So let’s have that debate. Fine by me.
Anything else you would like to add?
Ose: Yes, I think the continuation of payment of unemployment benefits must stop to people whose claims cannot be verified with paperwork from an employer. That is a major problem up and down this state right now. When combined with federal payments that they are eligible for, they choose to stay home because they are making more money from these unemployment and federal benefits than they would by going back to work. We need these people back at work. The businesses where they work need their staffs back. They are all looking for people to come back to work.