Former county supervisor Brooks Firestone confirmed rumors that he’s seriously considering running in the next election against Lois Capps, the Democrat who’s represented Santa Barbara in Congress since 1998. Firestone, a moderate Republican who has feuded with the hard-line conservatives in his own party almost as vehemently as he’s crossed swords with Santa Barbara’s Democratic and environmental establishment, said he’s alarmed by the course the country is taking with President Barrack Obama in the White House and the Democrats in control.
“If you aren’t concerned about the debate over health care now taking place, then you’re simply not paying attention,” said Firestone. “I’m troubled by the lack of intellectual integrity, managerial integrity; and the total adherence to power groups.” Firestone said he recognizes the need for health insurance reform and is not troubled that the federal government could play a major role. But he questioned the power that unions and other power groups have exerted over the decision-making process.
Firestone said he hasn’t made up his mind about running, but that he hasn’t heard of anyone with as much experience as he has in government and in business displaying any interest in the race. Capps, he conceded, is all but unbeatable, having trounced all opponents without breaking a sweat since the district boundaries were redrawn just prior to the 2000 election. Capps’s district — the 23rd — hugs a thin stretch of coast along Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties where Democrats comprise a strong majority of registered voters. Critics of the re-districting refer to the 23rd as “the ribbon of shame.”
“It’s probably the worst idea I’ve had,” said Firestone. “Look, I’m 73, I’m retired, I’m singing, and I just finished a book of animal stories I’d been working on for 25 years. I don’t need this,” he said. “But I’m very concerned about where our country is headed.” Firestone said he’s been encouraged to run, though he declined to state by whom.
Should he decide to throw his hat into the ring, it will not be the first time Firestone has run for Congress. The first time was in 1998, when Lois Capps was running to fill the vacancy created when her husband Walter Capps — elected to Congress in 1996 — died in 1997. At that time, Firestone was running for the office of lieutenant governor of California. Republican bigwigs including former President Gerald Ford urged him to run for Congress instead, for the good of the party. But Firestone — who during his two terms in the State Assembly had garnered a reputation as a moderate — was slaughtered in the Congressional primary elections by fellow Republican Tom Bordonaro, an arch conservative.
“The right wing of the Republican Party rose up and killed me,” Firestone recalled. Bordonaro subsequently lost to Capps, about whom Firestone commented, “I’ve been going along with Lois as all right, no big deal, we can survive it, very liberal, not brilliant but okay, we can get along. But now I see what that means for the whole country. I’m worried.”
Following his defeat in 1998, Firestone ran for 3rd District Supervisor, campaigning as a “bridge builder” between the environmentalists and the agricultural interests, whose nonstop political battles defined the tone and tenor of county politics. Once in office, Firestone did little to reach out to the environmental side of the equation, however, and relations between the factions grew even more polarized under his watch. Well before Firestone’s second term expired, he held a press conference to announce that he intended to seek re-election in attempt to quell rumors that he’d run out of steam for the job. But shortly after that, he announced that he would not, in fact, be running after all.
This on-again, off-again posture hampered efforts by party stalwarts to wage a unified campaign behind one candidate. As a result, two conservative candidates ran against Doreen Farr, who was the liberal candidate embraced by enviros north and south of the Gaviota Tunnel. Farr won decisively; the candidate backed by Firestone, Dave Smyser, all but disappeared in the effort.