The newest spot for Republicans to wheel and deal this election season used to be a Ralph Lauren store in the Galleria shopping mall on upper State Street. Sitting in his campaign headquarters beneath a portrait of his movie-star father, Robert Mitchum, congressional candidate Chris Mitchum said his new office proves the economy needs help. “Out of business,” said Mitchum of the luxury brand’s previous shop. “There was nobody to rent it. This is what is happening to our country.”
Opening the doors to the public for the first time Friday afternoon, Mitchum, 70, was surrounded by a small group of Republicans — and a self-identified Independent — who ate sushi and drank wine to celebrate the start of campaign season. Mitchum is running against incumbent Lois Capps for California’s 24th Congressional District, and much of the room was draped with red, white, and blue campaign signs. On either side of the entryway to his desk space were two flags — a California and an American — strategically placed just as they are in congressional offices all over Washington.
Mitchum falls into the camp of movie actors who jumped into politics. And perhaps his ability to memorize scripts comes in handy when speaking with reporters. At the start of our 30-minute conversation, he stuck to his talking points, emphasizing the structure of a constitutional republic and the opportunity for success for all. “Square pegs don’t fit into round holes,” he said and called the current government “top heavy” and “almost tyrannical.”
Though he said little about Capps — who has held the House seat for 16 years, a point her opponents increasingly stress — Mitchum did say he could not think of one issue where the two saw eye to eye. He touched on everything from the Israel-Palestine crisis to fracking to bond measures to immigrant children to sexual assaults on college campuses.
Mitchum is unequivocally conservative. Obama has “absolutely” not been doing enough to help the Israelis, Mitchum said, and the United States should give them whatever they ask for. “What we don’t need to do is send tens of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid into Hamas.” And he feigns no political correctness. “You don’t sit there and try to help your enemy against your friend,” he said.
Mitchum also talked about energy and said that for areas rich in oil and gas, drilling means more jobs and paying down debt. “All you have to do is look at North Dakota and Texas. There’s about 2 percent unemployment,” he noted. Though he claims to support Senate Bill 4 — which will put in place safeguards to regulate fracking in California — he frankly opposes Measure P, which would ban fracking and acidizing on unincorporated land in Santa Barbara County. Though it would not close down existing operations immediately, the ban could require industry officials to obtain a permit from the county to repair pipes on existing operations. “It will put companies out of business,” he argued and said 18,000 people in the county depend on oil companies for a living while another $10 million in royalties goes to public schools and fire departments. “Gone,” he repeated.
Speaking of money for schools, Mitchum also described himself as an “anti-tax” guy and said the problem with bond measures — like the $288 million bond SBCC placed on the November ballot — is that college students vote for them but skip town a few years later, leaving property owners like himself with the bills.
And what about immigrant children? “Send them home,” Mitchum said. “Absolutely.” He could not say to what extent the problem exists in the area but added it’s going to be a problem everywhere. “They are flying them into Massachusetts, for God’s sakes.”
Calling Obamacare a disaster, Mitchum said there are specific things that could be done to get the cost down: major court reform on doctor malpractice and opening up the state borders to increase competition. “We have the best health care in the world. The problem was that it was too expensive,” said Mitchum, and he proposed to get people involved in the process, perhaps through a system that utilizes a health-care savings account.
Heading his campaign is Tab Berg, who founded Tab Communications in 2001 and has managed a number of political and public relations campaigns. According to Berg’s website, his clients have included a number of California Republicans including San Luis Obispo Supervisor Debbie Arnold, Representative Brian Bilbray, and Representative Paul Cook. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff for two state legislators.
With congressional politics in the Central Coast as predictable as the weather, Berg and Mitchum have a lot of work ahead of them. And by the end of June, Capps had raised almost 10 times the money — with more than $1.6 million in her campaign piggy bank. It appears Capps can wheel and deal too.