The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 6, 2011
Howard Ahmanson, now a conservative Democrat, holds forth

Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., has been the subject of many articles over the years, including this one. He also is fairly reclusive, though he did tell Kathleen Parker in this 2009 column about his decision to quit the Republican Party.

Knowing that Ahmanson has a deep distrust of redevelopment, as described in this column, The Swarm posed a few questions to him, and he answers in writing.

Q: As I understand it, you became interested in politics and government because of an experience with redevelopment. Please provide me a few details about that project, including when it happened, and where.

A: In 1978 or approximately, the City of Santa Ana decided that the Orange County Rescue Mission, which was doing an effective work with the homeless, was a "blight" in every sense of the word, and determined to use the power of government to run it out of town. As a young Christian who was struggling to understand what Christ's commands concerning the poor meant, I was outraged to find that government power could exclude Christian service to the poor from a community. The poor could be considered to be "blight" by their very existence, if you want to look at it that way!

Q: What is your view of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to abolish new redevelopment projects?

A: I think it is a marvelous opportunity for both social justice and limited government. Where is the Tea Party on this? Why are they not in the streets applauding?

Now I have to say that there are a few things like prettying up town centers with brick sidewalks and gas lamps and other cute stuff that I do like. But I think there are other vehicles to do that, like Business Improvement Districts. I like Old Pasadena and San Diego's Gaslamp, though I'm afraid of chain restaurants and stores driving out local business in those places - that's another issue.

Q: What is your assessment of your impact and that of the Allied Business PAC on the GOP in the 90s?

A: A very strong and good impact. Our agenda was a broad one of social conservatism and economic prosperity, unlike today's Republican orthodoxy, which seems to be confined to NTSEBREE (No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever) which is very shallow. The high water mark, the Pickett's Charge, was in January of '96 when we trimmed the powers of the Speaker and installed Curt Pringle in the office. But the charge was doomed. Pete Wilson, whom we could not control, had made the fatal decision (after a pro-immigrant history) to throw his weight behind Proposition 187 in 1994. This alienated the Latinos, a culture in which respect and signs of respect are very important.

By the way, the strictly Religious Right has never been particularly anti-immigrant. Most immigrants are conservative on the social issues. Once the Latinos had been alienated, the locus of social conservatism in California shifted from the Republican Party to the Latino and black sections of the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party became basically an ethnic-minority party, irrelevant on a statewide level.

Q: Have you called or communicated with any of the politicians you helped elect to ask them to support Gov. Brown's proposal to abolish new redevelopment projects?

A: We are looking at ways to do that.

Q: What caused you to quit the Republican Party?

A: They decided to make their sole litmus test of orthodoxy NTSEBREE, as I said above. I can't accept that. I'd like to see a much higher gasoline or carbon tax, (not cap and trade though) a state income tax less progressive and less dependent on the wealthy for income, and a higher tax on luxury items, for example. I also think either the two-thirds vote for tax raises should be done away with, or if not, that ballot initiatives that set budgeting priorities, like Prop 98, should require a two-thirds majority for passage. And make that retroactive!

Q: Are you a registered Democrat and for whom did you vote for governor?

A: I am a registered Democrat. However, I voted for Meg Whitman. The reason is that the leadership of my party is on the wrong side on social issues. And the judges that Brown would appoint are likely to be on the wrong side of constitutional issues. A large section of my party, the people of color, as I've said above, is socially conservative and will vote that way on ballot initiatives, but they won't cross party lines in partisan elections. I will. I'm not really very liberal even now; I don't support highly progressive taxation, and I also don't believe in NESEBREE (No Entitlement Shall Ever Be Reduced Ever Ever), which is as bad as NTSEBREE or worse. I am very concerned about public sector unions, but I'm not particularly hostile to private sector unions.


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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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