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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 11:19 am | Overcast 61º


Harris Sherline: Should Firestone Run Against Capps?

Yes, if for no other reason than he truly believes in public service — but there are considerations he must weigh first

Will Brooks Firestone step into the breach and run for public office one more time? Can he? Should he?

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents a congressional district that was gerrymandered specifically to favor her election. She has not served the community at large well, instead concentrating her efforts on behalf of an entrenched liberal constituency that has managed to keep her in office, notwithstanding breaking her promise to serve no more than three terms.

But enough about Capps. This is really about Firestone.

My initial reaction to the news that he may be thinking about running against Capps is that I wish he would. My reasons are purely selfish — in the sense that I believe he would be a far more evenhanded and productive representative of the people in California’s 23rd Congressional District.

After two terms in the Legislature and one as Santa Barbara County’s 3rd District supervisor, he has nothing to prove. His record clearly demonstrates that his reasons for holding public office have never been about personal gain or advantage. Firestone is one of the few people who truly believe in public service. Contrary to many of the politicians who hold office today, he has never sought to take advantage of his position for his personal benefit.

During his time as a member of the Assembly, Firestone accomplished something that was badly needed and long overdue at the time when he introduced a resolution requiring the Assembly Rules Committee to contract with a recognized private accounting firm to conduct a performance audit of the Legislature’s lower house. The measure was adopted by the Assembly on a 61-5 vote.

When Firestone left the Legislature in 1998, he said, “When I first ran for the Assembly in 1994, I set two very simple goals: to begin to make government run like a business and to start reforming education. ... In three years, California has made great progress in both areas, and I have played a material role in that progress. I feel I have done what I set out to do; now it’s time to give others a chance.”

Now, once again, the siren call of public service is beckoning Firestone — and I can understand why, at this stage of his life, he might prefer not to respond. For one thing, the sheer demands on the time of officeholders can be overwhelming. Everyone wants to get to them for something, seeking favors or special privileges, making public appearances, raising money, often forgoing one’s personal needs to meet the needs of constituents. It requires enormous effort and focus.

There’s also the matter of cost. At the time Firestone ran for the Board of Supervisors, as with all candidates, he asked for contributions from his supporters. Unfortunately, as I recall, the financial support he received fell far short of the cost and he was forced to spend about $250,000 of his own money on his campaign. I suspect that has to be on his mind at this point as he thinks about possibly mounting a new campaign that is bound to cost a great deal more than running for county supervisor, especially against an incumbent who already has more than $473,000 in her campaign account.

Another consideration Firestone certainly will weigh, in addition to his age and being at a point in his life when he probably thought he would be free of significant responsibility, is the stress of serving 3,000 miles away and having to travel back and forth to his district. As a county supervisor, he could be home most nights and weekends. In Washington, D.C., he will be away from our Valley and the district most of the time for two years.

Finally, having had a pacemaker implanted in 2008, I’m sure the question of Firestone’s health is bound to be an important consideration in evaluating his options.

On the other side of the equation is Firestone’s drive to serve his community. He is clearly qualified, not just politically speaking but also because of his extensive and successful business background. He is thoughtful, evenhanded and knowledgeable.

Firestone does his homework, works well with others who have a different point of view and he believes in limiting government. The Republicans couldn’t ask for a better candidate.

Finally, as one who also has held positions of responsibility and reached retirement age, I can understand the appeal of getting back into the action one last time.

If Scott Brown can win a Senate seat in Massachusetts — an overwhelmingly liberal state — surely Firestone can win in California’s 23rd District.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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