Get free daily email updates

Syndicate this site - RSS

Recent Posts

Blogger Menu

Click here to blog

Jon Fleischman

An Interview With Dan Schnur, Candidate For Secretary of State – Part 1

[Below is part one of a wide-ranging interview that I conducted with my longtime friend Dan Schnur, who is running for Secretary of State.  We discussed a variety of issues.  For me, the highlights included hearing about Dan’s start in politics on the Reagan campaign, his candidness on the need to have real ethical reforms in the State Capitol, and why he disagrees with Pete Peterson on the critical question of voter ID laws. — Flash]

Dan Schnur

Flash:         Dan, it’s great to have you here today sitting down with us in the international headquarters of the Flash Report here in Newport Beach, California. It’s an exciting occasion because you, who were one of the first people to ever write for the Flash Report, are now seeking the office of California Secretary of State. We’re very excited to sit down with you and chat about it. Why don’t we start off this interview with you perhaps sharing with our readers/listeners how you got involved in politics?

DS:   It goes back a long time. I was 20 years old and I wanted to work for Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign. I didn’t know what an internship was and it never occurred to me that I could get involved in my own community. So, I got in my car and I drove from my home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Washington D.C. with all my clothes and my typewriter in the backseat. I showed up at the Reagan/Bush headquarters two days later and told them I wanted to help. And that’s where it all started.

Flash:         How did you end up coming out to California?

DS:   In the Spring of 1990, I got a call from a friend of mine in Governor Deukmejian’s office with whom I’d worked on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign. She asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for a job as the communication’s director for the California Republican Party. I took the job, drove 3000 miles in two-and-a-half days, and slept on my Aunt Joanie’s pull out couch in Santa Monica for the next six months until Pete Wilson was elected governor. Then I joined his administration in Sacramento and was proud to work for him for the next several years.

Flash:         After several years working with Governor Wilson and other Republican candidates, you left politics to work as an educator. While you’re on leave right now, why don’t you share with our leaders/watchers/listeners, what it is you do at USC?

DS:   I taught at USC as an adjunct for several years. And then in 2008 they asked if I would be interested in the position of director of their Institute of Politics.  My job at USC is to get young people more involved and more interested and more motivated to participate in politics and public service. It’s the best job in the world.

Flash:         Of course in the middle of this period of time while you were there you had a little call for public service that came across right? So why don’t you tell everybody about the leave that you took and what you did.

DS:   Governor Schwarzenegger asked me to serve as the chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s chief political ewatchdog. The previous chairman, Ross Johnson, was dealing with some health problems and was forced to step down. So, the governor asked if I’d be willing to fill the remainder of Ross’ term. I took a leave of absence from USC and moved back to Sacramento and went to work in state government for the first time in 16 years.

Flash:         And of course this little time that you spent in Sacramento probably plays a key role in the process that was to come—in deciding about this opportunity to run for secretary of state. Share with us.

DS:   When I went back to Sacramento to work in state government, for the first time in all those years, I have to admit that I was appalled by what I saw. I’m not naive. I’ve worked in politics for a lot of years. I’ve always understood that fundraising was a necessary part of politics. But what had changed since I had been in Sacramento in the early 1990’s was how pervasive and how never-ending and how all-encompassing the fundraising race had become. Every breakfast, every lunch, and every evening had become a fundraising opportunity for legislators of both parties. And, I watched those legislators participate in what was essentially a relay race. They’d sprint off the floor of the Assembly or Senate, across L Street in downtown Sacramento to the closest bar or restaurant for a fundraiser, they’d pick up a stack of special interest donations, and sprint back across the street to vote on those bills before the ink on the checks was even dry.

What I decided, by the time my term at the FPPC had ended, is that after having worked for other types of political reform over the years I wanted to develop some type of political fundraising reform that, while not abridging the First Amendment rights of citizens to contribute to candidates of their choice, would restore some sanity to what had become an out of control process.

Flash:         So then you return back kind of a little bit—if I can use my own word—a little disgusted with what had happened to the process. Frankly both parties had all become obsessed with the need for cash. I can add as kind of an editorial statement, we have massive districts. It takes a lot of money to campaign. So, I understand it. It’s just…I can understand where it seems a bit unseemly. That might be an understatement for the way that it’s happening now. Of course it adds for all of this potential of corruption and other things, or the reality as we’ve seen lately of corruption. So after you were done at the FPPC somewhere in there you made a decision to become what we used to call a decline-to-state voter. Now the expression No Party Preference voter I think is the new phraseology for it.

DS:   When I came back from Sacramento, having witnessed how degraded and polluted the process had become, I made two decisions. The first was to develop a type of political fundraising reform that would allow citizens to continue to exercise their First Amendment rights but would restore some sanity to an out-of-control system. The second decision was to change my party registration from Republican to No Party Preference. This was not to repudiate the party, but because I believe the only way to move forward credibly with this reform effort…

Flash:         Was not tied to one party of the other.

DS:   Precisely. As anyone who is involved with Proposition 32 would tell you, when one side believes that the other is pursuing political reform for partisan purposes it becomes much, much harder to make that reform happen. So, I believed that when I developed this reform agenda I would need to offer it from outside the parameters of either of the two major parties.

Flash:         Right. And of course one of the things you’re finding is that really you almost have to offer your proposal external to the political process in Sacramento itself.

DS:   That’s exactly right.

Flash:         It’s like…and we’ll talk about your proposal, but it’s kind of like walking into a bar and telling everybody hey, let’s stop drinking. You know, you become very quickly the most unpopular guy in the room—probably in this case from both political party’s perspective, at least the insiders in Sacramento.

So we’ve kind of talked around it a little bit, but in a nutshell your proposal is…?

DS:   I have proposed a ban on fundraising while the California State Legislature is in session. I believe that if we can weaken the link between political giving and government action, we can begin to repair a corrupt political system that has developed in Sacramento. I don’t care if a legislator is the most meticulous record keeper in the world, if he’s given a very sizeable campaign contribution six months before a key vote, it simply can’t have the same visceral and emotional impact as if he’s given the same check the night before or the morning of that same vote.

Flash:         Sure.

DS:   And if every breakfast, every lunch, and every evening in Sacramento has become a fundraising opportunity for politicians from both parties, a ban on fundraising during session gives those members five or six hours back every day to do the jobs we actually elected them to do.

Flash:         Sure.

DS:   Like I said, I’m not naive. I know that fundraising is a necessary part of politics, but governing is a necessary part of politics too and you shouldn’t be able to do both at the same time.

Flash: There are two Republican candidates running for this office. Pete Peterson, who works at Pepperdine University, and Roy Allmond, who works in the Secretary of State’s office. Peterson opposes the use of photo IDs for the purpose of protecting against voter fraud. What is your position on this issue?

DS: The facts simply don’t support Pete on this. The courts have made it very clear that a state is entitled to require voters to provide photo identification at the polls, as long as the state also provides transportation and other types of assistance to eligible citizens who are not in a position to acquire that identification without help. For example, an older voter who longer drives or an individual struggling to make ends meet might need a helping hand in order to acquire that ID. If you are a citizen who is eligible to vote, it would be my responsibility as Secretary of State to make sure that you have that help.

[Tomorrow you can read Part Two of my interview with Dan Schnur.  If you want to check out more about Dan’s candidacy, check his campaign website here.]