26th District Congressional Race: An Interview with Jeff Gorell
By Tim Pompey
In a tight race for the Congressional seat for the 26th District (which covers most of Ventura County), Jeff Gorell, current California State Assemblyman for the 44th District, is running against incumbent Julia Brownley.
Gorell has lived and worked in Ventura County as a businessman, Navy veteran, attorney, and Assembly representative. Gorell made news in 2011 for being the first California legislator called to active duty since WWII. He served for a year in Afghanistan. Elected initially in 2010 as a State Assemblyman for the 37th district, he ran for re-election in 2012 in the newly mapped 44th State Assembly District.
Previously, Gorell was co-owner of a regional public affairs firm, Paladin Principle LLC, based in Ventura County. In addition to his military service, he has also been an assistant district attorney and taught undergraduate and graduate level politics and public policy as an adjunct professor at California Lutheran University.
Politically, Gorell identifies himself as a moderate pro-choice Republican, holding to what he described as the traditional values of the Republican party as espoused by such presidents as Lincoln, (Teddy) Roosevelt, and Reagan.
Gorell is also known for taking some independent political stands, particularly when it comes to immigration. “I think it’s consistent with Republican principles to be champions on immigration reform,” he said, “and I think if immigration reform is going to be addressed in a meaningful way, it requires people in Washington, D.C. who have a history of pushing back on their own parties.”
He compares his local background and experience with Brownley’s. “I just don’t think that she’s the champion that this particular community needs,” he stated, “particularly facing the challenges that we’re facing, which are the economy and immigration.”
Talking about his own leadership style, he believes his approach is based less on partisan politics and more on what works for his district and his constituents. “You’ve got to understand that my leadership skills were not developed in the halls of politics,” he said. “My leadership skills were developed in the military and in the combat zone.”
For his bipartisan efforts, Gorell refers to his recent rating by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for open government. Gorell claims that he was listed as the second most bipartisan member in the California State Assembly. “I reach across the aisle,” said the assemblyman. “I get Democrats to support my bills, and I reach across the aisle and I support Democrat’s bills.” He refers to examples of this, including his backing of Democratic State Senator Fran Pavley’s bill on fracking in California and his vote for state-funded preschool.
Though he does have extensive experience in public affairs, he refutes the claim that he was ever a lobbyist, calling it “a complete and utter lie.” He explains that when he was in law school, he worked as the communications director for the California Manufacturer’s Association. “They had seven lobbyists, and they did what lobbyists do—meet with legislators,” he said, adding that, “There are laws that require people to register to lobby. I just worked in that environment as a PR guy.”
Gorell sums up his key issues as a candidate: immigration reform, stronger economic development, revamping the Veteran’s Administration, protecting Social Security and Medicare, restructuring the tax code to make it simpler and fairer, maintaining strong national security, and limiting the power of the government in order to protect privacy and liberty.
He is not a strong supporter of the Affordable Health Care Act. “I’ve opposed the AHCA since it came out because of the volumes of calls that came into my office by people that opposed it, and most of my constituents opposed it,” he maintained. He doesn’t mind a few of the components such as protection for insured customers with preexisting conditions, but he disagrees with the current model and thinks there are better ways to improve health care. “I think it’s a broken model,” he asserted. “I thought that when it was first created. Nevertheless, I want to be a constructive member on fixing the broken problems with Obamacare and preserving the components that I think make sense to people.”
In terms of campaign funding and the Supreme Court’s United Citizens decision, he claims that it’s a problem caused by our own federal constitution and the landmark decision in the 1976 case of Buckley vs. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court struck down on First Amendment grounds several provisions in the 1974 Amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The most prominent portions of the case struck down limits on spending in campaigns but upheld the provision limiting the size of individual contributions.
“We’ve struggled since the inception of our country to try to balance out first amendment rights and speech,” said Gorell. “I’m not defending Citizens United, but it’s an ongoing effort of the Supreme Court to balance this out. I believe that the decision they made couldn’t have come out any different.”
Asked about what he’s observed as a new congressional candidate, he noted the size of the district he had to cover and his nonstop schedule to meet his constituents. “The visibility of a congressional race is significantly higher,” he said.
He also notes the importance that politicians and other entities place on controlling Congress. “We’re talking about trillions of dollars,” he explained, “and the decisions that Congress makes, so the control of Congress seemingly trumps the interest of supporting the right candidate. That’s why you see all these ads and why all the negativity around Congressional campaigns is heightened.”
Gorell hopes that voters will consider his bipartisan track record in the State Assembly and his experience in Ventura County as a businessman, veteran, and state representative. He also hopes that voters will understand his determination to be a different kind of Republican. As he summed up: “Taking the spirit and the reputation that I’ve earned in Sacramento, I want to go back to D.C. with that same spirit to get things done and work on the issues that are most important to this district.”