The citizen-politician is as much a staple of republican mythology as the citizen-soldier.
In our system, when the nation is in crisis, an ordinary person can step forward
and, with the support of his neighbors,
accomplish extraordinary things. In the movies, this myth is presented through stories like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
[Watch it online for free
]But in real life, we get the more complicated story of Tim Donnelly, who took on the entire political system of California.
Sadly, Donnelly didn’t win the victory. But his story isn’t over yet. And his political journey, as told in his new book Patriot Not Politician
, is something every American needs to read and study.
Donnelly was just a small business owner in San Bernardino, California, supporting a wife and five children when his journey began
. In November 2004, his local paper carried a story about forty illegal aliens living in a shipping container in below-freezing weather in the mountains. The inhuman conditions in which they lived and worked enabled a contractor to outbid everyone else for a contract to cut down trees around power lines belonging to the local public utility company. Five government agencies looked into the matter but no one was charged: neither the contractor, not the utility company officials, nor the illegal aliens.
Donnelly wondered why so many government agents were collecting salaries when they were unwilling to enforce the law. He might also have wondered why the most flowery humanitarian
rhetoric seems to align so often with the most cynical exploitation of cheap labor.
Donnelly heard about the Minuteman Project
, and when it began operations in Arizona
in April 2005,
he was there. On patrol, he came across trees covered with women’s underwear
. A local woman explained the phenomenon:
There are nights when I hear what at first sounds like the howling of a pack of coyotes. But after a moment it becomes clear that it is a woman screaming as she is being raped. I will never forget the haunting, bone-chilling sound of those cries for the rest of my life.
This goes on, night after night, with the blessing of our compassionate public officials.
These anecdotes show Tim Donnelly, while an American patriot, is also deeply concerned about the abuses inflicted upon illegal immigrants. But he discovered such concern is not reciprocated
. When a woman journalist visited the Arizona border to interview him for the Mexican press, he asked her whether she did not feel any sympathy for the American taxpayers—many of whom cannot afford medical insurance o
r good schools for their children—being forced to provide free medical care,
education and other services
to her compatriots who were in America illegally. The woman matter-of-factly responded: “No. They are Americans. I am not American.
Donnelly spent a month guarding the border in Arizona, and was later appointed to lead the first Minuteman group in California. In the spring of 2006, with Mexican drug cartels offering a $50,000 bounty for the murder of Minuteman leaders, his group resolved upon a new strategy: extending the existing border fence, daring the government to stop them. Over 200 enthusiastic participants showed up, some volunteering their own barbed wire, stakes and tools. Film crews appeared from Fox, CNN and even Al Jazeera.
Only a quarter mile of border fencing was built that day, but 11 news outlets covered it. One nine-minute piece on CNN with Anderson Cooper was broadcast repeatedly.[Minutemen build fence along southern border
, Anderson Cooper, CNN 360, May 1, 2006] A few weeks later, the Secure Fence Act of 2006
was signed into law by a reluctant George W. Bush.
Three years after these events, the State Assemblyman representing Donnelly’s district decided not to run for reelection. In exchange for a $140K position on the California Parole Board, he had broken an electoral promise never to vote for a tax increase and no longer stood a chance with the voters. Donnelly decided to run for the seat, using the slogan “Patriot, Not Politician,” and highlighting his record as leader of the California Minutemen.
At the endorsement committee meeting, he delivered a brief pitch on why he was the soundest candidate based on the principles announced on the group’s website. He quickly learned that his audience had no interest in this; they only wanted to know how much money he had raised, what endorsements he had lined up, and what political consultants
he was working with.
Leaving the building, someone took pity on him and gave him a consultant
’s number. The next day he called the man, who asked how much money he had raised. When Donnelly said he had $1000 in the bank, the consultant hung up on him.
In April, Donnelly attended the one endorsement convention where he thought he had a shot. There he got a look at his Republican Establishment rival, a gay man with orange hair and a “Pepsodent smile.” When the man took the stage, the first words out of his mouth were: “I just want to thank you for your endorsement.” Donnelly realized the fix was already in.
But like Mr. Smith, Donnelly kept going, and kept speaking out. At one campaign event, a schoolteacher rose to ask a question about illegal immigration. She had watched the attitude of her students
toward America change over the decades—not for the better. Establishment guy told her: “I am going to go to Sacramento and represent your values.” The woman appeared to have no idea what he meant.
When it was Donnelly’s turn, an audience member asked him: “You’re a candidate for the same seat; what do you think of this lady’s question?” Donnelly said: “I lived on the border for 30 days. I faced off against the drug cartels. If you elect me to the California State Assembly, I will face off against those who have incentivized and rewarded illegal immigration using our tax dollars and our precious resources to do so.”
He got a standing ovation.
Donnelly and his small team pounded the pavements and worked the phone banks, experimenting with a variety of pitches: “Tim Donnelly is a businessman, a Christian, a Patriot, a constitutionalist.” Their success rate lingered around 25%.
At the time, Arizona’s SB 1070
was filling the headlines: a bill to allow police to inquire about a person’s legal status in the course of a lawful stop if
the person’s behavior and circumstances provided reasonable grounds for suspicion. In a moment of inspiration, one of Donnelly’s team tried leading off with: Tim Donnelly will bring the Arizona law to California
. Favorable responses leapt to 80%
On June 8, 2010, Donnelly defeated the Establishment candidate in the Republican primary by a handful of votes. Suddenly the party began treating him with respect. They agreed to put up $10,000 for a ballot statement, but only if he removed the words “illegal alien.” He told them to keep their money. He got the check anyway, along with an explanation that the word change had merely been a “suggestion.”
That November, Donnelly handily beat his Democratic rival in the general election and, like a latter-day Jefferson Smith,
went to Sacramento for a crash course in how politics actually works. He quickly learned that the Republican Party’s official platform is prolefeed
that no one on the inside takes seriously. The heart of American politics is an informal alliance of elected officials with wealthy special interests: the officials agree to do the special interests’ bidding in exchange for money to secure their own reelection.
And most of the time, it works. Whenever a Tim Donnelly slips through the cracks, all the players join together as one to denounce him as a dangerous extremist. California’s reaction to Donnelly in many ways presaged the national reaction to the rise of Donald Trump.
Among Donnelly’s first actions in office: to introduce bill AB26, his version of the Arizona law.
Testifying in favor were the relatives of Californians killed by illegal aliens. The Democrats managed to shut up one bereaved father after just two minutes, but intervention by a quick-thinking Republican allowed him to finish his remarks. Another witness recounted how his wife had been run over by a drunk-driving illegal alien. He then turned to his sons, aged 8 and 10, and said: “Boys, remember how I told you about the people who could make it so that what happened to mommy would never happen to anyone else? Well, here they are.”
Such testimony was so powerful that one Democratic Assemblywoman announced she was going to abstain rather than vote against the bill. Then the Chairman rose to close the meeting by describing the bill as “racist.”
At lunch, Donnelly passed the Assemblywoman who had agreed not to vote against his bill:
She was white as a ghost. I asked her if she was OK, and thanked her for her comments. She said “My caucus brutalized me. You don’t understand. It was bloody.” Then she went upstairs to the committee room and changed her vote to “no.”
The bill was defeated.
Donnelly’s fight to expose the tyrannical behavior of Child Protective Services was similarly crushed because the Democratic Party’s loyalty to SEIU, the public social workers’ union, overcame any residual loyalties to the state’s children and families.
Donnelly quickly acquired a reputation as an intransigent outsider by standing up to public sector unions. When one group attempted to intimidate him, he threw them out of his office. They proceeded to the Speaker’s office and claimed that he had physically assaulted them.
Once he himself was assaulted on the floor of the assembly—shoved to the ground. Mindful of the strict rules about laying hands on another member, he refrained from retaliation. The next day he lodged a request for the video footage of the incident: it had been erased. Nothing ever happened to the assailant.
Donnelly once received an invitation to dinner from the Prison Guards’ Union, which he planned to accept. Then his Chief of Staff got a call assuring them that Donnelly would receive a $3900 campaign contribution—the maximum permitted by law—just for attending. Donnelly realized it was a bribe and did not go. Six weeks later, he learned why this had happened: a bill was introduced to grant the state’s prison guards a 15% pay raise (despite a $30 billion budget shortfall).
California prisons faced serious overcrowding at this time. Donnelly sponsored a bill to allow less serious offenders to be sent out of state, where their incarceration would cost half what it cost California. His Democratic interlocutor on the floor of the Assembly looked over to the audience where “the head of the prison guards’ union was seated, a thick, muscular, barrel-chested thuggish-looking individual with wild hair and wilder eyes.” The man shook his head, and that was the end of Donnelly’s bill.
Not long afterward, the US Supreme Court ruled that California prison overcrowding constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” and Gov. Jerry Brown was forced to release 40,000 criminals back onto the streets of California
Donnelly ended up voting “no” to more bills than almost anyone else in the California State Assembly. He observed that bills frequently get passed without any debate at all. Toward the end of one legislative session, the assembly tried to ram through 550 bills in five days. Each member had to be allowed five minutes to address the merits of each bill, but Donnelly was the only one who made an effort to do so. His colleagues, both Republican and Democratic, constantly interrupted him with catcalls and heckling. As he explains, “legislators have better places to be than debating the laws they want to force the rest of us to live under.” The Los Angeles Times
did a front-page story on the Assemblyman who tried to shut down the legislature by actually debating the bills.
When Donnelly came up for reelection, the Republican Party tried to rid itself of him by mounting a primary challenge. The Service Employees International Union formed a statewide PAC with the nominal purpose of taking on conservatives in California, but spent all its money fighting Donnelly alone. Nearly a half million dollars ended up going to fund Donnelly’s challenger. But he still beat him handily with just $70,000.
Donnelly did enjoy one notable success during his time in the State Assembly: his Liberty Preservation Act (AB351)
nullified sections 1021 and 1022 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which had allowed the indefinite detention of anyone on US soil whom the government suspects of being a terrorist. He pulled together a massive coalition ranging from the ACLU
to the Tea Party to prevent the Federal Government from detaining California citizens indefinitely on the basis of suspicions.
He became a favorite with Fox News, who sought him out for interviews “every time they needed someone to comment on illegal immigration, gun control, [or] the Democrats’ latest scandal.”
After two terms as a California State Assemblyman, Tim Donnelly ran for Governor
. The entire Republican Establishment worked to defeat him in the primary, not in hopes of beating Jerry Brown in the General Election, but only to prevent Donnelly from getting into
the General Election. They nominated a former Treasury official named Neel Kashkari.
VDARE.com thought that Donnelly did not hit the immigration issue hard enough
, but the political class was united in its opposition to him anyway. Karl Rove opined
that it would be better for Republicans “to lose with Kashkari than win with Donnelly.” [How GOP can take the White House in 2016,
by Gina Loudon, WND, Feb 1, 2015]
Rupert Murdoch wrote Donnelly’s rival a $27,000 check, and Fox News dropped Donnelly like a hot potato. Rob Stutzman, the political consultant who had got Arnold Schwarzenegger to the governor’s mansion, announced his intention of opening a Republicans for Brown
campaign committee if Donnelly survived the primary. [ Kashkari and Donnelly offer 2 paths for California Republican Party
, by George Skelton, LA Times
, June 1, 2014] Endorsements for Donnelly’s rival poured in from famous Republicans: Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Pete Wilson. The putrefying
George Will compared
him to Barry Goldwater.
July 23, 2014]
As Donnelly points out, the Republicans had never campaigned this hard against any Democrat: “It’s a cushy job running a permanent minority party in a state where everyone has given up. No one expects anything of you.”
During the campaign, Donnelly learned that his rival had once hosted an official government conference on how to make the US Treasury Department compliant with Sharia law. So he posted the following to his Facebook page
: “Neel Kashkari supported
the United States submitting to the Islamic, Sharia banking code in 2008 when he ran TARP.”
responded with headlines such as “Racist attack by Donnelly”
and “Donnelly calls opponent a Muslim.” Harmeet Dhillon,
a Sikh woman who was Vice-chair of the state Republican party described
the post an attempt "to trade on bigotry, racism, hatred of the other, hysteria." Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, an Arab-American Christian
, released a statement
that “As far as I’m concerned, this type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office, anywhere.” [Darrell Issa Calls GOP Governor Candidate Tim Donnelly "Stupid," "Unfit for Any Office",
By Matt Coker, Orange County Register, May 9, 2014] Even the Council on American Islamic Relations got in on the act.
The Main Stream Media insisted on pointing out that Kashkari is a Hindu
, but Donnelly never said he wasn’t—it’s as objectionable for a Hindu who works for Goldman Sachs to encourage Sharia in the US as it is for a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian Arab, or a Mayflower-descended Anglo-Saxon Protestant like George W. Bush.
The reason for the vehemence of the attacks on Donnelly: polls showed him ahead of his Establishment for most of the race. But eventually, by outspending him ten-to-one
, Kashkari nosed past him at the finish line. Needless to say, Kashkari was destroyed in the general election, failing to carry
even California’s whites
. Failing upwards, he was appointed president
of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve in 2015.Patriot Not Politician
is both a shocking tale of political corruption and a powerful testimony of how one man’s Christian and Constitutionalist convictions gave him the strength of character to stand up to an army of petty-minded careerists and gain a powerful moral victory.
Still, the story is not over yet. Last year, Donnelly lost his most recent bid: to unseat the incumbent Republican Congressman for California’s 8th
Congressional District. But in another sense, he won that year along with all other American patriots when Donald J. Trump was elected to the presidency.
Donnelly is still only 50 years old, and no doubt will be ready if called upon to support the new administration’s battle to bring America’s borders back under control.
Read his book, not just to learn the lessons of his past, but to get a glimpse of what the future might hold for this patriot.Martin Witkerk [Email him] is an independent philosopher.