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Is Congressman Dreier Going The Way of Larry Craig

by Lionel Rolfe Wednesday, Nov. 07, 2007 at 6:24 PM

One of the worst Republican congressmen who supports the most anti-gay legislation is himself a homosexual. He also is one of the most corrupt. A progressive is planning to defeat him.


Is it really possible that California Congressman David Timothy Dreier's 28 year career in the House of Representatives will end next year? Maybe even sooner? Maybe it's only that Hoyt Hilsman, the 57-year-old Pasadena screenwriter who was the first Democrat to decide to run against Dreier, is dreaming.

Or is the 55-year-old incumbent who perhaps dresses like a dandy because he began his working life as a flack for the very conservative Claremont Colleges really having nightmares that his nearly three decades long politics career is about to end?

Is there even a chance that Dreier will go the same way as fellow Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho -- down if not out because his Republican colleagues decided to jetison him?

Dreier has not returned any of several calls over the last couple of weeks, so it’s impossible to say what his nightmares are.

And Hilsman admits that on the face of it, his challenge is an "uphill battle." The 26th district was gerrymandered specifically for Dreier so that it is 55 percent Republican to 45 percent Democrat among those who state a preference -- and the independents amount to about 20 percent of all the voters in the district.

Yet Hilsman is confident he will emerge victorious over Dreier as well as other Democratic opponents -- a second one, a conservative businessman, has just announced his intentions to run against Dreir as well. Hilsman took 0,000 from his bank account and gave himself a loan when he announced his candidacy. The New York Times announced that as a result, he has more money than any other likely Democratic contender.

Hilsman figures he will have to raise more than a million dollars to "take out Dreier" who right now has almost million for his campaign.

Hilsman believes it is all possible in part because the district is being directly affected by one big problem that has emerged from the massive corruption that has enveloped the country under Republican rule in recent years.

The corruption coming home to roost specifically involved Dreier.

Hilsman says he is talking about the mortgage meltdown which is affecting not only the district, but the country and the world.

It is no accident that Dreier has taken 0,000 from mortgage lobbyists since 1997, and voted in 1999 for a bill that relaxed regulations on these terrible abuses where people got into sub prime loans who shouldn't have.

The effects have been particularly visible in the 26th Congressional District. In Rancho Cucamonga, for example, a city of 150,000 people, 1,100 homes are now in foreclosure, In Monrovia, which is a lot smaller community, there are 450 defaults.

"In Dreier's district, you are seeing some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Dreier is culturally beholden to corporate interests because of an underlying philosophy on the part of the Republican party which holds to a Darwinian notion of economics.”

Hilsman believes, on the other hand, that "The role of the government should be to referee the free market, to prevent the kinds of abuses we have seen. After the 1929 crash, they regulated the market, and it worked for many decades.

At the turn of the century, he adds, some of the biggest trusts were broken, and this produced at least two decades of strong growth, despite the dire predictions of the trust's apologists. Once the trusts were broken, other businesses flourished.

Today the issue is tax fairness that is sitting on the economy. "Instead of corporate taxation, we now have corporate welfare," he said.

“The billions of dollars in subsidies turned over to the oil companies in the president's energy plan came at a time when the oil industry was already making obscene profits, he says.

"The problem began with Reagan's trickle down economics, The idea was that if you give to the wealthiest and the corporation this produces a tide that lifts all boats," he said. It just hasn't proved to be true.

Dreier, he says, has been part of the "shell game the Republicans were playing in terms of ethics. There was also a high level of obfuscation on the other things, particularly the war, of course, but other things like the environment."

On the environment, he notes that "the Bush administration has abdicated all responsibility for environmental regulation and Dreier has been a part of gutting environmental enforcement."

Hilsman continues: "They have waged a campaign denying global warming despite all the good science. They refused to sign the Kyoto Protocols, and as a result we face a global climate crisis without any governmental action by the world's leading carbon polluter."

All these things are of a piece. "In education, they create a legislative agenda called `No Child Left Behind' which they failed to fund and have used as a cudgel against state's trying to reform education," he says.

And of course the biggest one -- the issue that first motivated Hilsman to run, is the war in Iraq. "I've been against the war since 2002 when they started talking about this ridiculous adventure."

The primary election is June 6. Until recently, Hilsman was the only candidate to declare. Then Russ Warner, a conservative businesman, declared.

But Hilsman was first, with the most serious Democatic party credentials. He is a serious candidate who has as his companion a

black plastic binder in which he keeps refining his political positions

in great detail. He grew up in politics. His father was Assistant Secretary

of State under President John Kennedy. Hilsman grew up around people like Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who also was the voluble majority leader in the U.S. Senate and the presidential candidate who lost out in the 1960 primaries to John Kennedy and Dick Nixon in the 1968 general election. He also went to Russia back in those Cold War Years and had an eight-hour face to face encounter with the nation’s Communist leader, Nikita Kruschev.

Hilsman worked for Bill Clinton in campaigns way back before the man from Hope became President. He can tell stories out of turn about Clinton that he likely wouldn't repeat in mixed company. He also thinks that Clinton is a genius in politics.

Another thing that makes Dreier vulnerable is the war.

Hilsman figures that Dreier is particularly vulnerable because he was a leader in the supine and compliant Congress that gave no resistance to an out of control president.

And there's yet another factor that Hilsman is less comfortable discussing. He knows that this year Dreier will have to deal with an 800 pound gorilla hiding in his closet. It's become an open secret among those who follow such things that Dreier, who has one of the most blatantly antigay voting record in Congress, lives a double life as a homosexual.

Were Dreier to emerge from the closet, he would presumably be

deeply embarrassed with the mostly racist, gay-hating Neanderthals who constitute his base, but Hilsman is clearly uncomfortable talking about the issue.

As we said, Dreier has not dained to talk with the this reporter, but he must be somewhat nervous as the furor over Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and his bathroom escapades with a vice squad officer played out.

After much prodding, Hilsman concedes that there's an ethical element in the fact that Dreier's boyfriend, whom he lives with, is also his chief of staff -- a fellow named Brad W. Smith. Smith is the best paid chiefs of staff in Congress.

Hilsman will say that one could plausibly argue that there

is an element of nepotism in Dreier's hiring his own partner for a highly

paid position at taxpayer expense. But Hilsman is uncomfortable making

the argument. Brad draws down 6,000 a year, 0 less than Karl Rove did as the president's most prominent henchman, bagman and all-around scoundrel.

Even though Hilsman is a successful screenwriter, presumably

with a strongly developed imagination, he refuses to speculate on how you take the measure of a man who is ashamed of what he is.

"I'm not going to raise it personally. I don't care what his

personal life is. A person is entitled to his personal life," he says, but

also concedes that "there are issues of transparency and honesty"

involved in Dreier's relationship- with his chief of staff.

Doug Ireland, who along with Larry Flynt of Hustler was one of the first to out Dreier in the LA Weekly almost three years ago, is not so rediscent.

Ireland told this reporter that "It would be nice to think that the media firestorm over the Larry Craig affair signals that the non-gay media would now begin to report more seriously on the outing of hypocritical officeholders who preach and vote against gay equality while themselves engaging in furtive homosexual sex, including David Dreier."

"The host of top-level gay Republican elected officials and staffers who are involved in supporting and implementing the GOP's antigay agenda while remaining in the closet, when exposed by Mike Rogers' and others, haven't got much attention in the

mainstream press. But in the Craig case, there was an arrest and a guilty plea to a crime, which gave media organizations the hook they felt they needed to cover it.

“And even here, the coverage has been very uneven. For example, this Wednesday's edition of ABC's "Nightline" did a 10-minute segment from Boise on why the Idaho Statesman ran its long investigative story on Craig on Tuesday --- but nowhere in the segment was Craig's extensive, antigay voting record mentioned, even thought it is that record which made his secret sexual life politically relevant."

Ireland, who spoke to the Pasadena Weekly one day before Craig effectively resigned his U. S. Senate seat in disgrace, also noted that "David Dreier has consistently voted against gay equality while living an even more extensive and explicitly gay life with his cohabiting boyfriend, whom he keeps on the government payroll at a lavish salary bigger than Karl Rove's (the very sort of sexual nepotism which cost New Jersey's Jim McGreevey his governorship) -- yet the mainstream media, and particularly the media in Dreier's home Congressional district, have consistently refused to put two and two together, decide that his antigay record makes his closeted homosexuality politically relevant, and write about it -- even when Dreier's homosexuality, well-known in Washington and in the House GOP Caucus, cost him an attempt to move up in the GOP leadership last year.

"So I'm not optimistic. If Dreier's hypocrisy on sexual issues, i.e., voting to deny others like him their rights, became big news on his home turf, it might hurt his political fortunes -- but his is a heavily Republican district in which he is well-entrenched, so his downfall would not be a given in that situation," Ireland said.

Flynt noted that Dreier seemed to make a point of being seen with good looking women on his arms, among them Bo Derek. He also dated a Bush daughter for more than a year, but never laid a hand on her. But in the last three years, according to Flynt, the congressman has spent a lot of his time jet setting with his chief aide "on the taxpayer's dime, spending 45 days abroad in locales that traditionally attract frolicking lovers: Italy and Spain, as well as a few destinations off the beaten path, including Sri Lanka, Micronesia and Iceland."

Hilsman, however, insists his campaign does not need to make a point of the incumbent's sexual hypocrisies to win.

"I think my chances are good because Dreier has been there 28

years and there is a lot of evidence that he has lost touch with the

district," Hilsman said.

Part of the reason for Hilsman’s confidence is that he believes Dreier has lost touch with his district and that the district is changing.

"You have people moving out of Los Angeles into the Inland Empire to buy affordable housing. If you look at the 2000 census and what is going to come up in the 2010 census, a lot of the people who are moving out here are more progressive -- the district will have a lot more progressive base. I don't know if I can give you a percentage,but just one example would be that the Latino population has changed. It's up about a third now from the below 20 percent that it was," he said.

Hilsman denies the old saw that Latinos don't vote.

"That's not necessarily true," he says. "There will be some strong registration efforts by the Latino community, by labor unions.

Rep. Hilda Solis, who is the representative in the 32nd district that includes East Los Angeles and parts of the San Gabriel Valley, will be doing a lot of voter registration, he says.

Dreier's increasingly becoming far to the right of the district. Like the rest of the country, 70 percent of the district is opposed to the war and Dreier is stonewalling in his votes on Iraq and redeploying," he said.

Hilsman also believes that most of the independents will go against the Republicans next year.

Again, Hilsman denies he is just dreaming. As proof, he points to another district similar to the 26th in that it was heavily Republican, but had changing demographics -- it was going from rural to suburban.

The incumbent was Republican Richard Pombo in Northern

California, who was defeated by Democrat Jerry McNerney in 2006. Pombo had been in Congress since 1993.

Hilsman lives in Pasadena with his wife Nancy of 25 years. Their son Michael is 23, and just graduated from the University of Santa Cruz. About 10 years ago Hilsman wrote a movie about a camping trip he took with Michael on a scouting trip to Catalina. That movie, produced by New Line Cinema, was called "Father and Scout."

The Hilsmans live near California and Lake, about 700 feet away from the district's boundaries and less than a 10th of a mile from Cal Tech. When he contemplated running for Congress, he and his wife discussed moving at least 700 feet away so they technically would be in the district, but decided, since they have lived in the home for 14 years, and want to retire there, they would not. If 700 feet from the district loses them some votes, so be it, Hilsman says.

The 26th District runs along the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and also includes much of the Angeles National Forest itself. It has 674,267 residents. On its western edge are La Crescenta, Montrose, La Canada Flintridge -- including JPL -- a portion of Altadena and Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Monrovia, Bradbury, Covina, Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Claremont. It extends into San Bernardino County and includes Upland, Montclair and Rancho Cucamonga and even Wrightwood high in the mountains.

Hilsman grants that Dreier is an intelligent man and a formidable]incumbent.

But Hilsman, who has not held any elective office, also thinks that his career of multitasking has prepared him for being a congressman. He has done everything from being a poverty lawyer -- he did not keep up his law career -- to writing books on computers, teaching at UCLA, writing film reviews for Variety, and last but not least, churning out screenplays, several of which have sold and made him a comfortable living.

Is Hilsman alone in his belief he can win this time, despite the odds?

Bill Hacket is a Democratic political consultant and attorney in Pasadena, who in 2004 was the campaign consultant for Carol Liu in her successful run for the Assembly, and when she was termed out, raised money and was a consultant for Anthony Portantino, who took over the seat.

Hacket also heads up the United Democratic Headquarters, whose job is to turn out Democrats who don't always go to the polls in the 44th Assembly seat. Every two years, the group targets the occasional voters in the Pasadena area and gets them to the polls.

Hacket refuses to act like a dewy eyed cheerleader for Hilsman’s dreams.

"I think he has a chance, but the reality for any Democratic challenger is you got an incumbent in what is still a Republican district going up against this guy who has at least million.

"But the whole landscape has changed over the past two or three years. People have become disenchanted with entrenched politicians and Dreier is the perfect example of that. There's a mood throughout the country because of the war in Iraq and the lack of health care and the high cost of health care. If there ever was a chance of a Democrat winning this might be one of the best chances we'll get, and you need a really good candidate -- someone who is dynamic and knows the issues. Hoyt would be a very good candidate."

Hacket said that one good sign for Hilsman is that even Cynthia Matthews, the last Democrat to challenge Drier, had no more than ,000 to spend and yet won 43 percent of the vote -- the best showing a Democrat has ever made against Dreier.

"If you have a candidate of Hoyt's caliber and some money and someone who is willing to work hard, it could happen. It's not going to be an easy win, I don't' want to kid anyone. But Dreier's conservative base is disenchanted and might sit home. They're angry about illegal immigration. They won't vote Democratic, but they might not turn out for Dreier. Then Hoyt has a real shot. The real challenge for the Democrat is to really mount a get out the vote campaign and raise money. It will also take a strong door to door effort and good mail campaign. Then, perhaps, he can ride the wave of discontent against Dreier."

For Hilsman, it was Bush's decision to invade Iraq that got him involved.

"The disastrous decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was the spark that brought me back into a more active political life," he said. "The war in Iraq has galvanized people like me," he says. Bush's attack on Iraq

blind sided him. "I may be native, but I was shocked that it did happen. I think that many people could not believe the arrogance, that he really has trampled on a lot of the constitutional guarantees of the executive


Hilsman began getting more serious when he started talking to

people in the district, discovering that they were more opposed to the war

than most incumbent representatives. "You really have to go out there and

talk to as many people as you can and discern what it is people are talking

about as to the big issues. What I realized was that what it comes to is people are far ahead of the government and politicians on issues you might be surprised about, for example the war."

Hilsman again insisted he is not just dreaming about his chances. He has had enough experiences in enough campaigns to be levelheaded when he's predicting he'll pull out an upset.

In 2004, he was a delegate to the national Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry.

He came away from that convention a bit dispirited. The Democratic party he grew up with was a "people's party." At the convention, however, many of the receptions were sponsored by corporations. Back in the time of Scoop Jackson (a famed cold war Democratic Senator from the State of Washington), Hubert Humphrey and others, Democrats would not have gone to receptions sponsored by corporations.

Now, he lamented, the "corporate trappings" that the Republican party had always bathed itself in were now becoming part of the Democratic party.

Historically, he says, what made Democrats Democrats was that

they were proud of what they were -- union and nonunion workers,small

business people, immigrants, blacks, Jews and Latinos and other ethnic

groups -- and not the likes of the bankers, oil companies and insurance companies who make up the real base of the Republican Party.

Hilsman thinks that some of the changes in the Democratic party have done it serious harm. The passion that had been the hallmark of Democrats for so many years was disappearing. And he believes that it was not just coincidence this has happened at the same time the party donned some of the corporate trappings of their opponents.

With the exception of a few congressmen, such as Henry Waxman,

Democrats in the House have not been fighting the war as hard as

they might have, he says.

Waxman, of the 30th district in West Los Angeles, heads up the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He has been a bulldog investigator on many issues related to the war in Iraq, Cheney's Energy Task Force, and global warming, among others.

"He's a crackerjack investigator who is using his committee chairmanship to full effect," Hilsman said.

He believes that the dimensions of the tragedy that Iraq is for the country have also not yet become fully apparent.

"It took a generation after Vietnam for the whole truth to come out," and that will probably be true for this war, he says.

None of this means there isn't a terrorist problem. "I think it is a terrible tragedy the United States was attacked. The larger point is you have to take effective action with an international coalition, and

then to "target the terrorists like a laser."

Hilsman supported the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, in part because that is where the attack on the twin towers really emanated from.

And last but not least, Hilsman thinks there is another reason the voters of the 26th District will decide to fire Dreier: Healthcare.

"We already have models for health care that work," ranging from expanding the federal employees plan, expanding Medicare, or even increasing the many hybrid plans many states are now experimenting with.

The first thing, he says, is to make sure that there is "mandatory health insurance for all children"

Dreier, he points out, has a zero percent rating on public

health issues. "Like all Republicans he supports free market plans that

are all about insurance companies taking our money. They are not about

accessibility. It's Darwinian, the survival of the fittest."

He says a great deal of universal care should be financed by restoring the tax cuts that went to people making more than 0,000 under Bush, or using the estate taxes of people who have more than million.

"Among progressive people, even those who are worth more than

million, they are willing to give it back for the sake of children's health care," he says.

"Dreier was part of the Congressional leadership under Tom DeLay," he notes, "and we all know he has a pretty lousy record in terms of corruption on a level not seen in a very long time."

Hilsman expects that some sort of recession is imminent because of the mortgage crisis and the stock meltdown and a lot of people in Dreier's district will be affected.

People will be suffering because of the Republican elimination of the real regulation that the free market needs to function successfully.

He says you probably won't read about most of this stuff in the dominant daily newspapers in the district. And Hilsman is realistic enough to know that he will be having to campaign without any of them

giving him a fair shake. This, of course, makes it difficult for any Democrat to communicate with the district.

But there are other means to get the message out.

For one thing, daily newspapers are losing the influence they once had. Alternative newspapers are becoming increasingly important. And then there is the Internet, cable and direct mail.

But maybe most important is the most unexpected choice.

"Going back to the old one, going door to door."

No wonder he's already out there pounding the pavement.


Lionel Rolfe is the author of several books, including Fat Man on

the Left, The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather,

Literary L.A. and several others. He has also been included in two major

anthologies including On Bohemia: The Code of the Self Exiled and Unknown


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