This is an expanded version of a story cross-posted at FrontiersLA.com.
(Editor’s note: I have met Brad Torgan several times at events. He is a “proud Republican” who can find common ground with Democrats and independents at a time when the national Republican Party appears to be in the throws of an ideological lock down. But, Torgan says, “marriage equality is consistent with my belief in limited government. If a couple wishes to enter to civil marriage — with the rights and responsibilities that come with it, the state should not expand its power to prevent it.” – Karen Ocamb)
Openly gay West Hollywood environment attorney Brad Torgan, a Republican, thinks he’s a “pretty good fit” for the new 50th Assembly District. Under the new open primary law, the top two vote-getters in the June 5 Primary face off in November. Torgan thinks he’s got a shot at being one of the two against Democratic rivals Assemblymember Betsy Butler, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and lesbian community organizer Torie Osborn.
“If you think everything is fine in Sacramento, then don’t vote for Brad Torgan–vote for Burtler, Bloom or Osborn. They’re three peas in a pod. But if you worry about how the State is going to meet its commitments, if you think Californians deserve a better government than the one we have, then vote for Brad Torgan,” community organizer and public affairs consultant Scott Schmidt told Frontiers via email. Schmidt is also the former President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a position Torgan now holds.
To an outsider, his participation in the race for the 50th AD seat looks like a Republican stalwart refusing to concede the district to the Democrats. According to the Around The Capitol website, the 50th AD is 52.8% Democratic, 19% Republican and 23.4% Decline to State. Torgan notes that before redistricting, in the old 42nd AD, the Decline To State voters often voted with Republicans, as did what used to be called Reagan Democrats.
Additionally, Torgan told Frontiers, when looking at the old 42nd AD over the last decade, “the Republican candidate for Assembly in the general election always got a higher percentage than the Republican registration in the district.”
A native Angeleno, Torgan grew up “with the Santa Monica Mountains at his back door,” and therefore learned early on about the necessity for protecting natural and recreational resources. After graduating from Duke University, where he majored in Public Policy Studies, he earned a Master of Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina before becoming a lawyer. Now in private practice, Torgan “specializes in assisting property owners to comply with California’s myriad and complex maze of environmental regulations,” according to his campaign website. From 2005-2008, he was General Counsel for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, where he fought to preserve state parks as a “public trust” for all Californians.
Torgan said that, “while I was at State Parks, I litigated on behalf of the Department to keep San Diego Gas & Electric Co. from bisecting Anza Borrego Desert State Park and state wilderness with a 500 kV transmission line, forcing them to take a different route.”
“I think I’m a pretty good fit for this district,” Torgan said. “I’m fiscally and socially moderate and I have a wicked environmental streak, having grown up in the Santa Monica Mountains. That’s a pretty good fit for the 50th AD.”
In a sign of remarkable progress, Torgan said the party approached him about running.
“When I started looking at the race early last summer before redistricting, when it was still the 42nd AD, and some people in party leadership asked me to look at the race, all I saw were people who didn’t hold the political values I hold,” Torgan told Frontiers. “My core values are limited government, fiscal restraint and civil liberties – and I didn’t see any of that. I came to a conclusion, after a fashion, that if I wasn’t willing to put myself out there, then I was telling my opponents that I was surrendering and I didn’t think I could win in the market place of ideas. And I’m not willing to concede that. And at least as far as the Primary goes – this whole Prop 14 (the top two and the open primary) world just creates a whole new paradigm and a whole new dynamic which, at least in the primaries, makes Republican values and Republican candidates relevant.”
But a Republican in progressive, Democratic stronghold at a time when the Republican Party seems under the sway of strident antigay, anti-women Tea Party extremists? How can women voters, in particular, believe in the “core principles” of limited government when the GOP seems bent on having government insert itself into women’s most private decisions?
“I think slowly the party is moving towards a position of social moderation or social silence,” Torgan said. “But frankly, I agree. I look at everything through the prism of limited government. Does a particular policy or position advance that cause? And if it doesn’t, is there some compelling reason to override it?
“I’ll focus on choice,” Torgan continued. “I come from a default position that all life has value. But when I look at the issue of reproductive rights through that prism of limited government, that decision a woman makes as to her healthcare….I’m a guy. I’m not even sure I know how to describe that most gut-wrenching decision a woman might ever have to make. And the government should not expand its powers to interfere in that decision.
“This past January, I found myself in the healthcare market looking for new insurance,” Torgan said. “And I was really frustrated by how limited my choices were. And most of those limitations were a result of government regulation and government interference. Well, if I was that upset over what in the scheme of things is far less important and wanted the government out of my decision-making process, I certainly don’t want to insert it into somebody else’s decision making process.”
Here are some excerpts from the long interview we had for Frontiers magazine – Karen Ocamb)
On when he thinks government regulations are OK:
When I look at that prism of limited government, if it expands government powers – is there a compelling reason? When it comes to environmental regulations, I say, in many respects – yes. There are often compelling reasons to expand the powers of government to protect the environment.
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s. I remember first stage smog alerts. And I remember having to be kept inside because the air quality was just so bad. Literally, you’re outside for just a couple of minutes and your lungs and chest hurt. So that’s where I come down on such environmental regulations.
[Republican President] Richard Nixon was the one who established the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. There is a long conservationist tradition in the Republican Party. I won’t call it necessarily environmentalism because environmentalism has a whole different mindset. But certainly when you consider a lot of the national, what are considered moderate environmental groups – a lot of them….it’s hunters, people who fish – who recognize that for those endeavors, they need to help the environment.
On how Conservation accepts some regulation vs how regulations impose on big business, especially the oil business.
There are kind of two themes. One is the cost issue. And the other is the uncertainty issue.
The cost issue: there I don’t have much of a problem. We know that direct regulation is going to impose a financial burden on business. But on the other hand, business often tries to externalize their cost all the time and forces those costs on the public at large – rather than internalizing them or adding them to the cost of the product they’re producing. And the public shouldn’t necessarily have to pay those costs. Smog emissions [as a cost to the public] are a perfect example.
In terms of uncertainty, here is where I am much more sympathetic to business. As long as you have a certainty as to what your costs are going to be, for how long it’s going to take you to be up and running with a new business – a business can factor that in and make their decisions based on that knowledge. But when regulations create these levels of uncertainties as to what they can do, when they can do it, how long they can do it for – that’s where I come down much more on the side of business.
Torgan wants to reduce the volatility in the tax system through tax and pension reform and not a one-time fix by raising taxes by changing or repealing Prop 13. A “big picture” policy wonk, he wants to restructure the system entirely and establish spending priorities.
I believe that – whether you are a business owner or a homeowner, you should be rewarded for long-term commitments to your community. Prop 13 is one way we reward business owners and property owners for that stability. Eliminating any of the protections that Prop 13 provides does exactly the opposite.
Part of the reason we’re in these budget throws every year – either feast or famine – is because we rely on these volatile revenue streams from income tax and capitol gains. We need a more rational tax structure that doesn’t rely on such volatility – which in turn is going to allow for – I want to say a easier budgeting but that may be a bit Pollyannaish. But we vote for these boom-and-bust cycles, which really make budgeting even more difficult than it already is.
Torgan calls the clash between his Democratic opponents Assemblymember Betsy Butler and community organizer Torie Osborn a “kerfuffle” – that could actually result in annoyed voters selecting him or Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom. He is particularly unimpressed by many of Osborn’s arguments, starting with the claim that Butler is not the legitimate incumbent seeking re-election in the race.
I am running against an incumbent. The law is written, as I understand it, so that as long as some portion of her old district overlaps the new district, she is the incumbent for the new district – even though she may not have lived in that over-lapping portion. And I don’t have a problem with it. People move all the time. They do this re-arranging chairs every time there’s a re-districting. I think it’s a tempest in a tea pot.
What I think it is symptomatic of, though, is kind of this hyper-partisanship that we see in Sacramento. We see a microcosm of it here. There is so little difference politics between Torie Osborn and Betsy Butler that they have to fight over style because there’s no substance to fight over. This hyper-partisan bickering over what Torie calls “carpet bagging,” or what Betsy’s people call Torie’s buying Democratic Party club endorsements . It’s all part of the status quo, not just here in the race but in Sacramento.
But as to Torie saying she’s going up there to fight corruption or she’s fighting as the “outsider” – I could use a lot stronger language but since there might be younger Frontiers readers, especially during Pride week – I will just say poppycock. When somebody says Torie’s an outsider, I laugh. Like Sheila Kuehl’s an outsider. They are simply different factions of the same machine. The same ultra-liberal Democratic machine. Torie is no insurgent. I’m amused by it – but I don’t buy it.
We’ve had six all-candidates forums and debates over the course of the last few months so I’ve gotten a chance to meet all three of them. I like Betsy. I come from the position that I can disagree with people’s policies without being disagreeable to people. I mean – good grief – I’m a Republican in West Hollywood! I’ve joked a couple of times that if I couldn’t be friends and get along with liberal Democrats, even though we don’t agree on policy issues – I’d be lonelier than the Maytag repair guy.
But I think that’s part of the reason that makes me a good candidate. I’ve been a Planning Commissioner, a Transportation Commissioner, I’m the Vice-Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission – and I’m openly Republican. But I keep getting appointed and re-appointed in a city that’s never elected a Republican to the city council. I think that speaks pretty loudly to my abilities to work with and get along with people on the other side of the aisle.