Tim Donnelly

Outgoing State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly talks about his experiences in Sacramento and his campaign for governor during one of his last visits to the High Desert before he leaves office. (James Quigg, Daily Press) |

SHEA JOHNSON
STAFF WRITER
Posted Sep. 20, 2014 @ 12:01 am
Updated Sep 20, 2014 at 9:34 PM

One booming voice could be heard over all others reciting the Pledge of the Allegiance during a recent Hesperia Chamber of Commerce luncheon as if the pledge were his personal mantra.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the self-proclaimed “patriot, not politician,” is in the last months of a four-year term.

He paraded around earlier this year in a red-and-blue bus called The Liberty Express while on the gubernatorial campaign trail. Donnelly still views himself as the everyday Joe Blow who simply fought to defend freedom against the political powers in Sacramento — even if those powers were members of his own party.

“I get along better with Democrats, I don’t know why,” said the Republican from Twin Peaks.

Often a polarizing figure, the conservative lawmaker was rarely not embroiled in controversy the past four years. Donnelly had been outspoken in remarks against illegal immigration, inadvertently brought a loaded handgun onto an airplane at Ontario International Airport and linked then-gubernatorial rival Kashkari to fundamentalist Islamic law in a social media post, which he later apologized for.

He also orchestrated a protest last month outside a luncheon where Gov. Brown was hosting Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and called for the immediate release of U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has been held captive by Mexican authorities since March when he crossed Tijuana with three guns inside his pickup truck.

“In the years I’ve been in office, it’s clear it’s been one of my fortes — getting the public to pay attention in unusual ways,” he said.

That modus operandi, however, also made Donnelly a target. Just this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that 25th Congressional District candidate Tony Strickland urged opponent state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, to cancel plans to have Donnelly walk precincts for him Saturday in Santa Clarita.

According to the newspaper, Strickland’s campaign manager referred to Donnelly as “a divisive, out-of-the-mainstream figure.”

On Thursday, Knight released a statement to Breitbart News saying there was a “mix up” between campaign staffs that “became something more when stoked by my opponent demanding that I renounce Tim Donnelly.”

Donnelly then criticized the Times for its story, calling the narrative a half-truth.

“Steve Knight is my friend, and I’m committed to helping him win this election over the anti-hunting establishment candidate, Tony Strickland, who is backed by the Karl Rove wing of the GOP that will do or say anything to get into power,” he said in a statement to the Press Dispatch.

But Donnelly, who said he has never gotten used to being called an “Assemblyman,” swats away the notion that his term might be defined by such headlines rather than policy decisions. He points to a quote often attributed to George Orwell that reads along the lines of, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

In a one-on-one interview Monday with the Press Dispatch, the 33rd Assembly District representative spoke about his biggest win while in the state capitol, his failed gubernatorial run, the two candidates vying to be his successor and his plans for the near-future.

On Oct. 2, 2013, Gov. Brown signed the Donnelly-introduced Assembly Bill 351 into law. Coined The California Liberty Preservation Act, the law opposes the indefinite military detention of persons without charge or trial and prohibits state cooperation with federal officials in enacting the provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Agreement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California lauded the bill as signaling that NDAA was “contrary to the common values of all Americans.”

“That was a coalition of all kinds of people,” Donnelly said, labeling the bill’s passage as the highlight of his term. “If you have a powerful idea, the idea will build its own coalition.”

In announcing his run for governor in November, Donnelly banked on an idea-driven campaign pushing him through to this year’s general election, where a mighty Gov. Brown with a lofty bankroll and surging approval ratings would be waiting.

Yet Kashkari, backed by television ads and much stronger finances than Donnelly, leapt ahead of Donnelly in the weeks before June’s statewide primary and ultimately finished in second place, surpassing Donnelly’s percentage of the vote by more than three points.

“It’s amazing the amount of damage you can do with an avalanche of cash,” Donnelly said of Kashkari, the former U.S. Treasury secretary. “He took $4.4 million … communicated with voters I couldn’t afford to reach.”

Asked to reflect on the race now, Donnelly admitted he made mistakes after opening an exploratory committee a year prior to announcing his candidacy.

“Certainly, I would have begun raising money earlier,” he said. “…You can drive yourself crazy going over ‘what-ifs.’ ”

He put blame partly on the state’s Republican establishment for his short-coming. High-profiled Republicans Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush all threw their support behind Kashkari, as the California GOP made it clear they were worried about Donnelly’s brand of conservatism and sometimes divisive opinions becoming the party’s best chance of defeating the well-liked Brown in a blue state.

“Most people in California agree that the government has been the biggest threat to freedom. The GOP has become the biggest threat to doing anything about it,” Donnelly said. “It was my own party that shot me in the back of the head. The problem was they didn’t kill me.”

But Donnelly said his largely grassroots effort did demonstrate “that you can do it a different way,” even as he conceded that, “unfortunately, we didn’t have enough of the traditional campaign mechanisms intact.”

“My frustration is, clearly there would have been a distinction between Gov. Brown and I,” he said.

He admitted that he chose to watch his Green Bay Packers get bounced 36-16 by the Seattle Seahawks instead of tuning in to the first-and-only Brown-Kashkari debate.

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