April 16, 2011 1:30 PM
By Michael Mishak, Los Angeles Times

This is the first of a two-part series on Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. See Monday’s Daily Press for part two.

SACRAMENTO • Tim Donnelly crouched into a firing stance behind his chair and folded his hands in the shape of a gun.

Lawmaking, said the GOP assemblyman who represents Hesperia and Apple Valley, is “full-blown war,” and guerrilla tactics are needed to win the battle against California Democrats’ agenda. As Donnelly sees it, the liberals who dominate state government have betrayed the public with job-killing regulations and crushing taxes.

“We’ve got a .50-caliber with crosshairs and … we’re going to pick off two or three of them using this issue,” he said.

It had been nearly three weeks since Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in Tucson, and Donnelly, California’s lone “tea party” success in last fall’s state elections, was visiting his Inland Empire office.

He had nothing against Democrats, he said. In fact, he and fellow Republicans intended to find Democrats who “actually believe in jobs and understand how jobs are created,” build political bridges to them and pass laws to put people back to work.

But the 44-year-old former member of the Minutemen, who has two antique rifles mounted in his Capitol office, made no apologies for the pantomime.

“Where I live, there’s more guns than people,” he said, adding: “Eventually, there will be a day of reckoning — and I’m hoping that day of reckoning is political.”

Donnelly, a married father of five with a degree in English from UC Irvine, rode voter rage and an anti-illegal immigration platform to victory in November. Saying he wanted to “take the people’s anger and channel it into action … so that they know somebody’s listening,” he wasted no time creating legislation to import Arizona’s controversial immigration law, block in-state tuition rates for undocumented students at state colleges and fight limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t believe in global warming,” he said.

In his suit and tie and sharply manicured goatee, he’s indistinguishable from most legislators — until you feel his iron handshake, meet his intense gaze and see his collection of Revolutionary War tomes, military histories and plaque honoring the Texas Rangers.

Although his fiery brand of conservatism normally would marginalize him in blue-tinted California, Donnelly’s sound-bite rhetoric and penchant for controversy have won him a degree of attention that some veteran politicians might envy.

He quickly acquired a nickname: The Shredder. That’s what Fox News’ Stuart Varney affectionately dubbed him after a video of Donnelly shredding pages from Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget went viral on YouTube. The lawmaker used a hammer to smash a piggy bank in his next video, to represent what he described as the pillaging of the state treasury by public employee unions, illegal immigrants and overpaid bureaucrats.

“You have to have the right message,” he said. “It has to be short, extremely powerful and bring truth to the people in a way that will shock them.”