Tim Donnelly

Former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly goes over strategy of campaigning door to door on April 23. Donnelly is now running for Congress. (Photo by Sarah Alvarado)

By Beau Yarbrough, The Sun
Posted: 05/15/16 – 7:34 PM PDT |

HESPERIA >> On a recent Saturday morning, former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly rallied the troops — in this case, seven volunteers — just off the 15 Freeway.

“This was our headquarters in our first campaign,” he said, nodding to the In-N-Out Burger nearby.

When Donnelly first ran for the California Assembly in 2010, he and his volunteers would work at the tables in the restaurant, or, when it got too crowded to monopolize a booth for extended periods, in the parking lot outside.

After two terms in the Assembly, Donnelly took aim at the highest office in California, but the tea party favorite and Minuteman could not defeat mainstream Republican favorite Neel Kashkari, who in turn, got soundly beaten by Jerry Brown on his way to a record fourth term as governor.

Donnelly, who had handily won re-election in 2012 with 59 percent of the vote, was barred from running for re-election while also running for governor. Turned out of the Statehouse, Donnelly turned to the airwaves, spending a year as a talk radio host. That ended 11 months later, when he announced he would be running for Congress, taking on two-term Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, for the 8th Congressional District seat.

As the volunteers take up Donnelly’s “Patriot, Not Politician” yard signs, he lays out the case his volunteers should make as they knock on doors in Apple Valley.

“The message is very simple: We have a congressman who’s part of the establishment,” Donnelly said, his eyes shaded against the bright High Desert sun by an NRA ballcap. “We’ve got a guy who doesn’t get it, and doesn’t even know why he doesn’t get it.”

Congressional open data site GovTrack.us rates Cook as a bit left of the Republican mainstream, while still being firmly on the political right. But Donnelly’s campaign hinges on Cook’s vote in support of the 2,029-page omnibus spending bill, H.R. 2029, on Dec. 18.

“When (voters) find out he voted for the omnibus bill,” specifically the fact that the bill includes funding for refugee resettlement in the United States, “we’re not going to have a hard time,” according to Donnelly.

Immigration is not a new topic for Donnelly, who co-founded the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps of California in 2005. But he said it’s his outsider status that’s resonating with voters this time around.

“In this election season, all of the rules you’d think of in the past don’t apply,” he said, walking through an Apple Valley neighborhood. “Everything’s changed.”

Although Donnelly won’t say exactly how he’s picking which doors to knock on, his campaign isn’t just targeting consistent Republican voters.

“I’ve had some fascinating conversations on doorsteps. I’ve had Bernie Sanders supporters who are trying to decide between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, but they’re absolutely on board with Tim Donnelly for Congress,” he said.

Donnelly pulling elements out of the omnibus bill and claiming Cook supported them is disingenuous, according to the congressman.

“There are people in the 8th District who are so mad at government that they want to shut it down,” Cook said. “But bad things happen when the government shuts down. You stop paying the military, people are coming across the border.”

The omnibus spending bill, which Congress approved to avoid a potential federal government shutdown, angered conservatives for failing to block President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States in 2016.

Voting against the bill wouldn’t have stopped the Obama administration, according to Cook.

“Syrian refugees? Obama’s going to do whatever he wants to on that, and we’re not going to be able to stop him on that,” Cook said. “But there were a number of other things in there, like border security, the military and the veterans.”

And a break in funding for any of those would be unacceptable, he said.

“I think the world right now is more dangerous than it ever has been in my lifetime,” including the threats posed by terrorism, North Korea and China, Cook said. “I’m not going to vote against a military spending bill.”

Cook said he’s concerned about border security, just like Donnelly, and has the voting record to prove it: In November, Cook voted in favor of H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015.

“It would have immediately held up the immigration of Iraqi and Syrian refugees into the United States,” Cook said. “It would have said ‘hey, the director of the FBI, the director of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency would need to certify that each of these refugees has been vetted and is not a security threat.’”

The bill passed the House, but was never voted on in the Senate.

“I ran on the fact that I was military,” said Cook, a retired Marine Corps colonel who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor as an infantryman in Vietnam. “I’m going to be very, very careful on national security, whether it’s in the Middle East or the shores of California, or in San Bernardino with ISIS and the terrorist threat. And that has not changed.”

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