The Hesperia City Council on Wednesday filled the vacancy within its ranks that had formerly been occupied by one of San Bernardino County’s oldest elected officials with a 27-year-old who is now among the youngest of the county’s office holders.
Jeremiah Browsowske, who has made a determined rise in the San Bernardino County Republican Party establishment over the last six years, was chosen from among seven candidates to serve on the city council, plugging the gap created on the panel by the vacancy of Mayor Russ Blewett, who died in May.
Browsowske’s ascendency was both lauded and decried by elements of the political hierarchy in Hesperia, as in much of its aspect, Browsowske’s political trajectory is reminiscent of the political rise of Bill Postmus, the now disgraced political juggernaut who once appeared to be rocketing into the Victor Valley’s political stratosphere, only to plummet ignominiously to the desert floor in scandal.
At this point, Browsowske is firmly embraced by the council majority in Hesperia, the development community and the Republican Party, paralleling Postmus’ status a little less than two decades ago. And just like Postmus was in the mid-to-late 1990s before he acceded to the position of First District County Supervisor, Browsowske is not only a member in good standing with the High Desert Young Republicans but rather the central figure in that politically influential group.
Like Postmus, Browsowske was homegrown in the Victor Valley and its environs. After Browsowske graduated from Granite Hills High School in Apple Valley, he enrolled at Victor Valley College, where he was elected to the Associated Student Body Council and Senate, serving in the post of parliamentarian and ultimately rising to the position of ASB vice president. He became thoroughly involved in campus politics at Victor Valley College, including serving as a member of the budget committee and facilities committee. In addition, he served as the student representative on the Victor Valley College Measure JJ Oversight Committee, which was chartered to monitor the expenditure of $297,500,000 in general obligation bonds to upgrade, expand, and construct school facilities passed by more than fifty-five percent of Victor Valley’s voters in November 2008.
From there, Browsowske was drawn into what has been a continual life of politics, Republican politics specifically.
The parallels with Postmus are pointed ones.
As a young man, Postmus associated himself with Brad Mitzelfelt, a former Marine he met while attending Redlands University in the early 1990s. Together they were instrumental in creating the High Desert Young Republicans, through which they networked with Republican office holders of the day like Assemblyman and later State Senator Jim Brulte, Assemblywoman Kathleen Honeycutt and Assemblyman Keith Olberg. Also involved with Postmus and Mitzelfelt in the High Desert Young Republicans were Mark Kirk, Anthony Adams, Anthony Riley, and Tad Honeycutt, the son of Assemblywoman Honeycutt and her husband, Hesperia City Councilman Theron Honeycutt. That group of young men learned the mechanics of campaigning and then intensified their involvement in the Republican cause through involvement in the San Bernardino Republican Central Committee. In 2000, they collectively made a concerted effort to take their political activism to the next level, coalescing in an effort to elect Postmus First District County Supervisor. In so doing, they launched a full frontal assault on the incumbent supervisor, Kathy Davis, herself a Republican. The Postmus campaign set about demonizing Davis as an ideological backslider whose commitment to Republican ideals had been compromised by her association and cooperation with other members of the board of supervisors, which during her tenure had two Democratic members – Larry Walker and Jerry Eaves. The strategy worked and Postmus dislodged Davis, in so doing becoming at the age of 29 the third youngest member of the board of supervisors in San Bernardino County history. With his ascendancy to the board of supervisors, Postmus created a political machine that grew to dominate not just the Victor Valley but San Bernardino County. Honeycutt was elected to the Hesperia City Council, where he in time became mayor and was able to form a lock-tight ruling coalition that included Postmus’ political associates Dennis Nowicki, Bill Jensen and Jim Lindley. By 2004 Postmus, holding himself out as a rock-ribbed, Christian-and-family values, no-nonsense, pro-law enforcement conservative Republican who spewed Right Wing rhetoric at the drop of a hat, bestrode San Bernardino County as a political colossus, having been elevated to the chairmanship of both the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and the San Bernardino Republican Central Committee. In 2004, when then-President George Bush addressed the Republican National Convention that re-nominated him, seated in a prominent position on the stage behind the president, visible to the entire television viewing audience on the three major traditional broadcast networks and what were then the three primary cable news outlets, was Postmus, recognized as a major up-and coming star in the GOP Constellation. Using his political machine, Postmus consolidated power locally by vectoring enough money to local candidates to maintain GOP dominance among 19 of the county’s 24 city councils. He would eventually use that machine to get one of his closest political associates, Anthony Adams, elected to the California Assembly representing the Victor Valley. In 2006, Postmus used his political machine to effectuate his own election, mid-way in his second term as First District supervisor, as county assessor. His political reach was such that he was able to pull strings to have his former board colleagues select Mitzelfelt, who had served as his chief of staff throughout his time as supervisor, as his successor as First District supervisor. Even before Posmus was established as county assessor, the highest ranking taxing authority in the region, it was widely assumed that he was destined to become a congressman, the only question being whether he would bother to first serve in the state legislature as either an assemblyman or state senator or maybe both before he went on to Washington, D.C. The political machine he had created was able to tap into a virtually bottomless wellspring of campaign cash put up by the development industry based on his support of unbridled growth and his stand against regulation and land use restrictions that would in any way interfere with building proposals. He and his associates had mastered the art and science of using targeted mailers, ads and billboards to lionize and promote the candidates they favored and mercilessly savage Democrats or any Republicans who stood in the way of the Republican candidates Postmus favored, making himself Victor Valley’s/San Bernardino County’s de facto kingmaker. With his control of the county assessor’s office, a perch from which he controlled how little or how much land owners and business owners would have to pay in yearly taxes on their properties and business assets, Postmus was in a position to shake down those with deep pockets for contributions to his own campaign fund or to that of the Republican Party in exchange for lenient assessment treatment. Some were convinced that he would, after serving a decent interim of a decade or so in Congress, inevitably move on to become a U.S. Senator or governor. Then-Victorville Councilman Bob Hunter unabashedly told those around him that it was not inconceivable that by 2020 or 2024 Bill Postmus would be President of the United States. Less than two years into his term as assessor, however, there were a succession of revelations about Postmus that would dash forever his political prospects. The conservative persona that Postmus exhibited publicly, it turned out, was in virtually every respect diametric to his private self. He was a severely drug addicted homosexual who engaged in the most promiscuous activity imaginable, engaging in a so-called P & P, or Party and Play, lifestyle, in which he would on a daily basis troll specialty internet sites for men he had never before met interested in hooking up for one night stands in which they would engage in dawn-to-dusk methamphetamine-fueled sodomy marathons. While Postmus’s methamphetamine use was prodigious, involving converting it into a liquefied form and injecting it, his drug use was not limited to crystal meth. He also had an affinity for amyl nitrate as well as huffing, that is, engaging in the inhalation of chemical vapors from such sources as industrial solvents, paint thinner, gasoline, felt-tip markers, nail polish remover, glue, spray paint, aerosol sprays and nitrites, all for their euphoric effect. Top ranking county officials knew of Postmus drug use by his last year as supervisor, but had kept quiet about it, at least in part because of the tremendous authority and power he wielded over them. Rumors began to surface that the reclusiveness Postmus began to manifest after he was assessor was an attempt to mask his drug use. He weathered that storm, but ultimately, when the district attorney’s office began to look into reports that the assessor’s office was being used for partisan political purposes, methamphetamine and syringes to inject it were found when a search warrant was served at his residence. Ultimately, after Postmus’ secrets were revealed and it became known that he had hired into high paying assessor’s office positions no fewer than 13 of his political associates and/or one-time boyfriends who had no experience or expertise in the real estate industry nor skills with regard property appraisal or taxing policy, he imploded and resigned from office. He was criminally prosecuted, pleading guilty to 14 felony public corruption charges. No fewer than eight of his political associates were likewise arrested and charged with various crimes relating to the abuse of the governmental system and violations of public trust relating to their activities in conjunction with Postmus. Four of those were convicted.
Since Postmus’ demise, the Republican leadership in San Bernardino County has been on the lookout for someone who will fit the mold of what Postmus appeared to be before events overtook him: a young and charismatic, clean-cut, conservative values-espousing Republican who can electrify the party’s members. In 2009, shortly after Postmus’ fall from grace, the number of registered Democrats in San Bernardino County eclipsed the number of registered Republicans in San Bernardino County. For at least the previous three decades, the Republicans had been in ascendancy in San Bernardino County. Even after 2009, Republican candidates in San Bernardino County continued to outpoll their Democrat counterparts, largely on the basis of the tendency of Republicans to generally turn out to vote in far greater number than do Democrats. Thus, San Bernardino County yet remains as one of the last bastions of concentrated Republican office holders in the State of California, where the Democrats hold a near two-thirds majority in the state legislature and where its governor and both of the state’s U.S. Senators are Democrats and 39 of the state’s 53 members of Congress are Democrats. Finding someone who can replicate what Postmus did for the San Bernardino County Republican Party in the early part of the first decade of the Third Millennium is growing ever more critical, as the registration numbers throughout the county are trending ever more in favor of the Democrats, so lopsidedly in favor of the Democrats in roughly two thirds of county that they will very likely soon more than offset the greater Republican voter turn-out factor that is keeping the GOP on top in the county. Countywide, there are 359,122 registered Democrats, translating to 39.5 percent, countered by 277,045 Republicans, or 30.5 percent of the electorate. Those who registered with no party preference number 221,286, or 24.3 percent, with the renaming 5.7 percent registered as American Independent, Green Libertarian, Peace and Freedom or even more obscure party members. On San Bernardino County’s southwest end, in what is known as the Fourth District which includes Chino Hills, Chino, Ontario and Montclair, Democrats number 71,701 or 42.2 percent, matched by 46,219 Republicans or 27.2 percent, followed by 43,736 or 25.7 percent showing no party preference. In the county’s Second District, including north Upland, San Antonio Heights, Rancho Cucamonga, western Fontana and the county’s western mountain communities, Democrats tip the scales with 76,835 votes or 38.7 percent, with 63,753 or 32.1 percent registered as Republicans and 47,603 or 24 percent having no party affiliation. In the county’s center, the Fifth District consisting of east Fontana, Rialto, Bloomington, Colton and West San Bernardino, the Democrats are in overwhelming ascendancy, accounting for 81,381 registered voters or 49.4 percent to the Republicans’ 32,694 voters or 19.9 percent, who are outnumbered by the 42,256 voters or 25.7 percent with no party affiliation. On the county’s southeast end with an extension northward into the Mojave Desert, in what is known as the Third District, involving east San Bernardino, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Highland, Big Bear, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms and Barstow, the Republicans enjoy a plurality with 72,705 or 36.4 registered with the GOP, 68,994 or 34.5 percent registered Democrats and 45,620 or 22.8 showing no party preference. In the county’s First District, which entails Adelanto, Apple Valley, Victorville, Phelan, Pinon Hills, Oak Hills and Hesperia, the Republicans hold the upper hand in terms of party affiliation, though barely, with 61,674 voters or 34.8 percent compared to the Democrats’ 60,321 or 34.1 percent and the 42,071 or 23.8 percent who decline to state a party preference.
Some Republicans have designs on building Browsowske into the Second Coming of Bill Postmus, the Messiah who can keep both the First District and San Bernardino County as a whole the Promised Land for the Party of Lincoln.
Wednesday night, a core group of Republicans – three of the members of the Hesperia City Council – signed on for opening the next political door for Browsowske. Nine city residents applied to the city to be considered as Blewett’s successor: Brigit Bennington, Jeremiah Browsowske, Victoria Dove, Russell Harris, Linda Holder, Robert Nelson, Anthony Rhoades, Veronica Rios and Chester Watts. After interviewing all of the candidates at City Hall except for Watts, who was infirm and could not attend, the council voted 3-to-1, with Paul Russ, Bill Holland and Rebekah Swanson prevailing, to appoint Browsowske. Councilman Larry Bird, who failed in his effort to have his colleagues hold off on the vote until a more thorough analysis of the candidates could be done, opposed the appointment. He wanted a six day delay until the next council meeting so “we can give ourselves time to consider all of the applications.” Bird made the point that conferring incumbency on Browsowske now would give him a leg up in the election in November, when the term Blewett was elected to will expire. “We might not have considered all of the factors that need to be considered in this, as not only considering filling this seat presently but also as we look to the election in November,” said Bird.
Russ, Holland and Swanson – all Republicans – went with Browsowske as the clear Republican establishment candidate. For them, putting Browsowske in office now and giving him an advantage in November was a positive consideration rather than a negative one. Over the last six years, Browsowske has embedded himself firmly in that establishment. In Hesperia in 2014, Browsowske laid the groundwork for the achievement he claimed this week when he engaged in fundraising efforts for Paul Russ’s city council campaign and was then given the assignment of managing Russ’s entire campaign. In a race for three positions with a total of 24,472 votes cast for eight candidates, Russ in 2014 managed to poll 3,808 or 15.56 percent, good enough for third place and a berth on the council.
After demonstrating commitment to the party, Browsowske was appointed at the age of 24, to the post of executive director of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee during Curt Hagman’s term as chairman three years ago.
“Jeremiah has a lot of experience,” Hagman said at the time. “He worked with a lot of other campaigns. He has a lot of energy. So do I.”
Browsowske, who was referred to by San Bernardino County party loyalists as “a young man with a plan,” sought to demonstrate his value to the party by pushing to staff party headquarters from 9-to-5 on weekends and to bring in party volunteers to man the office on weekends. He involved himself in eight campaigns for Republican candidates. Hagman credited Browsowske with guiding all eight of those candidates to victory.
While he was in that executive director position in 2016, Browsowske made a political move on his own behalf, seeking election to the Republican Central Committee, upon which there are eight allotted slots representing the First Supervisorial District. Eleven people ran in that election, including Russ, Rebekah Swanson, Swanson’s husband Eric and Eric Schmidt, who was then a Hesperia city councilman. Browsowske finished eleventh in the race.
Hagman, San Bernardino County’s Fourth District Supervisor, offered Browsowske a position with his office as well. Hagman seems particularly interested in grooming Browsowske for higher office, including supervisor, state legislature and Congress.
The Republican establishment, the Hesperia establishment and the construction industry wanted Browsowske appointed. His supporters over the last several weeks included former Hesperia Councilman and Mayor Bill Jensen; developers Jim Previti, John “Dino” DeFazio and Tom Murphy; Naseem Farooqi, a developer representative; and architect Thomas Steeno. Their support pushed the city council, already leaning toward appointing Browsowske, to give Browsowske the nod.
Al Vogler, whose late wife Rita Vogler was a councilwoman and mayor in Hesperia over a decade ago, said he was uneasy with the alliance involving the Republican Party and the development community backing Browsowske.
“Several developers including Dino DeFazio came in and gave a pitch for him,” Vogler said. “Every Republican you can think of except me and a few in my circle wanted him. Paul Russ used him as his campaign manager four years ago. I see that as a conflict of interest and I don’t think Paul Russ should have participated in the vote. Curt Hagman, who should be engaged enough as it is with Chino and Chino Hills and down in Ontario, is behind him. What’s that about? He’s just a kid. What does he have and what does he know that would make Curt Hagman want him as an advisor? He’s way too young and way too inexperienced to be giving guidance to Curt Hagman. I think it is the other way around and this kid will be doing their bidding for them.”
Vogler continued, “The vast majority of the city’s residents did not want anyone picked for that position and wanted it to go to an election. But the three of them [Russ, Holland and Swanson] wouldn’t even consider that. They want him in there now, so he will run as an incumbent in November. Previti’s money will be used when he runs for council again in November. There’s no doubt about it: the kid’s going to run again. They want him back in there. He knows what the dance is and he’s part of it. They [the construction industry] put him in office and they’ve got his vote. It’s automatic. They may stage a charade in a few months and have him feign opposing them on one of their issues, but that will be to appease us and throw us off track. They are trying to create a supermachine here and it will be as bad as it was when Postmus was in office.”
Data sources show Browsowske to have lived or to have been associated with business operations in Winchester in Riverside County and in Independence in Inyo County. The website Simbi lists him as being employed as a “life coach.” He is also the principal in Next Generation Holdings, an advertising/political consulting firm.
During his interview by the council Wednesday night, Browsowske said, “A political bug got into me. I decided I like campaigns. I want to learn. I want to figure out how to do this policy thing but I like politics. I got involved with the Republican Party. The Republican Party gave me an opportunity to meet people all the way from Needles to Chino Hills. We have a huge county. So, I’ve been able to build relationships all across our county.”
Browsowske said he wanted to blend in with the existing political leadership in Hesperia.
“That’s what I’m applying for today, to be part of your team. I’m not applying to have my own agenda. There’s not the Jeremiah agenda. How do I become a part of the Hesperia City Council team and move forward the agenda that I think you guys have done a good job doing? You guys have brought economic development. You’re the gateway to the High Desert. If anybody comes from down the hill they have to go through Hesperia. So, as it stands right now, I’m applying to be a member of your team and I know there’s a lot I can learn. I think Council Member Russ can teach me a lot on the budget. I think Mayor Holland can teach me a lot about public safety. I would never go to you and say ‘Hey, Bill, or Mayor Holland, I know a lot more about public safety than you do. Obviously, we have two educators on the board. I’m not going to talk about education to you guys. So I come to it with a lot of understanding. I may be young. I have a lot to learn and I want to learn from you guys and work with you. I bring a lot of connections. I know your lobbyist, Tony Strickland very well. ”
Browsowske said of Hesperia, “I grew up here. I went to college here. I saw all my friends want to move away. Everybody wanted to leave. That wasn’t me. I want to make it a place where people live, work and play. I’d like to see Hesperia be a place where people of my generation have the ability of housing, to move to it. The number one priority for me is public safety. You have to be safe no matter where you’re at.”
In the council discussion prior to making the appointment, Russ in speaking of Browsowske offered a window on the San Bernardino County GOP’s game plan of empowering the party’s leaders by positioning them both in office and in positions of employment within the government, which was a key feature of Postmus’ approach and the creation of his political machine. “I didn’t know this person until four years ago when I started to run,” said Russ. “He was approached to me [sic] and said he wanted to help me run for my election. Over the last four years, I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. He works for the county. That experience is so valuable. I can tell you that is one of the things that has helped me most being on this council. I knew all five supervisors before I got elected. I knew every council member in the High Desert. In fact, I probably helped the majority of them get elected at one time, so having those relationships is very, very important. I think it’s also important that we have another generation come up and help. I think it would be good for this council to have a younger person on it that we can train and get part of the system because Bill [Holland], you’ve been here eight years. You might run again. That could give you twelve. I might run again. That gives me eight [years]. You know, we need to get some younger people and get them involved. With that, I’d like a motion that we appoint Jeremiah Brwsowske to the city council.”
In supporting her vote for Browsowske, Swanson said, “We heard tonight so much about so many people that can give so much to our community. Looking just at the paperwork and listening to every person, I did a tally in my head about the things we’re looking for in terms of someone with the ability to move into this position with knowledge already, and that’s part of my thinking process in this choice.”
Upon choosing Browsowske, the council then directed to have him sworn in that night so that next week he can participate as a member of the council in its closed door discussions prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, at which his ceremonial public swearing in is to take place.
The Hesperia City Council on Wednesday filled the vacancy within its ranks that had formerly been occupied by one of San Bernardino County’s oldest elected officials with a 27-year-old who is now among the youngest of the county’s office holders.