Ten Candidates In Crowded Mountain-Desert 33rd Assembly District Race

(May 29) In the 33rd Assembly District, which covers a wide swath of San Bernardino County’s desert and mountain regions, nine Republicans are vying against a single Democrat to succeed Assembly two-termer Tim Donnelly. Donnelly, who would have been eligible to run once more for the Assembly under California’s term limit law, opted to instead run for governor this year.
While the district’s voter registration numbers heavily favor the GOP, given the sheer number of Republicans in the race, it appears likely that the Democrat, John Coffey, will pull in enough votes in the primary to gain a berth in the November election against the top Republican vote-getter. Under California’s open primary arrangement, the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, qualify for a head-to-head contest in November.
One of the earliest of the candidates to declare in the race was Scott Markovich, a self-described fiscal conservative and social progressive who offers what he says is a formula that will restore the Republican Party’s competitive edge.
A lifelong resident of the San Bernardino Mountains, Markovich has a general contractor’s license and owns and operates two companies, Empire Home Builders, a sole proprietorship, and Red Rooster Development, a corporation that specializes in building spec homes. He is a member of the Rim of the World School Board.
Markovich said a primary impetus in his candidacy is his desire to limit the influence of special interests.
“Because of my contracting background,” he said, “I understand what it is like to be taken advantage of by local or state or federal mandates. Government has infringed upon our ability to live freely as we choose, and government too often interferes with our ability to enjoy our lives. The United States came about to establish and protect our sovereign rights as citizens and individuals. Somehow our political leaders and rulers have lost focus on that. Most of the elected leadership in Sacramento are serving special interests and corporations rather than working at enhancing our freedoms and building the infrastructure of a society in which we can have businesses that succeed so we can have nice homes and the freedom to travel and do things that better our lives and the lives of our families and everyone around us. We have lost focus on the real reasons we elect officials to represent us.”
Government, which should facilitate providing resources to its people, Markovich said, is perversely serving to obstruct citizens from obtaining the resources they need.
“As a contractor, I have always known how to go to get a permit, pass the inspections, do a project on a budget, complete the project, achieve the goal. I know what mandates are and how they hurt us,” he said.
Markovich said he is not blindly opposed to regulation. He said he understands the necessity for order and the imposition of standards.
“There are things we do need to regulate,” he said. “I believe there has to be balance so we don’t overregulate. There has to be more pragmatic thinking about laws.”
He cited AB32, which is aimed at regulating exhaust emissions on commercial equipment, as an example of counterproductive regulation.
“My perspective is based upon my interaction with the truck drivers I deal with who deliver rock, gravel, and sand to the construction sites I work,” he said. “The law was supposedly aimed at huge operations, cement factories, other factories with smokestacks. Now those mandates are being applied to small vehicles and it is costing small operators upwards of $25,000 to comply with regulations and with superficial standards that have no helpful effect in terms of the environment or controlling pollution or any of the good things that were intended in the legislation. The trucks and the truck drivers were not the problem. Regulations have their role, but when all parties are not represented then they become mandates that inhibit the economy. The proper balance on this can only come from candidates who have been part of the middle class that have been subject to these misguided laws. We should not be throwing everyone into the same category.”
Markovich cited Thomas Jefferson as the ideal politician who was able to adhere to his principles while compromising with philosophical adversaries to permit progress. “Thomas Jefferson’s contemporaries said that he was the most pragmatic politician of his time,” Markovich said. “There are politicians and there are statesmen. Statesmen go beyond entrenched partisanship and work for the common good and promote people rather than ideology. My goal is to not become a politician and instead try to be a statesman.”
An example of regulation that is proper, Markovich said, is the modulation of land use policy. “I am a contractor, so most people think I am pro-development,” he said. Nevertheless, he said, “When your development has significant impact on the environment and sanitation and the health and wellbeing of the community, these things have to be thought through to see if they are fundamentally environmentally and economically sound. [A development project] might be good for the proponents and have some short term economic good for the community, but …we could all end up paying a huge price if we just let the developers have their way.”
Markovich said he believes he is distinguished from the other eight candidates by his “conservatism on fiscal policy and opposition to things that are regressive and do not expand the economy, and by my acceptance of freedom of choice on social issues. I am not against gay rights and I do not oppose a woman’s right to choose. I have personal values and ethics that I hold dear and there are things other people do that I would never engage in, but I do not feel it is my place or the place of government to infringe on people’s civil liberties and rights. In my life, early in our marriage when my wife became pregnant and then pregnant again, we were concerned about our careers and the burden of having children at that age. The right choice, we felt, was to choose life. We made the choice to have children. That was our decision. It was not dictated to us. There are things about other people’s lifestyles that I do not understand. But it is their right to choose for themselves. By putting restrictions on freedom into the law, it is counterproductive. I believe you should give people the freedom to make their own decisions.”
Markovich said his attitude extends to all Constitutional Rights, including those guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
“Instead of going after guns and ammunition and the people who have them, I think the government should work to ensure that there is responsible gun ownership,” he said. “If gun owners are reasonable and responsible citizens, they should have the right to possess guns. There is a responsibility that goes with that. We need laws to keep us all accountable with respect to the exercising of those rights and gun use. Guns allow us to protect ourselves until the government comes. Gun rights should stay as part of our lives and our country.”
The lone Democrat in the race, John Coffey, was his party’s standard bearer in 2012. He is again seeking election to California’s lower legislative house representing the 33rd Assembly District because, he said, “this area has been without legitimate representation since 2010.”
Coffey asserted his belief that the Republican domination of the district has done it no good, given the near supermajority the Democrats have had in the legislature over the last several years.
At 68 years old, Coffey said his life experience dwarfs that of most of the other candidates. He said he will “make sure that school districts stay on top of the entitlement of free and reduced lunches and I will expedite food stamp applications for households with minor children.”
Coffey said he more than any of the other candidates in the race is committed to maintaining the district’s ecological integrity.
“After 28 years of do-nothing hearings, it is time for the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to declare Hinkley a Superfund site.  Barstow must also begin to deal with its perchlorate issues more effectively with the state’s help to avoid another water shutdown. In Cadiz the aquifer should only be used as an asset to protect and support environmentally sensible development and endangered species habitat conservation.”
He continued, “The Bureau of Land Management is in the middle of a land grab for private developers in the Silurian Valley. They must cease. The Silurian Valley is a national park quality park wilderness area that bridges the transition from Death Valley to the Mojave preserve.”
Big Bear Mayor Jay Obernolte is the most economically enabled of the candidates in the 33rd District race, having received $229,919.15 in donations alone from Charles Munger, Jr.’s Spirit of Democracy political action committee.
Obernolte’s primary message is that the state of California is staggering under the overregulation of business and he is determined to right the state’s overregulated business climate.
“If we solve the economic problems, a lot of the other difficulties will be eliminated,” he said.
Turning to the challenges to the state beyond the limited confines of the 33rd District, Obernolte said the major focus, “on the state level, should be preserving Proposition 13. I am appalled there have been recent attempts to chip away at the taxpayer protection provisions of Proposition 13. I find particularly galling the way we are attempting to modify Proposition 13 to increase the tax on business property. We are sending a message to businesses that they are no longer welcome in California. What I would like us to do is stand firm and protect Proposition 13.”
Proposition 13 was an amendment of the Constitution of California passed by voters and enacted in  1978 that  decreased property taxes by assessing property values at their 1975 value and restricting annual increases of assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2 percent per year.
“I have by far the most business experience,” Obernolte, who owns a computer game manufacturing concern, said. “I am in the best position to fight against the overregulation of business that is stifling the economy of our state. We need people in Sacramento who know what it is like to shepherd a business thorough upturns and downturns. We need them to understand how stifling the business climate is in California. We need lawmakers who understand that businesses face a lot of issues.”
Michelle Ambrozic is a Republican health insurance broker who has railed against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, maintaining hospitals are going bankrupt because, “Seven out of ten people are unable to pay for health care insurance or are now losing the health care insurance they had before Obamacare was put into place.”
Ambrozic said that “Doctors are increasingly reluctant to accept new Medicare patients at the same time that thousands and thousands of low income Medicare patients are coming along. They are not willing to accept new Medicare and Medi-Cal patients because they are not being paid adequately. It is not financially feasible for them to accept these new patients. We need to get money to expand Medicare and Medi-Cal. We need to make sure our state medical reimbursement rates are what they should be. We need to set up a program so that if after graduating from medical school and being licensed, primary care physicians can commit to a rural area for up to six years and have their medical school debt forgiven. This is already being done in several other states.”
Ambrozic said she wants to divert money that has been appropriated to the California Dream Act, which she said “is utilizing taxpayer money to further the education of illegal aliens and people who are not citizens of our state” and use it to fund medical student education.
Her campaign is being spearheaded by Donnelly’s former chief of staff, Gregg Imus, who has represented Ambrozic as a “gun-toting mother of three.”
Robert Larivee is running, he said. because “I feel our government has separated itself from the people. It is time to rebuild our nation from the ground up.”
Identifying a major issue facing both the 33rd District and the southern portion of the state as ensuring the availability of water, Larivee said, “My solution for the sustainability of the water supply is to first deal with the drought and educate the public in more detail on how to conserve water. We have been depleting our aquifers since the 1960s.” Beyond conservation and the installation of water saving devices, Larivee said the state water authority needs “to figure out a comprehensive plan to deal with water issues across the state. We basically need to open up the pump at the delta.”
Larivee said the state can protect the delta by augmenting its water with resources drawn from elsewhere.
“I think there are less expensive options to get water to where we need it,” he said. “We could bring water from various places and release it into aqueducts. We should have pipelines not built by a single contractor but multiple contractors that would be competitively bid, all the way down from Canada or Alaska. If we can build an oil pipeline be can build one for water. If it is a pipeline there will be no evaporation since it is a closed system. We should start the pipeline in spots where there is a major surplus of water. We should reach outside the state to Oregon or Washington or wherever we have water north of us and can bring it down. It is less expensive to maintain a pipe system than an aqueduct.”
Larivee identified “safety and education” as two other major issues facing the district and the state.
“I know a little bit about all of the issues and a lot about some of them,” Larivee said. “I know where to find the answers.”
Retired San Bernardino County fire captain Bob Buhrle said he is running for assemblyman in the 33rd Assembly District because “I believe I can use my more than 20 years’ experience in various elected positions to be of benefit in helping straighten up California.”
Buhrle has been on the board of directors at the Big Bear Municipal Water District, a board member of the High Desert Medical Center,  a board member of the Lake Gregory/Crest Forest County Water District, a member of the Arrowhead Lake Association Board of Directors, a board member of the Big Bear City Community Service District, which oversaw the budget and management of municipal sanitation, water, fire safety and  refuse disposal services, a member of the board of trustees for the Rim of the World Unified School District, and a member of the San Bernardino County Regional Parks Advisory Board.
Buhrle said “We need solutions” and that part of the cure is “having small businesses create new jobs. This can be done if we work together at all levels of government in cooperation with the private sector.”
75-year-old retired truck driver and former Marine Jerry Laws said “I’d like to see a flat tax rate in California. We can’t get the feds to do it.  I want the federal land in California turned back to the state. Right now the federal government will not let states drill or put pipelines in or anything along that line. The federal government should return most of what it took over back to the states.”
Laws said the county should be allowed to revive its mining industry. “Inyo County  was using its gold mines to pay their bills,” he said. “My main goals are to protect the Constitution and the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.”
Art Bishop, a retired Fire Chief with the Apple Valley Fire Protection District and current member of the Apple Valley Town Council, said he is running because “in order to change what is happening in Sacramento, we need to take a stand against politics as usual. Businesses, jobs and good people like you are leaving our great state every day. Burdensome laws, excessive government regulations and unnecessary taxation are damaging the great state that we love.”
Bishop said, “My experience and leadership skills will bring a common sense approach to our legislature. California was once a great place to live and raise our families.  I know, because I have lived here most of my life.  My wife of 43 years and I raised our two children here, and my grandchildren are growing up here. Our schools were among the best in the nation, and we welcomed businesses that provided quality jobs for our families.  It is my goal to bring stability, leadership, and experience to the legislature in its decision-making process. I am a firm advocate of local control and cooperative governance without sacrificing principles.”
Brett Savage, the youngest candidate in the race, said, “We need to support small businesses, reduce regulation, and support law enforcement. To save California we need to invest in the industriousness of its people, not big government. The High Desert needs a representative that is willing to fight for it.”
Savage said, “The growth of the High Desert economy depends on free enterprise.  We need to ease the burden on our communities’ small businesses.  We must lower the cost of starting and running a business.  We must reduce regulation and promote industry.”
According to Savage, “Our right to bear arms is under constant attack.  In Sacramento I will not only fight to protect the Second Amendment from further assault, but work to restore those rights that have already been taken away from us.”
Touting himself as a “staunch supporter of law enforcement, Savage said, “Serious crimes warrant serious penalties.  We need to protect those that protect us and support law enforcement and their families for the remarkable sacrifices they make every day.  I was born and raised in a law enforcement family and I personally know the sacrifices made both those in uniform and the families that love them.”
Rick Roelle, a sheriff’s lieutenant, said, ““I see our state dealing with the same issues that are big in this district – taxation, overregulation and public safety,” he said. “The reason we have overtaxation is because the voters keep voting tax hikes on themselves. Sixty percent of the people in surveys say they believe we are overtaxed but the voters still keep voting for tax increases. The solution is if they are going to keep shoving tax increases down our throats, we have to have more people on the payroll, with decent paying jobs paying into it. If there is going to be tax creation there first has to be job creation.
Roelle said he is distinguished from the other candidates , “obviously my 32 years in law enforcemen. I had eight years as an elected official on the Apple Valley Town Council. I am chomping at the bit to get involved with the Republican Party in California. I represent a lot more than just taking a stand against illegal immigration and gun rights.  I think I can assist my constituents by assuring that they are not gouged by the cuts government has to make.”

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