ROSENBERG: Tussle for Badham : New Kid on the Block Giving Badham a Tussle
Management consultant Nathan Rosenberg didn’t look much like a rebel when he strode to the microphone dressed in a navy blue blazer, gray flannel slacks and a green striped tie.
It was a hot Saturday morning in Mission Viejo, and at the Cafe Vienna, overlooking the community lake, about 100 Republicans had gathered for a campaign forum.
This was another of those grab-bag affairs of the campaign season--17 Republican candidates, vying for posts ranging from county clerk to U.S. Senate, with five minutes each to explain their views.
Still, Rosenberg attracted more than his share of interest. People seemed eager to hear from the 33-year-old congressional candidate who has defied much of Orange County’s Republican establishment to run against a five-term veteran, Rep. Robert E. Badham of Newport Beach.
His audience was alert as Rosenberg, speaking confidently, his blue eyes looking directly at the crowd, touched briefly on his background--four years in real estate, 2 1/2 years as an aide in Washington, the last 10 months in consulting.
“I could put my business background together with my government background” to balance the budget, Rosenberg promised.
Although some in the audience sported baby blue Badham campaign buttons on their lapels, Rosenberg didn’t shy from a central theme of his campaign--attacking Badham’s performance as a globe-trotting, “do-nothing” congressman. Quoting from the Congressional Quarterly, Rosenberg cited Badham’s participation in roll call votes--only 85% in 1985 giving him the “eighth worst” record among all Republicans in the House that year and “the fourth worst” among House Republicans from 1977 to 1985, Rosenberg said.
Sounding a common refrain of his campaign, he added sternly, “If
someone worked for me and failed to show up 15% of the time, I would fire him or her.”
It was a typical speech by the brash young candidate from Newport Beach, and it had an impact.
At the door, a woman collecting money for the United Saddleback Republican Women Federated, which sponsored the forum, wrote Rosenberg’s name on a pad beside her, adding in large letters beside it, “BALANCED BUDGET!”
To his many supporters, Rosenberg, with his intelligence, his energy and what many people like to describe as his charismatic personality, is an extraordinary candidate, a bright new face in Orange County politics. And with a high-profile, three-month campaign that has included radio ads, district mailers and 300 volunteers, the three-year county resident has given the county’s senior congressman his toughest primary battle in 10 years.
In the process, Rosenberg has drawn support from prominent Orange County Republicans and business leaders, such as Caremark President James Sweeney and developers Gus Owen and Gen. William Lyon.
He has also gained backing from Young Republicans around the state and from an unusual network of people around the nation whom Rosenberg knows through “est” or “The Forum"--motivational seminars that he has taught for years. (Rosenberg’s oldest brother, is Werner Erhard, nee Jack Rosenberg, who in the 1970s created est--a blend of zen, Scientology and Erhard’s own ideas.)
Cathy Ferrar, president of California Young Republicans, called Rosenberg “extremely dynamic. He’s a leader, but at the same time he’s not autocratic. . . .
“Orange County would be better served by a congressman like Nathan,” said Ferrar, who got to know Rosenberg when he was president of the Orange County Young Republicans in 1985. And last week, she persuaded her board of directors to overturn a previous “no endorsement” stance and back Rosenberg.
Owen said that Rosenberg is a “hard-working, well-educated, articulate young man” who would do a more conscientious job than Badham. “I think Nathan has a long future in the Republican Party of Orange County,” said Owen, who in 1970 was Southern California campaign director for then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and who has seen his share of rising political stars.
But to his detractors, Nathan Rosenberg is an opportunist, a man more interested in promoting himself than in working within the Republican Party’s ranks.
Badham claims that Rosenberg has been deceptive about his campaign’s links to est and that those connections are “sinister"--an effort by Erhard’s “cult” to seize a congressional seat for its own purposes. “Who is Nathan Rosenberg? Who sent him here, and where does he get his money?” the congressman has asked repeatedly.
Deny Cult Allegations
Both Rosenberg and a spokesman for Erhard & Associates in San Francisco call Badham’s allegations absurd, and they deny that Erhard’s firm is a cult or that it has been involved in the campaign.
Rosenberg acknowledges that he was the 1985 national chairman for Erhard’s seminar leaders and that seminar leaders and their friends around the country have been a key fund-raising base for his campaign. He argued, however, that Erhard seminars are simply a method of inquiry, a way to improve one’s skills. Philosophically, Rosenberg said, the training has nothing to do with his conservative Republican politics.
By running against Badham, Rosenberg has alienated some of the county’s leading Republicans--within the Young Republicans organization, the Lincoln Club and the party’s central committee.
As a member of the Young Republicans, Rosenberg at first “was a mover and shaker within the club. He helped it grow from a bleak 15 to what it is today--about 300 members,” said Bret Barbre, public relations director of the local chapter.
But on the March 7 filing deadline, when Rosenberg suddenly took out papers for Badham’s seat, many Young Republicans were shocked that Rosenberg--recently reelected as president--would run for office without first letting them know.
‘Breach of Faith’
Some were also angry that Rosenberg would jeopardize the club’s firm “no-endorsement” stance in Republican primaries by taking on a “safe” Republican incumbent. The ranks in the club became divided, Barbre and other members said, with some Young Republicans now working in Rosenberg’s campaign, others working for Badham.
To Barbre, Rosenberg’s decision to run was a breach of faith. “He was using the club as a launching platform to run for office,” he said bitterly.
Rosenberg argues that his running “wasn’t all planned out and premeditated.” To be sure, Rosenberg said he knew many Republicans were unhappy with Badham’s performance. He particularly recalled a March, 1985, meeting of the party’s prestigious Lincoln Club, for $1,000-a-year contributors. At that meeting, Rosenberg said that he had watched as Badham lamely defended a record of missed votes and inordinate traveling.
But Rosenberg said that he didn’t decide to run until a week before the filing deadline. In late February, he had read about a Congress watch study citing Badham as having “the second worst travel record in Congress,” Rosenberg said, traveling more at taxpayers’ expense than all but one other congressman. Rosenberg said he consulted with Owen, looked up Badham’s record in the last election (gaining only 64.1% of the vote) and decided to run.
That decision enraged county party chairman Thomas A. Fuentes. Fuentes had been impressed with Rosenberg’s skill at rebuilding the Young Republicans, but when Rosenberg filed for Badham’s seat, Fuentes tried desperately to talk him out of it, arguing that the action was not “loyal” to a fellow Republican and that a contested primary would waste money better spent against the Democrats next fall.
Rosenberg’s response? At a March 21 press conference, he denounced the party “bosses” and said he would not be following their hallowed “11th Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of thy fellow Republican.”
True to his word, Rosenberg has ignored the maxim. The candidate has said that he agrees in principle with Badham on many issues--he is against offshore oil drilling, for a balanced budget, for free trade.
But again and again he has attacked Badham’s performance--from missed votes to spending campaign money on a Cadillac, to allegedly failing to work hard against offshore oil drilling.
And, during a May 19 KOCE-TV interview, Rosenberg expanded his attack to include Fuentes. He called the party chief a “bagman” for Fuentes’ former boss, county Supervisor Ronald W. Caspers, who was lost at sea in 1974 in a boating accident.
Last week, Fuentes politely attributed Rosenberg’s “bagman” comment to the pressures of the campaign, but several sources said that privately Fuentes was fuming.
This week, Rosenberg said he believed he was out of favor. “Four months ago, I was the Golden Boy of the Republican Party. Tom Fuentes and the rest of those guys couldn’t say enough about me. And now? . . . I don’t know; you’ll have to ask him (Fuentes).”
Fuentes and other county Republican leaders like to talk about earning one’s stripes-- working “in the vineyard” of party politics.
By his own account, Rosenberg hasn’t worked in the Orange County “vineyard” very long. Married and with two children, he moved to Newport Beach from Santa Monica only three years ago, and he first joined the Young Republicans in January, 1985.
To some of his supporters, Rosenberg’s newness is a plus. He is not part of “the old guard in the county,” as Caremark’s Sweeney puts it.
Rosenberg’s resume includes a long list of memberships--partly in real estate groups like the Urban Land Institute, in Republican donor organizations like the Lincoln Club, and in Newport Beach’s St. James Episcopal Church. However, he lists no memberships in local civic or charity groups. “I’m not a joiner,” he explained.
At the age of 20, while in the Navy, Rosenberg attended one of his brother’s motivational seminars, and last year he became national seminar chairman for Erhard. During the first month of his campaign, Rosenberg took time from precinct walking to teach a course on “excellence” at Erhard’s Newport area center.
Rosenberg didn’t list his Erhard seminar experience in his campaign literature; he said he did not think it was relevant to the campaign. “I also didn’t say I was an acolyte or at Naval Justice School or decorated twice” in the Navy, he said in an interview last month.
Raised in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Rosenberg said he has been interested in politics since he was 8, when his next-door neighbor asked him to help walk the neighborhood for the Nixon-Lodge presidential ticket.
Although his congressional bid is his first try for public office, those who have known him for years say he has always talked about politics. Said Judy Land, a Carlsbad real estate investor who met Rosenberg in 1979 through est training: “He always talked about being President of the United States. He’s a committed kind of guy. Nathan’s always the leader.”
In his 12 years since college, Rosenberg has shifted careers several times, moving from military life to government work to real estate investing and, last July to a management consulting business of his own.
After graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1974, Rosenberg spent four years in the Navy, two as a naval aviator, piloting helicopters in search-and-rescue missions and another two years as an executive support officer to the Secretary of Defense.
After the Navy, he worked from June, 1980, to January, 1981, as an analyst on the staff of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) analyzing defense issues.
Badham contends that the latter two jobs call Rosenberg’s Republican credentials into question. “He calls himself a ‘conservative Republican’ and yet points with some pride to his staff work in the liberal Democrat administration of Jimmy Carter and liberal Democrat Senate Leader Robert Byrd. . . . Could a true conservative Republican be proud of his service to such an administration? I think not,” Badham argued at a press conference in early May.
Rosenberg disagreed. As a Navy officer, he was assigned to work on the staff of Defense Secretary Harold Brown, he said. He then took a nonpartisan analyst’s job with Byrd’s staff, a point that Byrd’s former deputy staff director, Arthur House, confirms.
Still, Rosenberg likes to expound on his government experience, saying at candidates’ forums or in interviews that he has spent a third of his life working for the government. Last Thursday, at a candidates’ forum before the Industrial League of Orange County, when Badham again attacked Rosenberg’s job with “the Carter Administration,” Rosenberg rose quickly to the defense.
Not only did he receive a Navy citation “for my ability to analyze” international problems, Rosenberg said, but he worked so closely with Brown that “I woke him up in the morning, and I put him to bed at night.”
“A gofer!” someone from the audience interrupted. Rosenberg ignored him.
In 1981, when Byrd moved from being Senate majority leader to Senate minority leader, Rosenberg resigned to take a job with the Los Angeles real estate investment firm of McDade and Shidler.
Rosenberg spent two years in Los Angeles, learning the commercial real estate business and becoming a partner in the firm. He moved to Orange County in 1983 to open its Newport Beach office. The partnership was dissolved in July, 1984, at Rosenberg’s request, after Rosenberg decided to begin his own management consulting business, he said.
His former real estate partner, Jay Shidler of Honolulu, called Rosenberg “a good real estate investor.” Rosenberg was skilled at acquiring shopping centers for the partnership, renovating them and “making them more valuable,” Shidler said. He added that Rosenberg had sold his share in the partnership because he wanted to devote more time to politics.
Rosenberg’s current business operates out of the offices of J. Melvin Muse Co., a Santa Ana advertising firm that is handling public relations for his campaign. Rosenberg has said he gets $200 an hour for his work, which includes “leadership and team-building” seminars for large corporations.
For the future, Rosenberg said he is concentrating on winning this race. But if he doesn’t? Badham is expected to retire by 1988, and Rosenberg said he will run again.
Badham supporters claim that there is little political future for Rosenberg. “He may have harmed himself for the future,” by his sharp attack on Badham, said Lincoln Club board member Doy Henley, a Santa Ana manufacturing company president. “No, he’s not going to win, and probably his political future in this area will always have a stigma attached to it.”
But Rosenberg’s main backer, Owen, disagreed. Just by running, Rosenberg had achieved some success, by giving the public an alternative to Badham, Owen said.
“Even if Nathan loses, I think the service is already performed,” Owen said. “Mr. Badham is in the district,” actively campaigning during a primary for the first time in years. “We’ll go ahead and support the winner,” Owen said. “But we’ll also go ahead and look forward to two years down the road.”