Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chuck DeVore made sure that the June 8 ballot described him as “Assemblyman/Military Reservist” because, the Irvine lawmaker said, he didn’t want to be mistaken for just another politician.
The remark reflected his effort to portray himself as an outsider in California politics — albeit one in sync with both the Republican faithful and the “tea party” protesters who have fanned voter disdain for officials in Washington and Sacramento.
“What I have is a solid public record of conservative credentials, whether in office, in the community, or in the uniform of the United States Army,” DeVore, 48, said during a recent debate with his opponents or the GOP nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer in the fall.
Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program. He also has faced criticism for acting on behalf of a group with ties to political contributors.
A cornerstone of DeVore’s Senate bid is his 24 years in the California National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve, which he argues has given him national security expertise lacked by his better-known, better-funded GOP rivals; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Rep. Tom Campbell. He trails both in polls.
During a radio debate with them in early March, DeVore talked of being the sole candidate in the Senate race with military experience. “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. His campaign material shows he’s a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.
DeVore said both references are accurate because the retired reserves are part of the Army: “My nameplate says U.S. Army.”
He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.
DeVore said in a later interview that he was a credentialed reporter for the Orange County Register when the shooting occurred. He said he had called the Israeli military requesting to see the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon — identifying himself as an American student studying in Egypt, a reporter and member of the U.S. Army Reserve — and was included in a media tour.
“The Syrians shot at us and kind of drove us off the hill, because they didn’t want press over there. It was like warning shots,” said DeVore, adding that he and the Israeli soldiers immediately took cover.
DeVore mentioned that former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick was among the journalists on the tour. Zelnick said the group climbed an observation tower in Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory, from which the Bekaa Valley could be seen. He recalls the Israeli troops taunting the Syrians, who fired shots in response. But Zelnick said they were out of range and that Israeli journalists present had publicly teased him for reacting to the gunshots. “Nothing I saw or experienced could reasonably be interpreted as our having been driven off the hill by Syrian fire,” he said.
Frank Dowse, a Fiorina supporter and a retired 20-year Marine veteran from San Diego who served as a top advisor to NATO, said any attempt by DeVore — subtle or not — to imply that the Lebanon incident was related to his military service “is a bad move.”
“Those are the kinds of things that will turn veterans off immediately,” said Dowse, president of the security consulting firm Agemus Group in San Diego.
In the interview, DeVore readily acknowledged that he never served in combat. He said it was “just the luck of the draw” that his National Guard units were not called into action during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was in a combat unit, but most of my career I was in a unit that was focused on the Korean Peninsula,” DeVore said. “The fact is, I enlisted in 1983, and I always went where the National Guard or reserves asked me to go.”
DeVore said he was “shot at” only once in his military career; during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. His National Guard unit was deployed near Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and, while the troops were on patrol, a gunshot blew out the window of a car about 20 feet away.
“We didn’t know whether it was a stray round, whether it was a sniper,” DeVore said.
Inspired by Reagan
DeVore said he decided in college to enter military service, inspired by then-President Reagan’s call to “reenergize the nation and stand up to communism.” After earning an ROTC scholarship, he transferred from Cal State Fullerton to Claremont McKenna College. He later worked in GOP campaigns in New England and Idaho.
His record in the years since provides a picture of an ambitious man who — despite his professed scorn for professional politicians — tried four times to be elected to the political establishment, starting with a bid for Congress when he was in his mid-20s, before winning his first office, a seat in the state Assembly, in 2004.
In 1986, he landed a job in the Reagan administration as an assistant to Margo Carlisle, assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs. White House personnel records show officials were impressed with DeVore’s service as an Army Reserve officer; the officials also noted his GOP campaign experience and the fact that DeVore’s mother chaired the Fullerton Republican Women’s Club.
DeVore’s references included Chief White House Science Advisor William Graham, a family friend from Mammoth Lakes, where DeVore went to high school and where his father owned an auto parts store.
While working at the Pentagon, DeVore says in his campaign literature, his “initiative helped develop the Arrow Anti-Ballistic Missile program.” The Arrow was proposed in 1986 as a way for Israel to defend itself from potential missile attacks from Iraq, Iran, Syria and other hostile nations.
DeVore, who was 25 at the time, said he approached U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a San Diego County Republican, with an idea on how to skirt the congressional opposition to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative — popularly known as “Star Wars.” Democrats had attacked the program as costly, ineffective and in violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union.
If the U.S. funded an Israeli-built missile defense system, the U.S. would be able to study that country’s test data without violating any prohibitions on missile-defense testing in the U.S., DeVore said. He said he told Hunter that with the support of pro-SDI Republicans and pro-Israel Democrats, the proposal was sure to win congressional approval, which it eventually did.
“So in his office, I dictated to him a “Dear Colleague” letter that he personally typed up on his Selectric typewriter,” DeVore said. “Within a week, Duncan Hunter had 40-plus signatures — House and Senate, Republican and Democrats, that went to Reagan and [then-Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger … the idea was born.”
Hunter was then a Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. In a recent interview, he recalled DeVore as a staunch advocate of the Arrow program on behalf of the Reagan administration — but Hunter said he wrote the letter, and pursued the idea, on his own.
“I drafted the letter that was signed by members of the Armed Services Committee, recommending that Israel embark on the missile defense program,” said Hunter, whose son now represents that congressional district.
Hunter said that he and members of the Reagan administration were working on ways to develop defenses to medium-range missiles at that time, so it would be difficult to credit any one person for the successful funding of the Arrow missile.
“No one in the administration said, ‘It was my idea’ — DeVore included,” Hunter said.
In 1988, Devote entered politics, quitting his congressional liaison job to join the field of candidates fighting to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Robert Badham, a Newport Beach Republican. He eventually withdrew and supported Republican Christopher Cox, who won the election and hired DeVore as his senior assistant.
After briefly considering a run for the state Assembly in 1990, Devore ran instead that year for the Orange County Board of Education, without success. In 2002, he lost a bid for the Irvine City Council. In 2004, he won his seat in the Assembly, where he is nearing the end of the maximum three terms allowed under term limits.
Before being elected to the Legislature, DeVore was vice president of communications and research for the Newport Beach firm SM&A Corp., a consulting firm that mostly helps aerospace companies pursue government contracts. DeVore worked for the company for 13 years.
In Sacramento, DeVore rose through the GOP ranks to become Republican whip, a post he quit last year in protest after legislative leaders from his party agreed to $18 billion in temporary tax increases to help balance the state budget. His votes and bills have mostly hewed to conservative GOP tenets: opposing government expansion, same-sex marriage, tax hikes and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, as well as favoring offshore oil drilling. Most of his bills have languished in committee, perhaps partly as a consequence of membership in the minority party.
DeVore stepped into controversy almost immediately after taking office. As a freshman lawmaker, he came under scrutiny for filing legislation that would have halted evictions at a beachfront Orange County mobile-home park and benefited the businessman who had chaired his campaign finance operation.
In his 2004 campaign, DeVore received a series of loans from members of the family of Roberto G. Brutocao, his campaign finance chairman and a signatory of the master lease for the El Morro trailer park at Crystal Cove. DeVore also received more than $25,000 in donations from park residents and others with ties to the site.
The state had purchased the trailer park from the Irvine Co. in 1979 with plans to remove the residents. DeVore’s legislation would have extended the leases of 275 tenants for up to 30 years, which he said would generate much-needed revenue for the state to help reduce the budget deficit.
Claire Schlotterbeck, a consultant with the environmental group Friends of Newport Coast, called DeVore’s explanation “suspect.”
“He was obviously greatly influenced by not only the personal connection but the financial connection,” Schlotterbeck said. “He was, and is, not sympathetic with state parks — period. He just doesn’t think that’s a role a government needs to play.”
DeVore said El Morro was the only state park that generated net revenue, and bulldozing the place would have cut off money the state needed.
“The parks service was talking about a $1-billion backlog it had for maintenance. We keep adding parkland, but we don’t add money to take care of it,” he said, although he later withdrew his legislation, which had scant support.
DeVore said his relationship with Brutocao had had no influence on the legislation and that they had never met until shortly before the campaign."I was trying to help people who lived in my district. In my mind, I was standing up to the state,” DeVore said.
This is one in a series of articles examining the backgrounds of the major candidates for California governor and U.S. Senate in the June 8 primary election.