U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Del Beccaro sat inside the makeshift KMET-AM (1490) studio in San Bernardino listening patiently as talk-radio host Lou Desmond railed about a white teenager being threatened at school for wearing a “Southern Lives Matter” T-shirt.
When it was his turn at the mic, the soft-spoken Del Beccaro deftly pivoted away from the incident. Instead, he talked about his travels to Singapore where “racism is almost nonexistent" despite the country’s hodgepodge of ethnic groups. He credited that country’s vibrant economy, saying good jobs and more money in peoples’ pockets cures many societal ills.
“We have to bring America back, right now it is growing too slowly,” Del Beccaro told listeners. “The politics of envy is played all the time.”
His most relevant experience for the job has a checkered history. Del Beccaro took over as chairman of the California Republican Party in 2011, months after the party’s disastrous showing in the 2010 election. Despite gains elsewhere, the California GOP had lost every single statewide race and failed to win any new congressional seats.
Del Beccaro vowed to widen the party’s reach, targeting voters not traditionally aligned with the party, including Democrats, independents, Latinos and young Californians. But he failed to stem an ongoing loss of GOP voters or brighten the fortunes of Republican candidates. When his term as chairman ended two years later, the party was struggling to pay its bills.
Del Beccaro was born in Glen Cove, N.Y., in 1961, the sixth of eight siblings. He says he grew up in a politically active family, where the day’s events were discussed around the dinner table.
His father, Edward, a marketing executive, was one of the original members of the Conservative Party of New York, formed in the 1960s as a conservative alternative to the state Republican Party.
Del Beccaro remembers sitting with his father on Sunday mornings, watching news shows about the latest developments in Washington, and being taken to meet Richard Nixon in 1968.
“I met Nixon as a 7-year-old in Huntington, N.Y. He was campaigning for president. I remember being there, shaking his hand,” he says.
Del Beccaro says he started reading the Economist when he was about 12, and at 16 he began to read an 11-volume collection of world history that focused his political ideology: “The Story of Civilization” by Pulitzer Prize winners Will and Ariel Durant.
“That’s pretty much shaped my thoughts, seeing how civilizations rise and fall, how governments start out small and wind up big and in debt,” says Del Beccaro, who finished reading the set in law school. “We’ve made these mistakes on taxes over and over again in history.”
Among the many lessons he learned from his parents, Del Beccaro says, the value of hard work was paramount. On the campaign trail, he is fond of telling a story about borrowing money from his sister when he was 15 to go to a high school dance. When his father found out, he told his son to go earn the money and pay her back.
“I went looking for a job and I came back after three hours. And my father said to me, ‘Did you get a job?’ And I said no. And he said, ‘Then why did you come home?’” Del Beccaro says. “I was working as a dishwasher that night.”
While in college at UC Berkeley, Del Beccaro spent his summers with his brothers in Alaska, working in canneries. During his final year in law school, at Santa Clara University, he signed up with a San Francisco modeling agency to earn some extra cash, a side job he gave up once he passed the bar and started working for a Bay Area law firm.
Del Beccaro, a small business lawyer from Lafayette, just east of Oakland, divorced at a young age and raised his daughter as a single father. He quit his law firm job and opened his own law practice, tailoring his work schedule around his daughter’s school hours.
“I took a huge hit in income, but I rented an inexpensive place and I cut back on my expenses. I didn’t date a lot,” he said. “It was a great time. I don’t think I’ll have a better moment than that.”
His daughter Juliana, now 23, is an international economist and lives in San Francisco, he said.
Del Beccaro speaks in a soft voice and leans in close when talking one-on-one. He appears at ease on the stump, whether it’s in radio studios or a restaurant filled with tea party loyalists, and almost always steers the conversation back to his conservative, pro-growth, economic views.
“In the last seven years, the bottom 90% of American have actually seen a reduction in income of $1,600,” he said. “The current system is not working.”
Del Beccaro, who has written two books and runs the conservative website politicalvanguard.com, has made the federal tax system one of the primary focuses of his campaign. He wants to eliminate the IRS and scrap the federal tax code, replacing it with a 15.5% flat tax on personal income and net business income.
“The tax code is the biggest playground for lobbyists, special interests and corporate welfare in the history of mankind. I’m for free enterprise. I’m not for big business,” Del Beccaro says. “I don’t think big business should get favors from government … they can fend for themselves.”
Del Beccaro also criticizes the federal bailout of the auto industry and big banks during the height of the recession, saying poorly-run corporations should face the consequences of ineptitude. He has joined with conservatives calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but only if Republicans replace it with a better healthcare law and keep the provision allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
On abortion, Del Beccaro describes himself as “pro-life,” and he supported Proposition 8, the later-overturned 2008 ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage in California.
When Del Beccaro, a former chairman of the Contra Costa County GOP, took over as state party leader in 2011, he vowed to recharge the party.
He organized a town hall with the Spanish-language mega-station Univision at one of the party’s conventions, part of his effort to rid the party of its divisive rhetoric over immigration and showcase Republican ideals that he believed would appeal to Latino voters.
“If all you did was show anger toward your wife, would you have one? No,” Del Beccaro said recently. “We should have a relationship with Latinos on the economy, on education, on healthcare. Those are their big issues…. Instead, all Republicans want to talk to them about is the border issue.”
But during his two years as chairman, the Republican Party’s influence in California continued to erode. In the 2012 general election, the GOP failed to field a credible threat against Sen. Dianne Feinstein and, worse, the Democrats won a powerful super-majority in the Legislature.
Del Beccaro also blames one of the most generous GOP benefactors for not donating to the party during his tenure: Charles Munger Jr., a Palo Alto physicist whose billionaire father is Warren Buffett’s business partner.
Munger, who supports candidate George “Duf" Sundheim in the Senate race, called the accusation laughable.
Munger said he refused to contribute to the party because Del Beccaro insisted on spending millions in party funds to challenge the state’s newly-drawn political boundaries for state Senate districts. Munger had contributed $12 million to the successful 2010 ballot measure that created the independent redistricting commission that drew those districts.
“There was no way I could write a check to the party because I knew where it would go,” Munger said.
At the same time, the state GOP’s federal campaign account was carrying $700,000 in debt. Not only did the party have trouble supporting state candidates in 2012, it had trouble paying its bills, Munger said.
“There was nothing left functionally of the Republican Party after Tom Del Beccaro left,” Munger said. “He’s not a fiscal conservative, because he sure as heck can’t manage money.”
Del Beccaro has a different theory.
“He gave money as soon as I left, but not while I was there,” he said. “Others were of the same opinion. They didn’t want to fund a conservative.”