Column: Harley Rouda thinks the sweet spot is in the moderate middle

Harley Rouda, left, accepts an endorsement from Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Aug. 3 Huntington Beach.
Harley Rouda, left, accepts an endorsement from Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Aug. 3 Huntington Beach.
(Carlos Delgado / Associate Press)

Who is Harley Rouda?

I wanted to know more about the Democratic candidate challenging the 48th District’s incumbent congressman, Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).

According to Rouda’s campaign website, the Laguna Beach resident is a husband, father, “successful businessman, philanthropist, attorney and tech entrepreneur.”

The day we spoke I asked if had ever held office.

He hadn’t.

I wondered why a first-time candidate wouldn’t start at the City Council, Board of Supervisors or Assembly levels.

Rouda tells me he considered running for City Council when he was younger, but was busy growing his real estate business.

During the economic downturn, “It was all hands on deck.”

He saved his business and now says he mostly does “board work.”

“With the 2016 elections it was time to get engaged in the political process,” he says.

“It was the Trump agenda and Rohrabacher’s support of it, and the type of representative he’s been,” that motivated him to make the leap to a congressional run, Rouda says.

Rouda, a former Republican who registered Democratic last year, considers himself a “moderate” and feels more are needed in government.

Which brought our discussion to partisan politics and the polarization of the two parties.

Rouda says voters need to deal with this one elected official at a time.

He says in the 2016 election cycle, his observation was both political parties were guilty of “party first, country second, debating personalities and not issues.”

“There is more we agree on and less that we don’t,” he says. “When I made the decision to run, I was tired of party first and country second. I will reach across the aisle to put country first.”

Rouda points to shifting county voting demographics, which indicate the number of registered Republicans declining as the number of unaffiliated independent voters rise.

He feels this indicates voters are moving more to the center.

I asked Rouda about local issues like John Wayne Airport and the proliferation of sober-living homes, which are important to residents in his district.

Rouda says the sober living proliferation problem is more of a county and state issue.

I agree that’s an element to the solution, but what about revising the Americans with Disabilities Act on the federal level by declassifying alcoholics and drug addicts as disabled, as his former primary opponent Republican primary candidate Scott Baugh had suggested?

“From a local standpoint there are hundreds in the 48th, and they don’t need hundreds to meet the critical needs,” he says.

Rouda says there are good and bad operators, and the bad need to be weeded out.

He says government funding for addiction needs to “be tightened up to provide accountability and locally more control, and that may require ADA modifications to address the issue.”

He says there needs to be “accountability by providers — some of the underlying issues are not having health care in place and the opioid issue across the U.S.”

As far as the airport issue, Harley says this goes way beyond JWA, Long Beach Airport and Los Angeles International Airport because flight patterns have been altered.

“We need the FAA to honor the current curfew agreement,” and we need political leaders who will stand up for that at the federal level,” he says.

He says Rohrabacher has “done a horrible job” regarding airport issues, and points to the fact the FAA makes amendments regularly all over the country, though the congressman has failed at his attempts.

Another issue we touched on was cities’ unfunded pension liabilities.

Since Rouda’s campaign is financially supported strongly by labor unions, could that close union alliance scare off moderate voters who want pension reform?

Rouda doesn’t think so, saying, “Some unions have turned their pensions around, and some have a long way to go.”

“Some negotiations need to take place to meet the anticipated obligations and the ability to stay solvent,” he adds. “Get all relevant parties to sit at the table and be honest about the facts.”

During our conversation we touched on many issues, which I plan to discuss at the upcoming Feet to the Fire Forum Sept. 22 at Orange Coast College’s Robert B. Moore Theatre.

Rouda tells me he looks forward to discussing the issues with Rohrabacher.

So far Rohrabacher’s people haven’t committed to the date, telling me it was too far in advance.

But if things work out, Rohrabacher might attend, they say.

I asked Rouda if he could speak directly to Rohrabacher what would he say about this.

“We, the people, are your constituents that you took an oath to represent, and who want to meet with you and hear your answers,” he says. “So do your job and meet with us.”

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at