TIMM HERDT, Ventura County Star, April 23, 2008
Former Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Moorpark, who has spent his entire adult life either working in the Legislature or running for political office, has decided to present himself to voters this year wearing the mantle of a newfound vocation: “Alternative Energy Executive.”
That is the ballot designation Strickland, a Republican, chose when he filed in March to run for the 19th Senate District.
Strickland, 38, says the description accurately reflects his station in life. Some of his critics, however, believe he is using the title to deceptively present himself to voters as a friend of the environment.
The title will appear under his name on the ballot. It refers to his position as vice president and partner in a startup company, founded in June, called Green Wave Energy Solutions. The company has filed applications with the Federal Energy Commission to develop two projects off the California coast.
It hopes eventually to produce electricity from a nascent technology that seeks to harness energy from ocean waves. Strickland is one of five partners who each pledged to put up $5,000 to start the company, although Strickland acknowledges he has yet to pay his share.
“I believe I am going to be successful in this company.” Strickland said. “I’ve always thought alternative energy will be very profitable. I think it will be the wave of the future.”
Strickland went to work out of college as an aide to then-Assemblyman Tom McClintock. In 1998, at age 28, he became one of the youngest members ever elected to the Legislature. Until his association with the new company, his whole life had been politics.
The ballot designation has raised eyebrows among environmentalists, who assert he is using the title solely in an attempt to favorably introduce himself to environmental-minded voters in Santa Barbara County, a part of the district in which he is unknown.
“That’s a complete scam,” said Bill Magavern, California advocacy director for the Sierra Club. “For him to pose as a supporter of alternative energy is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of voters.”
Magavern noted that Strickland, as a member of the Assembly, voted against a 2002 law that expanded the demand for alternative energy by requiring utility companies to supply more of their electrical power from renewable energy sources. That law, in essence, created a virtually guaranteed market for any power that a future wave-energy project might produce.
California’s Elections Code allows candidates to place a designation beneath their names on the ballot. Incumbents can list that status and those who currently hold elected office can list that title. Candidates cannot cite offices they formerly held.
In the 19th Senate District, both candidates — Strickland and Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson — are former members of the Assembly. As private citizens, they had to choose some other description. The law allows them to use “no more than three words designating current principal professions, vocations or occupations.”
Jackson, who spent 22 years working as an attorney before being elected to the Assembly in 1998, chose the designation “educator.” Although she is still a member of the California Bar, she said she did not choose “attorney” because she has not practiced law in a decade.
Because she taught at UC Santa Barbara as the university’s “public policymaker in residence” from the time she left office in 2004 until last June, she said, she opted for “educator.” From March 2007 to March 2008, she reported making $50,000 as an educator.
After leaving office in 2004, Strickland became president of the limited-government advocacy group the California Club for Growth, a post he was forced to resign when he ran for state controller in 2006. On that ballot, he designated himself as “Taxpayer Organization President.”
Since then, his statement of economic interests shows his only source of income has been as a consultant for a firm he manages called New Market Strategies, a position for which his report shows he received income of more than $10,000 and less than $100,000. He acknowledges he has received no income from GreenWave, since the company has yet to generate any revenues.
Something of an art form
Selecting a ballot designation has become something of an art form in political campaigns in California. Typically, candidates pick designations that appeal to the constituencies of their parties — “educator” for Democrats, for instance, or “businessman” for Republicans.
“It’s one of the more interesting things to deal with,” said GOP consultant Kevin Spillane, who is not associated with the Strickland campaign. “It’s one of the things you can control, but it has strange limitations on it. I’ve actually gone to court over ballot designations.”
In the early stages of the campaign, Strickland has sought to capitalize on the positive associations with alternative energy among voters. Introductory radio commercials he aired in Santa Barbara in December emphasized his affiliation with the fledgling energy company. In a March news release announcing the official kickoff of his campaign, he prominently described himself as “vice president of a renewable energy company he helped found.”
Other partners in the company include Thousand Oaks developer Gary Gorian and Ventura County Board of Education member Dean Kunicki.
Gorian, whose development company contributed $3,000 to Strickland’s 2006 campaign, describes himself as a longtime friend. Strickland said it was Gorian who first alerted him to the business and to the potential for wave energy production.
In addition to the partners, the company has two volunteer employees — Chris Wangsaporn, who is managing Strickland’s Senate campaign, and Joel Angeles, chief of staff to Strickland’s wife, Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, and a consultant to Tony Strickland’s campaign.
Gaining ‘sweat equity’
Although the two are not being paid, Strickland said they have been promised future considerations for the “sweat equity” they are devoting to helping the company get off the ground.
Strickland said his agreement gives him a 20% ownership in Green Wave. His responsibilities are “to guide the company on a strategic level. I’m there to coach on government affairs issues.”
He also serves as a company spokesman to the media and was recently quoted extensively in a Mendocino County newspaper story reporting on Green Wave’s application for a project off that county’s coast. That wave energy project and another proposed by Pacific Gas & Electric have generated environmental concerns in the area.
Jackson, the Democratic candidate, said she considered but rejected the idea of challenging whether Strickland’s involvement with a nascent company met the legal definition of being a “principal vocation or occupation” required to justify his ballot designation.
“It defies credibility,” she said. “I don’t think the public is easily fooled.”
Magavern of the Sierra Club notes that during Strickland’s six years in the Assembly he received poor ratings for his environmental record. “In general, Strickland had a zero record from both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters,” he said.
One key bill Strickland opposed is the law generally credited with jump-starting the market for alternative energy in California. SB1078, passed in 2002, requires investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison to obtain at least 20 percent of the electrical power they supply from renewable energy sources.
They must increase their renewable energy portfolio by at least 1 percent a year until they meet that 20 percent goal.
That bill passed the Assembly on a 55-23 vote. Although it was supported mostly by Democrats, a number of Republican lawmakers joined with them, including new Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto.
Strickland said he voted no because he opposes government mandates.
“When there is a demand for something — and there is a public demand for alternative energy — the private sector will meet it,” he said. “I don’t believe the government needs to come in and mandate it.”
Political consultant Spillane said that in the end, the candidates’ ballot designations will have little effect in what is expected to be a free-spending, high-profile campaign.
“Ballot designations are crucial in lower visibility races,” he said. “But in this race it’s not going to matter that much. If people don’t know who Tony is now, by the time this race is over, they will.”