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Give Them Fitz : District 15 senatorial candidate Jim Fitzgerald

Rebel With a Cause

Independent upstart Jim Fitzgerald is challenging an entrenched Republican senator for the right to represent the Central Coast.

By Paul Wagner

It was the definition of premature bragging: "Maldonado Runs Unopposed in Election," the Monterey Republican Party crowed on its website. In the text, lifted from the San Luis Obispo Times, a Maldonado aide taunted anyone trying to gather enough signatures to challenge the state senator: such a person would, he said, find it "a mathematical impossibility."

They had reasons to brag. Abel Maldonado, strawberry farmer-turned-successful-politico, had triumphed several times in the 15th state Senate district, which extends from Santa Maria to San Jose by way of Salinas, Watsonville, Scotts Valley and Los Gatos, straddling portions of five counties along the way.

And he'd done it shrewdly. He'd sided with Democrats often enough to earn the praise of ultra-Dem Don Perata, state Senate president. Maldonado had collected both GOP and Dem signatures; Monterey Democrats hadn't even bothered putting anyone up against him. And Democratic attorney Dennis Morris, who had launched a last-minute write-in effort, had come up way short.

But still, the Republicans made one mistake. They hadn't counted on Jim Fitzgerald.

"For years, I have been complaining about our elected officials," says Fitzgerald, an independent. With his 37-year career at UPS as an account manager ending in 2008, the Nipomo resident decided to make his big change even bigger. "I said to myself, why don't I put my money where my mouth is and run for office?"

So starting in April--apparently unnoticed by Maldonado's overconfident aides--Fitzgerald plunked himself down in front of the local post office and started collecting signatures. On his sixth attempt, a potential signatory asked how many signatures he had--and how many he needed.

"I told him 13,533. He started to laugh," recounts Fitzgerald--but the man signed, all the while complaining about how only professional politicians run for office. "That is when I knew I would not only get all the signatures I needed, but I also knew that I would be elected."

Fitzgerald forged ahead. When UPS asked him to stay on a while longer, he hired the jobless, through temp agencies, to fill in on his workdays. When they'd drop out, he'd hire and train more. On weekends he led the teams or did it solo. By August, with signatures turned in, count verified and sufficiency certified, Fitzgerald had done what no Democrat in this election cycle had--he'd qualified to run for state Senate.

So the campaign by the 55-year-old mild-mannered community member--who volunteers and contributes to the 4-H, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Boy Scouts and the United Way and steadfastly refuses large donations--began.

Fitzgerald began promoting his ideas, which are characterized primarily by a direct, earthy practicality that some might find naive, but others would find refreshing.

Regarding the energy issue, Fitzgerald would "require all new government passenger vehicles purchased by the state to be hybrids or electric cars"--including all new California Highway Patrol vehicles. "No more Suburbans or limousines."

For further cuts, he suggests a feasibility study on running the entire current state fleet of trucks, busses, forklifts and heavy equipment on natural gas. "Reducing the state agencies' demand for gas will increase the supply of gas for the people of the state."

When it comes to increased revenue sources, Fitzgerald looks to consumption. "What about a tax on luxury items?" He also notes that 22 states (Alaska being the best known) charge oil companies to extract state resources-and so should California. "One thing we know for sure is that those people who have more to spend have more to pay in taxes." 

How about the ever-menacing structural state deficit? He suggests modernizing state software and communications systems enough that state workers can teleconference instead of traveling. And consider converting state government to a four-day workweek.

On local water issues, Fitzgerald's ideas are equally direct: build a Central Coast desal plant, pump its freshwater output directly to large existing lakes and reservoirs, filling them and thus automatically replenishing the aquifers without complicated new infrastructure. As for new energy sources, he advocates drilling for oil, but only on land, not offshore.

The stark, unadorned nature of these proposals, remarkably bereft of talk about visions or worldviews, led Metro Santa Cruz to ask Fitzgerald what he'd like to leave as his legacy in office if he's elected?

"First of all," he said, "I don't think that anyone should be concerned with leaving a legacy."

What, then, would concern him?

"I would like to accomplish a term as senator with it being said that I was a good, hard-working representative of the people."

See for more information about the candidate.

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