Independence Caucus takes aim at incumbents

I spent a couple of hours yesterday with Bob White, the volunteer Northern California director of the Independence Caucus, talking about grassroots efforts to recruit and support “fiscally responsible” candidates to challenge incumbent state and national lawmakers.

I put “fiscally responsible” in quotation marks because White bristled a bit when I used the phrase “fiscally conservative.” He defined fiscal responsibility very simply as not spending more than you have.

iCaucus logoThe Independence Caucus was founded by a pair of Utah men, Frank Anderson and Monte Bateman, whose model was their successful support of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who beat a six-term Republican incumbent in 2008’s primary despite being vastly outspent. The idea is that most, if not all, long-time incumbents on either side of the aisle are beholden to special interests, and that no incumbent is safe if citizens put enough time and effort behind a candidate they believe in. The caucus’ informational Web site is here, and its activist site here.

White – who retired three years ago from a 30-year career in Silicon Valley as an executive recruiter who also helped launch a few high-tech startups – is responsible for California congressional districts 1 through 27. He’s been putting a lot of mileage on his car, crisscrossing the state’s northern half to hit every conservative gathering he can find, trying to identify potential “citizen candidates.”

The only criteria, he said, are a commitment to fiscal responsibility and “adherence to the Constitution” – the candidate could be Democrat or Republican, he said, so long as they stick to those two tenets.

Lots more on this, after the jump…

First, the potential candidate completes an 80-item questionnaire
designed to test those commitments; sections include the proper role of government and national sovereignty, Congressional transparency and code of ethics, the federal budget process, earmark process reforms, federal taxation policy, the rule of law and right to contract, and personal character and standards.

If the candidate scores 70 percent or better, then he or she is interviewed at length by Independence Caucus organizers. Those interviews, recorded in video or audio format, are later posted online so viewers can ask additional questions. Finally, there’s a vote; if 70 percent or more of members approve of the candidate, the candidate gets the caucus’ endorsement.

Republican John Dennis, who’s challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, in the 8th Congressional District this year, received that endorsement late last month; Dennis is an activist with the Republican Liberty Caucus, the libertarian-leaning party apparatus often associated with 2008 GOP primary presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. The caucus also has endorsed Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, in the U.S. Senate race. And there will be a debate tomorrow between caucus-vetted candidates Kevin Gordon and Don Barich, vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in the 15th Congressional District this November.

I see the caucus’ membership numbers about 348 in California and about 6,300 nationwide, and White said they’re working to recruit and support candidates from coast to coast. “We are getting things done – there are almost 300 people nationally in the pipe that we’re vetting.”

The caucus then works with the candidate to recruit volunteers who’ll work the phones, walk the precincts, organize fundraising and visibility events, and so forth – shoe leather to counter the incumbent’s advantages in money and name recognition, White said.

I met with White at the Castro Valley home of San Francisco Bay 912 Project organizer Mimi Steel. Both took care to note that the Independence Caucus is separate from the project, and from the tea-party movement that has swept the nation, yet can work hand-in-hand with them – the tea partiers take their issues to the streets, the 912 Project looks to change the political discourse over the longer term, and the Independence Caucus takes action to find and help elect candidates that embrace both, they said.

“This is round one – we’re awake,” White said. “I’ll sacrifice some time for it. I want my kids to have the California I had.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • “The only criteria, he said, are a commitment to fiscal responsibility and “adherence to the Constitution” – the candidate could be Democrat or Republican, he said.”

    Republicans and Democrats who are “fiscally responsible” and “adhere to the constitution” basically do not exist. If third party and independent candidates need not apply, that’s not an independent caucus, that’s a co-dependent caucus.

  • John W.

    “Could be a Democrat or Republican, he said.”

    You betcha! Read the 80 questions. This is basically a blend of Ron Paul/Grover Norquist/Judicial Watch stuff. If they want to support those world views, fine. But they should be honest about it.

  • Josh Richman

    @John W.: Yes, it is hard to imagine the Democratic candidate who would pass their test.


    There are a few sitting congress people who are fiscally responsible and support the Constitution. Unfortunately, there are not many of them. That is why the focus in on replacing the incumbents.