Brendan St. John has been preparing for the June 5 primary in the 15th Congressional District for more than a year. The independent, but right-leaning Pleasanton resident believes Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell played Democrats when he defeated Pete Stark six years ago and, then later, duped Republicans who bought into his homespun moderate platform only to be burned by his liberal views. The fact Swalwell appears on their television on a nearly daily basis in order to throttle President Donald Trump only makes it burn more painfully.
“In 2012, Eric ran as a very moderate candidate who was running up against a long-term Democratic incumbent and knew strategically that his best bet was to find the middle,” said St. John. “He ran on reducing the national debt, protecting our borders, helping small businesses, all the thing that are very much wheelhouse Republican positions. So he wasn’t running on a Democrat platform within the district and I think that’s great. When he got to Washington things changed and I think that’s why you are seeing some dissatisfaction on both sides because we are a moderate district.” He adds, “I voted for Swalwell, but he hasn’t followed through.”
“Here’s what I stand for: Some of it is conservative, some of it is moderate.’ If that aligns with what you believe in and you want to disrupt Washington a little bit, then certainly check me out as a candidate.”–Brendan St. John
Although Swalwell’s star has risen greatly both in the Bay Area and nationally, at the grassroots in the East Bay, he is far less popular at either end of the political spectrum. Progressive Democrat distrust his bent in favor of law enforcement and conservative Republicans believe he’s a Trump-hating, puppet for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“I’ve always said the greatest thing about Eric Swalwell is no matter the opinion, he agrees with you,” St. John said at a Starbucks in Dublin. From Kate’s Law, the federal legislation that would make it easier to deport violent undocumented immigrants and then sanctuary cities, St John says Swalwell has taken both sides of the issue and sometimes at the very same time. “He ran talking about how, as a prosecutor, knowing how frustrating it was that no matter if he prosecuted an individual he would later see them on the streets rather than in jail. But then he didn’t support Kate’s Law, at first. Then later, when he knew it was going to pass he was on board.” Same with the sanctuary city issue, said St. John. “He’s all over the map. Which is it? Either he’s for sanctuary city laws or against?”
St. John, himself, does not support sanctuary cities and advocates for deportation of undocumented immigrants after committing violent crimes. Last February, St. John along with a Republican congressional candidates in the 17th District, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General’s office in San Francisco complaining of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to alert undocumented immigrants in Northern California of an impending raid by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. “What she did was wrong. Her actions, whether she wants to acknowledge them or not, in my opinion, impeded ICE’s ability to their job and to keep the community safe,” said St. John. “If we have an opportunity to get violent criminals out of community, then we should be taking those opportunities and not playing games based on politics.”
St. John’s key issue is the national debt. He will not support legislation that adds to the debt, he said. “We have a $20 trillion debt and at some point that debt is going to become due and if we don’t address it, it will hurt everybody and those most vulnerable will get hurt the most.”
He does not support impeachment unless there’s more information to show collusion with Russia (He adds meeting only three voters in the district who have mentioned the Russian meddling case as a campaign issue). He upports Israel, does not support the Iran deal. Believes in choice up to 25 weeks, does not support raising federal minimum wage to $15 an hour; and opposes golden parachutes for CEOs who perform poorly and cash out to the detriment of shareholders. “That’s something your classic Republican would not support,” he said.
Although a local issue, St. John says he believes the state legislature’s pressure on cities to build more housing is unconstitutional. The issue is a perennial hot-button issue in the Tri Valley and St. John’s own Pleasanton lost a court battle in which they were ordered to pay $5 million after failing to meet a state mandate. He says Swalwell has pressured cities in the district to build more housing, and as a result, increase already grinding traffic. Fremont is one city that Swalwell reportedly leaned on. “He knows he doesn’t have any specific authority, but he’s trying to use his influence,” said St. John.
Born and raised in the suburbs near Columbus, OH, St. John moved to the Bay Area shortly after college and eventually settled in Pleasanton 20 years ago. He’s married with three children and works in the field of medical device marketing.
His chances of advancing to the top two November General Election could be an uphill fight, in part, due to his strong preference for being independent. Swalwell will win next month’s primary by a large margin, that much is certain. But second could be a tossup based not on any fervent band of support for Rudy Peters, but merely the fact he is a registered Republican and St. John is not. Swalwell’s name-recognition is likely sky-high in the 15th District, but for non-Democrats, because of scant information about the other two candidates, Republican voters might just vote for the name with a “R” next to it and relegate St. John to third place.
“I don’t worry about whether Rudy is going to win the base,” said St. John. “I’ve been out there gently pounding the pavement since May 2017. I think that’s all any candidate can do that is running on a platform of being an alternative choice to the two major parties is to say, ‘Here’s what I stand for: Some of it is conservative, some of it is moderate.’ If that aligns with what you believe in and you want to disrupt Washington a little bit, then certainly check me out as a candidate.” He’s betting that support among 15th District voter for either party is weak, therefore, creating an opportunity to sneak into the top two. “We need people who are not beholden to a party boss, who are not beholden to special interests. That way your representative can simply access legislation on its merits and what it’s going to do for your district and the country as a whole.”
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