Fined legislator chided for tactics, praised as reliable
By Michele Clock
, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 12:19 a.m.
: Member of the California State Assembly, 77th District
: Bachelor’s degree in finance, California State Polytechnic University Pomona Residence: Alpine
: Wife, Kate; children, Mary, Maura and Michael
As he has elbowed his way up the political ladder in east San Diego County, Assemblyman Joel Anderson has left a trail of loyal supporters, fierce opponents and some peculiar financial activities.
Anderson’s admirers hail him as a zealous watchdog for taxpayers who is always looking out for the interests of his district.
“He’s probably one of the few that always had an open door, and we’re able to talk with him just like if we met him in the grocery store,” El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis said.
Others contend that Anderson’s paramount interest is advancing his political career and that he doesn’t mind cutting corners to do it.
Mark Price, a member of the Alpine Union School District board who ran against Anderson in a Republican Assembly primary in 1998, described his rival’s campaign style as “win at all costs.”
“I think when you have that sort of attitude, you’ll push boundaries that you may not be willing to otherwise push,” Price said.
That quality recently cost the La Mesa Republican a lot of money.
On Thursday, the California Fair Political Practices Commission fined Anderson $20,000 after an investigation found that he broke the law by engaging in an unusual pattern of campaign finance transactions that resulted in his collecting donations above the legal limit. Anderson, an assemblyman since 2006, is expected to run for the state Senate next year, and his campaign could have benefited from the illicit financial activity.
With the fine, plus being forced to return nearly $150,000 in disputed contributions and incurring legal bills, Anderson is out a great deal more money than he would have been if he had gone by the book.
“Sometimes the Boy Scout approach to politics is also the smart approach,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont Mc Kenna
Opinions about Anderson in Sacramento are as split as they are in his district.
Conservatives give him high marks as a reliable vote against taxes and government spending. Both the California Republican Assembly and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association give Anderson their highest rating.
Ken Mettler, president of the California Republican Assembly, said of Anderson’s record: “In general, it’s been pretty darn good. His name has always been in the top tier for fiscal and social conservatism consistently over the years.”
Democratic strategist Steven Maviglio, who has advised the past two Democratic Assembly speakers — Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Fabian Núñez of Los Angeles — dismissed Anderson as an unproductive ideologue.
“I think he’s a classic garden-variety conservative that has little impact in Sacramento. He’s a backbencher in his own caucus,” Maviglio said. “He’s not necessarily known as one of the brighter lights, and he has pretty much of a reputation of an ideologue who hasn’t been able to cross party lines and get anything done.”
Legislatively, many of Anderson’s bills are dead on arrival — not uncommon for a member of a minority party as badly outnumbered as the Republicans are in Sacramento.
“A member of a minority party has extremely limited ability to make an impact on public policy,” Pitney said. “Really, the only leverage comes at budget time, and there it’s a matter of negotiations among the leaders, not the backbenchers.”
Still, Anderson has had some legislative successes and demonstrated a knack for identifying headline-grabbing issues.
He responded selectively to e-mailed questions for this story.
“I’ve never allowed my minority status to be used as an excuse not to get things done,” Anderson said.
“I’ve authored several major bills, such as AB 221, the California Divest Iran Act, that were co-authored by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I passed AB 221, which divested (the California Public Employees’ Retirement System) and (the California State Teachers’ Retirement System) from companies that were violating federal law by doing business in Iran.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced during an address to the United Nations General Assembly that he would sign the bill.
Anderson is also pushing Assembly Bill 1506, which would require the state to accept its own IOUs for purposes of taxes and fees.
The Republican assemblyman has bills at various stages of the legislative process on an eclectic mix of subjects: state boards and commissions, court hours of operation, collection of fines, military retirement benefits, licensed physical therapists, Internet security, fleeing a police officer, disaster relief and support for Israel.
Schwarzenegger has signed two Anderson bills this year — one to increase homestead exemptions, which shield a portion of a home’s equity from liability, and another to make it easier for home-schooled students to obtain work permits. The governor vetoed an Anderson bill that would require counties to print a warning on vote-by-mail envelopes that ballots must be in the hands of election officials before the polls close to be counted.
Anderson, 49, lives in Alpine and is married with three children. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly in 1998 and won a seat four years later on the Padre Dam Municipal Water District board of directors.
In his biography on the Assembly Web site, Anderson said he owned and operated a small company for more than a decade, building it into a million-dollar operation, but didn’t identify the type of business. When Anderson was campaigning for the Assembly seat in 2006, he said he worked for a company called JCACOM that handled marketing and direct mail.
Anderson declined to describe the status of JCACOM, except to say he isn’t the owner. According to a spokeswoman for the state’s Franchise Tax Board, the company’s corporate status was suspended a few months before Anderson was elected because it owed income taxes. It remains suspended.
A lien filed against the company in May 2006 for $1,386 was released later that year, and the Franchise Tax Board said the company now owes $1,086. Campaign records show that Anderson’s 2006 and 2008 campaigns for Assembly paid JCACOM for campaign literature and mailings.