My wife and I first met local talk show host turned nationally syndicated host Roger Hedgecock (heard locally on KOGO 600 AM) and his wife in December 2009. We were waiting in a long valet line at U.S. Grant after the Lincoln Club Annual Dinner. They were very gracious and chatted with us — a young, recently engaged couple — for over ten minutes while we all waited. Last week I met Hedgecock at his studio, and I was pleased to be greeted by the same down to earth demeanor. He exudes confidence without seeming to be impressed by his own celebrity. Memorabilia of different sorts adorn his office walls, but do not clutter it. Atop his desk were meticulously organized articles and other papers. If I had to choose though, I would say the item in his office that stands out the most is his camouflage upholstered tall back office chair.
Hedgecock served on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors from 1977-1983 and as San Diego mayor from 1983-1986. I asked him to detail some of the highlights of his service:
While I didn’t hesitate to use government when I was in public office where it was appropriate to do so, I didn’t hesitate either to try to cut government stuff that didn’t make sense to me at the local, county and city level. There were two times in the 20th century that county budget went down. One of was from 78-79, when I was on the board of supervisors. We actually cut, not just the increase, but cut the actual absolute budget. That happened twice in 100 years at the County of San Diego. Twice… and has not happened since.
I had the first, I think in the country, work for welfare program at the county. I worked with a Democrat, Jim Bates, to get this put into place for food stamps at the county level. It served as a model for the country.
We (San Diego County Board of Supervisors) had the first zero based budgeting process, where we didn’t just take the baseline of last year’s budget and debate how much we were going to add to it .We went back to zero at every department. They have never done this since. We went through the budget, all members of the board of supervisors, and we went page by page. I had a citizens’ advisory board for the budget, made up of people from the private sector, who knew about budgeting. I was a trial lawyer. I got people who actually knew something about it. And with zero based budgeting, challenging all of the assumptions, again we were really able to hold the line. And in one case, in the time I was there, we rolled it back. I think that willingness to take it on: to fire people, to fire whole levels of administration, to restructure, to change, to try new things. Government generally is institutionally frozen, incapable of any real reform. So I think I am probably most proud of that.
This was the day before the former city attorney Mark Aguirre for mayor rumor. Hedgecock and I rattled off real and rumored San Diego mayoral candidates: Councilmember Carl DeMaio, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Congressman Bob Filner, State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, State Senator Christine Kehoe. I asked him to comment on the candidates. He offered his thoughts on only one:
I think Carl DeMaio is the smartest person that I have ever known who is interested in running for mayor. He is smarter than me, he is smarter than anybody who has held that office. He ran a national profit-making company on this very subject of municipal finance as a consultant and did very well helping municipalities all over the country to restructure, reform and be able to have an affordable workforce in their municipality and still get all the jobs done that the public wanted to get done. He is an expert on this, which is precisely our problem at this point. I think that Carl is a conservative, he’s young, he’s intelligent and he’s got the right background. And he’s probably head and shoulders, if not higher, above anybody else who wants to run.
With Hedgecock’s radio show going national in 2007, I wondered how much of his attention he gives to local issues, apart from the mayoral race of 2012. He said he keeps up with a host of local issues, especially pension reform:
I have been following quite closely the discussions between the mayor and Carl DeMaio and the rest of them about the way to get the out of control pension costs under control. I think there will be a consensus of what should be done. It’s pretty obvious at this point that we can’t afford what we have. We can’t have a city librarian making $150, 000 a year… retire at $227,000 a year. There’s just no way to do that. So we need to get a handle on that, or we won’t have money for potholes or cops or anything else. It is always interesting to me that we get good candidates to run, and we get people who actually know about these issues, and can act independently, and aren’t just puppets of one or the other of these interest groups that now have a stranglehold on our government.
As someone who has lived in and devoted nearly his whole life in San Diego, I wanted to get his take on the problems facing the city:
Well it’s a blessed city, you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world frankly. Our problems are nothing compared to practically any other place. We have allowed, in the last 15 years or so, the city government become of, by and for the government employees rather than of, by and for the people. We have allowed an alien philosophy to take over with a lot of social engineering overtones. For instance, the transportation planning 25 years ago, we built freeways ahead of need. When the 805 opened, nobody I knew had ever been on it because it didn’t go anywhere. Nobody used it. We went, “What is that for?” And the transportation planners of that day would say, “Here is the way the population is increasing. Here’s where it is going to go. So you’re going to need this freeway as they come in.” Sure enough, four to five years later, there were lots of cars on the 805.
We don’t do that anymore. I think those alien philosophies can best be summed up as “can’t do” philosophies, rather than “can do” philosophies. One of the “can’t do” philosophies is we are too anti-business. This was a town of a lot of small business–that had a very heavy investment of government too, in the university and military and so forth–but always had a complementary incredible variety of private enterprises. Fishing industry is gone. Lots of small businesses are gone–that can’t be maintained anymore under the onerous rules that we have in California, but even in the city of San Diego. So with those kinds of things, you can always point out things that could be improved. But overall, let’s just put it this way, it’s not Detroit.
Next up, the roots of Hedgecock’s political philosophy, his take on Governor Brown, and “Holding Their Feet to the Fire.”