Martin Garrick, 57, the leader of the Assembly Republicans and the newest member of the Big Five, has spent most of his life in and around politics. Barely a teenager, he walked precincts for Ronald Reagan in the 1966 governor’s race, accompanied by his father, who was a volunteer in Reagan’s campaign. Garrick went on to a number of political jobs in San Diego, and played an active role in San Diego County Republican politics. Capitol Weekly’s Max Theiler caught up with Garrick this week in the lawmaker’s office.
How did you get started in politics?
I’m a native second-generation Californian. My folks, both my uncles and my grandfather participated in World War II. I guess you could say I grew up in a patriotic environment, with an appreciation for freedom and the free market enterprise system that built this country. I had opportunity early, walking precincts for Ronald Reagan, when he was running for governor in 1966, accompanying my mother, who was volunteering for the campaign. And I continued my volunteering all through my youth and through my business career, volunteering to do things like be on the Solana Beach Crime Commission, what became the Public Safety Commission, the Solano Beach Budget Committee and the San Diego County Cable TV Commission, as well as participating in local San Diego County Republican Party politics. I was a volunteer on people’s campaigns. Besides a charitable giving, this is a social activism or patriotic passion that I have to share.
So, you ended up working in the Reagan White House?
I worked in the ’66 campaign as a volunteer, walking precincts. And the ‘70 campaign, I was in High School doing the same. In the ’76 campaign I was with the Republican delegation, when Ronald Reagan took on the seated Republican president Gerald Ford, and lost on the floor of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City. And then in ’80 I was invited to come back and join the campaign headquarters in Virginia, with Bill Casey and Ed Meese and many others who played prominent roles in the Reagan administration, along with my father, who was an admiral. He had joined the Navy five days after they bombed Pearl Harbor. He wanted to be a flyer but couldn’t because of his vision problems. He loved to write and became a war correspondent on Admiral Nimitz’s staff, and then stayed in after World War II and was commissioned as an officer. He eventually became the first rear admiral in the U.S. Navy to be named Public Affairs or Public Information Officer. He was asked, having also been politically active on a volunteer basis, to come back and work for the [Reagan] campaign. He was 60, this was 1980, so he and I both went back and joined the campaign on the White House transition team. I worked briefly in the White House, then went over to the Department of Energy as White House liaison to the Secretary of Energy. Then in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Affairs, I held several positions and then ended up Deputy Assistant Secretary for Senate Liaison, working on Capitol Hill most days in the Capitol. I represented the secretary of energy and President as it related to energy issues, the budget, and policy issues within the Department of Energy. Solar, wind, nuclear, coal, coal gasification, natural gas, oil, all those issues. Three-and-a-half years of experience doing that.
You’ve been minority leader in the Assembly for six months now. So far, has that leadership role matched up to your expectations?
Yes. It’s an honor to be both elected by your fellow Republican colleagues, and also to serve as an Assemblyman representing the area that I wasn’t born in, but a beautiful area of California, the 74th Assembly District. That district represents all or part of nine different cities in San Diego County, and there are only 18 cities in the whole county, so I’ve got half of them. That’s all of the six of them and part of three of them, along with county area, in terms of rural or unincorporated portions of the county. I’m pleased to be able to bring some of my personal experience both in business and past experience in Washington D.C. working for Ronald Reagan and the Reagan administration, along with the principles and values that I believe in, that Reagan articulated so well and that the Republican party stands for, to the leadership role that I hold here as the Republican leader of the Assembly.
How would you characterize the spectrum of opinion in the Republican caucus?
Like the whole Assembly. [The Assembly] is made up of different individuals with different experience, facts and knowledge that they’ve gained over their lives and perspectives from their personal experiences, and the Republicans are no different. I think that by and large, though, the principles the Republican Party stands for, that’s it. Things like smaller, more efficient government, more individual freedom, less taxes, not trying to grow government – those are generally accepted by the Republican caucus.
In the ongoing budget crisis, you’ve vehemently opposed tax increases for bridging the gap in favor of budget cuts. If you had control, what cuts would you make?
The options are either to reduce spending or to increase revenue through taxes, and already the State of California has, in the last 5 years, lost 1,332,000 individuals and jobs through being what I believe becoming a non-competitive state by having the highest sales tax rate, the highest rate on every gallon of gasoline, and the second highest income tax rate. Hawaii is the only state that has a higher income tax rate, and their sales tax is 4.5 percent. You can see the contrast, in terms of everyone who works and looks at their paycheck, when you see both the amount of state income tax you pay and then you look at sales tax you have to pay. And the hidden taxes and fees, whether it’s that parking ticket, or whether it’s on a gallon of gasoline, where 63.9 cents of every gallon you pay is a mix of taxes; sales tax, road taxes, federal taxes, and taxes on taxes. We actually have sales tax on top of the road tax and federal tax. I don’t believe increasing taxes is the answer. We need to prioritize and reduce the spending. What we are doing is over-spending because we have an economic recession right now, I think everyone recognizes that. When you have things like Circuit City, going out of business, closing hundreds of stores nationwide, over a hundred I believe in the state of California, and Mervyn’s and Linens ‘n Things doing the same and laying off people, you know that you’re in an economic downturn and you need to tighten your belt and reduce spending. We have continued to spend at the same rate we were spending in prior years, if not letting it continue to grow, and that can’t take place. And so there is a proposal that includes many reductions or suggested reductions. It was outlined pretty well in the May revise, if you take a look at that you can see some items. And we as Republicans have reviewed that, we in the Senate and Assembly, and by and large agree with a few modifications or what we call the blueprint for reducing spending with a few change orders.
Do you think the Democrats have been intentionally obstructing the passing of the budget?
They have not to date been cooperative in reducing spending and recognizing the need to reduce spending. [The Democrats] seem to keep falling back on just raising taxes as the answer to fill in the budget hole as the overspending continues.
What circumstances do you think would merit a tax increase?
At this point in time in our economy, when we have a 19.1 billion dollar deficit, 12.6 perecent unemployment, 2.6 million people out of work, those facts alone tell you that now is not the time to be raising taxes, when states that surround you have either no sales tax (Oregon), no inco
me tax or capital gains tax (Nevada), or a more business friendly environment (Arizona), that tells you just from a competitive nature that you shouldn’t be increasing your taxes and chasing businesses and individuals out of California.