CHARLIE BROWN RETURNS TO PLACER COUNTY
Two-time Congressional Candidate Charlie Brown is BACK in Placer County. Charlie ran in both 2006 and 2008 against Congressman John Doolittle and Tom McClintock respectively. He was within a few hundred votes from winning the 2008 race. In 2009 Charlie and his wife moved to Washington DC where he received a job with the Department of Homeland Security. Placer County Democratic Central Committee member Glenda Wertenberger interviewed Charlie back on January 19th, 2015. The following is the interview conducted on January 19th, 2015.
GW: Welcome back to Placer County!
CB: It’s good to be back. That’s why we kept our house here. We consider this home.
GW: Ok, let’s talk a little bit about when you took a job in Washington DC.
CB: Jan and I went back to DC in October 2009. When we went back there, well it was a combination of things. We thought we were close to getting jobs, but we didn’t actually have one yet. So we drove back to Iowa and visited my sister there. Then Jan got a firm job offer on her job, and I was told “we’re getting closer on your job, be patient.” So we kept driving back to DC, and I got a firm job offer!
GW: I take it that was with Homeland Security?
CB: Yes, I was trying to get into Veterans Affairs, but I just couldn’t make the right connections to get anything at the VA. I had said Homeland Security was my second choice, and that’s where I ended up.
GW: Speaking of Veterans Affairs; what do you think about what’s going on with the veterans, being a veteran yourself?
CB: It’s this whole crazy thing of, there’s always plenty of money to fight a war, but not enough money to take care of the Veterans when they come home. You know, they want to offset it somehow or something. First off, you were out there on the street corners with me, and I was not a big fan of the war in Iraq. I thought the threat was in Afghanistan, that’s where 911 came from. Not a big fan of the war in Iraq, but you know, it’s two separate issues of supporting the troops. And the amputees get a lot of the publicity, and they deserve a lot of help. But people need to realize that the amputees are actually a very, very small percentage. That the majority of the Veterans that need medical care and psychiatric care for PTSD and other injuries, most of them the injuries don’t show. So it’s very easy with the amputees to say, oh there’s a veteran, they need help. And yet, for the vast majority their wounds aren’t visible. And they aren’t getting the help they need. You know, the VA has certainly been in the newspaper enough. Now I’ve gotten very good medical care through the VA. I went up to the VA clinic in Auburn, and got excellent care there. But, you know, there’s so many people that haven’t gotten the care they need. The system’s overwhelmed, they didn’t plan ahead to be ready for this. And then you have the scheduling problems in the VA which were known. You know, I talked about it when I campaigned. I had people telling me at that time that the VA was cooking the books on appointments, scheduling more than they knew they could handle and then having to cancel them. So this is not a new problem, it goes back a minimum of 10 years, probably longer. And it has been interesting working in Washington, and seeing the bureaucracy back there. And so many good people trying so hard to get something done, and it is so hard to make changes. President Obama you know can issue a Presidential order or something, and whether it actually gets implemented or not is probably at best 50-50 by the time it trickles down through the bureaucracy.
GW: There seems to be a high number of suicides among vets and soldiers. What are your thoughts about the numbers, and could it be from lack of care?
CB: Depending on what numbers you look at, it could be as high as 22 suicides a day. The problem is the military isn’t really tracking it. While they track suicides from active duty service members, they really are not tracking the people who have gotten out of the military. So, it’s questionable whether there are any real good numbers as far as military suicides, what’s directly attributable to lack of care from the VA, to what somebody experienced while they were in the military, was it something that happened when they came home? They want to do a study, they want to find out how bad the problem is, and in the meantime people are dying. We saw this with Agent Orange after the Viet Nam war. You’ve got a problem with depleted Uranium, Gulf War Syndrome, and they just want to study it to death, and meanwhile people are dying.
GW: From your perspective what kind of debriefing do soldiers get? They seem to have to be broken down and reconstructed to go to war. I haven’t heard about any reconstruction to get them back to civilian life.
CB: There are a variety of programs, when I got out it was called the transition assistance program. I’m not sure what they’re calling it now. So there are a variety of programs. What you run into is; when a soldier comes home the first thing he wants to do is be with his family. So, he’s not interested in sitting in classes debriefing. It’s yeah just let me out of here, I want to go be with my family. If they’re getting out of the military it’s because they’re tired of the military. Again, they don’t want to sit in a bunch of classes. The military taught them to be strong, resilient, and yeah they just want, let me out. Where do I sign, let me walk out the door and get away from here. It’s hard to get them into classes. It is very hard when you are dealing with a unit that has returned, to adequately debrief them, or see if there are individual problems. Because you’re dealing with maybe a thousand people in a unit or more. And so you run them through a bunch of classes. you’ve got an instructor up there and he’s going down his checklist; there is no time for individual counseling. Now, I would contrast that with a police involved shooting. And this comes from my years at the Roseville Police Department. Police involved shooting, everyone that was involved in that gets brought in for counseling. The Police Officers, the Dispatchers, everybody is brought in. And there’s a certified counselor there in a small group, and they deal with this. So in the civilian world our police departments recognize that this may be a very traumatic event. We need to get everybody in, we need to do some small group counseling, let everybody talk about it. The military’s not doing that. They’re dealing with much larger numbers, and you’re dealing with people who…. say an IED goes off and blows up a truck or a couple of trucks, And you know, you take care of the ones that have physical wounds. But for the others it’s like yeah you’re okay, here go drive again tomorrow.
GW: Yes, on some level I can understand that, but I see it as a disservice to the people that serve. Because this is something that is not …not working. It’s not working.
GW: Let’s talk a little bit more about Washington In your experience in working in DC, what is something positive about it?
CB: Well, we’ll skip around here a little bit.
GW: I know that there’s a lot of bureaucracy in DC, obviously that’s one of the negatives..
CB: Being in Washington DC is fascinating. Well we paid a little more money, had an apartment in the capital hill area where we could walk from the apartment down to the National Mall. The John Daly, Stephen Colbert “Rally for Sanity” was a huge event, and it was great to be able to walk down and see that. To go down and watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. Just walk down, spread a blanket out on the mall and watch the fireworks go off over the Washington Monument. Just the whole mall full of people; wonderful! To get up in the morning and for me to…. every once in awhile I’d just early morning before the tourists are out, to walk down to the Vietnam Wall and look at the names that I know on the wall. To walk over to the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial. Early in the morning or late at night when it’s still and there are very few people there is a very moving experience. The first couple of years that we were there, when I was still jogging or sometimes walking, weekends to go jogging down the mall, just seeing who’s out protesting today? What do we have for signs today, what’s the issue? That died off. The first 2 years we were there, a lot of protests, some fairly good size. The last 2 years we were there, really died off.
GW: How long were you in DC?
CB: Five years. We got to go to political events there. To walk into an event where Speaker Pelosi was going to speak. And remember I lost my race. But to be in a room where Speaker Pelosi was there, either as a speaker or a guest, to have her wave to me across the room, to walk across the room and say hello to me and introduce me to the crowd on several occasions, I have nothing but good things to say about Nancy Pelosi. She’s just a classy lady who always took the time to say hello to Jan and I. And again, there was nothing we could do for her anymore, but she did not forget that we supported her and tried to do the right thing. And she was always very gracious to us. A couple of events with Al Franken, Senator Franken, where he would take time to talk to us. And these were events where we got in as friends of guests. People are paying a thousand dollars to be in a room with Al Franken, and he would always come over. Generally after he said hello, the first thing he would do was ask how our son was. Because he remembered our son was in the military. He always asked and took the time to stop and chat with us. And again, there wasn’t anything, he wasn’t getting money out of us or anything else. He was just a man who generally cared, he remembered us. Senator Feinstein, same thing. A couple of events where she was. John Garamendi, just people who are good people and remembered us, and always took the time to say hello to us if they saw us in a crowd.or group.
GW: So, five years, and being that close, did you ever get to meet the President?
CB: No. We got into a West Wing tour through friends of Jan’s. Jan, through work, got tickets for her to go see the White House decorated for Christmas,
GW: You never got to see the President or the First Lady?
CB: Not up close, just as part of the masses.
GW: What about the Congressional Offices? Did you ever get to see any people in action there?
CB: Not really in action so much. There were a couple of times meeting with people in Leader Pelosi’s office, John Garamendi’s office, Zoe Lofgren’s office. Some of the staffers who had worked on my campaign, we’d stop in to see them. A variety of the people who worked on the campaign are back in DC now. Chris Trent, Alex Posorski, 3 or 4 others. Sometimes when somebody was going to be back we’d get together in a restaurant, with 4 or 5, somebody passing through for something, which was fun.
GW: What about the current Congressperson, did you ever run into him?
CB: ( Laughing) Um no, no, never saw him. Every once in awhile we’d be over in the Cannon House Office Building. The last time we were over there, which was shortly before we left, we were up on the 5th floor of the Cannon and I remember when we had the drawing, and they were still counting votes here, and knew which office he got that he first took. But he’s moved out of that. But I went by his home, not here anymore, he moved someplace else. We were up on the 5th floor visiting a couple of staffers just to say goodbye to them.
GW: How do you think the government shutdown affected people?
CB: Homeland Security mostly shut down. There were a few key people who still worked, to include my boss, Deputy Under Secretary.
GW: Homeland Security actually shut down?
CB: Well, the majority of it. The watch was still open, a few things were still functioning. The SES’s were still in. But yeah, the majority of people shut down with everybody else.
GW: How long was that, do you recall?
CB: Two weeks. I was actually scheduled for vacation. I was going to fly into Iowa, well, I did fly into Iowa. My sister and I had a road trip planned. We were going to go out to Mount Rushmore, Black Hills, Little Big Horn. The key thing being Yellowstone. And when it shut down it’s like, okay this will probably only last two or three days and they’ll come to their senses. So, I went ahead and flew into Iowa, and as it dragged on, well the parks were all closed. So I did a lot of bicycling in Iowa, then changed my plane reservations, flew back to DC and waited for things to open up again.
GW: As a citizen, how did you feel about that?
CB: Outraged. It was done for publicity. It cost the Government…I don’t remember the numbers. But they said all along they were going to pay workers, so then why aren’t you letting us work? We ended up getting paid, you knew that ahead of time.
GW: So you got paid for no work?
CB: Yeah, uh-huh. And the shutdown costs…contracts…
GW: So Congress got paid for no work too?
CB: Congress got paid for no work, government workers got paid for no work. The only people who didn’t get paid were contractors who,… and I’m not sure how that actually got worked out. But Contractors did not get paid, as far as the hourly contractors, because they are paid per hour. Now they probably had the option…a contract is let for working so many hours on a project, so they may have been able to make the hours up. I don’t really know. But for the cost to actually shut things down and then to open them up again, it cost more money than it would to have left things open. And as for the publicity pictures of the World War II Monument being shut down on the National Mall, which a variety of Republican Congressmen went down and got their pictures taken there. That was a joke! I was down there, nobody was enforcing that. I took pictures and posted them on Facebook of people walking around the barriers and seeing the monuments and everything. So the whole shutdown was just a publicity stunt that cost more money and inconvenienced an awful lot of people, but a few politicians got press time out of it.
GW: Now you’ve been back since November?
GW: And so you’ve been meeting people, friends and family, or have you just been laying low?
CB: I had a grandson born December 2. Originally we were not planning on coming back until January, or sometime this year. We found out that grandson was due. Decided, you know, why don’t we just move the retirement up a little bit, and be back for our grandchild.
GW: Now which one was that, from your daughter?
CB: Yes, our daughter Stacey. We decided to, very few people knew we were back, because we didn’t…again, our focus was on our grandchild. So the Placer County Central Committee meeting was really the first thing we’ve gone to. Take that back, a week ago we went out to the Granite Bay Library for the Assembly District Representative elections. But, yeah, other than those two things, we’ve been pretty quiet and out of sight.
GW: What do you feel about Placer County since you’ve been back?
CB: I’m looking forward to talking to some more people now. We’re starting to get out and about a little more. I was disappointed in the way the redistricting went, the way they split up the county. Being in Washington DC, the politics in the District of Columbia are a disaster. I feel overall relatively good about the City of Roseville, the City Council members, the Placer County Supervisors. It’s, it’s just good to be back here. (laughing).
GW: Now, all the while that you were away you were on Facebook, and some people did contact you. I remember being on Facebook and someone said during the election, “Charlie, come home and run!” Did you get several of those?
CB: (lots of laughing) I got more than several of them!
GW: I was just curious.
CB: I have had phone calls with a variety of people who either ran for office, or were thinking of running for office. I’ve met in person with a couple of people. Yeah it’s, I get a lot of inquiries.
GW: It’s nice to be wanted, isn’t it?
CB: It’s nice to be wanted,…a lot of people are interested in, you know, helping raise money. And that is one of the main things I can’t do while employed with the federal government. Absolutely prohibited from being involved in fundraising of any sort.
GW: Are you still employed with the federal government?
CB: My official retirement date is tomorrow actually.
GW: Ohhh, well. Since this is an interview and on the record, it’s time for me to go off the record.
**The views expressed by the interviewer or the interviewee does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Placer County Democratic Party.**