Not long after I entered the workforce, lo those many eons ago, a boss introduced me to an expression that took on new meaning in recent days.
“When you are up to your arse in alligators,” he said, “you forget your mission is to drain the swamp.”
This saying never rang truer than last week as the waters rose around President Donald Trump. In what has to be the mother of all gator onslaughts, it was reported Trump allegedly asked the very FBI chief he would later fire to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn; next the president allegedly inappropriately shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials; and then came the biggest bite of all: The Justice Department named a special counsel to dig into the Trump campaign’s role — if any — in Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
All these were particularly ironic in light of candidate Trump’s own promise “to drain the swamp” by imposing stricter ethics rules on D.C. insiders turned lobbyists.
So, the timing could not have been better for the third in my series of “Lunches with” locals who feel unheard by the mainstream media and whose political views likely differ from my own.
Ed Campbell, a 78-year-old retired architect who lives in the VA home in Saticoy, believes the United States is united mostly in our state of distraction.
“The first 15 minutes of the ABC this morning was about Russia and the FBI. Meanwhile, North Korea is a huge threat. Twenty million people are starving in Somalia, and a generation of children in Syria is growing up without parents,” said Campbell, whose business has taken him across the globe.
Each morning, the Air Force veteran who voted for Trump reads an email sent out from the White House listing the agendas for the president and Vice President Mike Pence.
As we dined, Campbell ticks off a list of heads of state his candidate has confabbed with as well as campaign promises he is working to fulfill.
As if on cue, a toddler shatters the sound barrier with her cries at the adjacent table. Campbell and I valiantly attempt to continue our discussion as the parents try in vain to quell their child’s crisis. Our conversation wanes as her screams make it even harder for us to hear each other.
“See what I mean about distraction,” Campbell told me.
I conceded his point but then asked how allegations of a president obstructing justice and abusing his power could go uninvestigated.
The Santa Barbara native and lifelong Republican agreed the charges should be looked into but we should trust the bodies set up to do this to go about their work in a thorough and professional manner. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and the president should be focused on doing the people’s business at home and overseas.
As a builder himself, Campbell believes Trump must make good on his pledge to spend $1 trillion rebuilding our nation’s airports, roads and bridges. With his architect’s eye, Campbell noticed the railroad trestle that runs beside the Santa Clara River bridge on Highway 101 is riddled with rust.
“If nothing is done, that steel will give way,” he warns.
I asked Campbell if he thought our president might have caused some of this distraction.
“He has done stupid things. He stirs the pot, but that is what happens when people want to change things,” he told me.
A big-picture guy, Campbell knows change doesn’t come easy. The former owner of USA Architects, he proposed a $40 million aquarium-planetarium project he dubbed Sea Star Vista near the Ventura County Fairgrounds in the late 1990s. His dream venture, he saw it as a showcase for Ventura’s assets to visitors and the community. It never materialized.
His business suffered a reversal of fortunes when the recession hit and funding dried up overnight. After a stroke, he retired.
“I had an unbelievably wonderful career. I built buildings that are still standing,” he said.
A vocal critic of what he calls over-regulation, he successfully battled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and estimates he has waged 700 zoning battles with local jurisdictions, losing only a handful. Two were to the city of Ventura.
Although he practiced architecture for some 40 years, Campbell never studied it in college. He learned on the job and has no problem with Trump doing the same.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. Donald Trump is finding out what he doesn’t know,” Campbell said.
And, as swamp folks like to say: “There’s no telling what’s out there.”
Email Colleen Cason at [email protected].
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