ON THE COVER North Coast Journal Weekly

cover photo Jerry Partain
Photo by Bob Doran.



photos by Bob Doran

WHO'S THE MOST ARTICULATE conservative in Humboldt County?"

Mike Harvey, head of the county's Republican Party, didn't hesitate.

"Jerry," Harvey said from the other end of the telephone line.

Jerry. As in Partain. The emeritus professor who helped found the Humboldt State University Forestry Department back in the 1950s. Who in the `70s called for -- and is still calling for -- a radically different approach to regulating logging in California. Who in 1982 narrowly lost to Dan Hauser in a race for a seat in the State Assembly. Who after leaving the HSU Forestry Department that same year directed the agency charged with monitoring timber harvests, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, under Republican Gov. George Deukmejian. Who when he came back from Sacramento in 1989, having learned a thing or two about state government, helped launch the ultimately successful initiative to impose term limits on state politicians. Who has opined on the issues of the day, both in local newspapers and on the radio, for the past 20-odd years. Who, at 78, is still going strong.

How strong? Well, Harvey's assessment is one indication. Another is his ease -- rare for someone of his vintage -- with the computer age; he's frequently on the Internet and regularly bats out e-mails. But perhaps the best indication of vitality, even zest, is something Partain did last year. He jumped out of an airplane.

"I always wondered what it [would be] like to jump out of a plane," Partain confided in a recent e-mail message. "But I never had to during my years in the Navy during World War II." Partain said he "free-fell 8,000 feet and then floated down another 5,000 feet and finally got the feel I'd wondered about for 60 years. Those kinds of things keep you alive!" He added that frequent travel with his wife, Betty -- they've been to more than 60 countries -- has also been enriching. "That gives us an interesting view of the world," he wrote.

The impressive thing about Partain's political views is their clarity. Fuzzy this almost-octogenarian with the big glasses is not. And while he's a bedrock conservative, he's not an entirely predictable one. As the following interview, conducted last week at his house off Jacoby Creek Road, reveals, Partain is presently ticked off at President Bush for spending too much taxpayer money; he's got serious doubts about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to bail out California by borrowing $15 billion through a bond issue; and, in 2002 at least, he was a Paul Gallegos supporter. He voted for him over Terry Farmer, although he now supports Gallegos' recall.

Proof that Partain remains a major player on the local political scene was in abundance on the day the Journal sat down with him last week. Just before the interview he had taped a political commentary for KINS radio. Prior to that, he had met with Arcata attorney Steve Schectman, a Gallegos supporter and one of the recall replacement candidates. Schectman had requested the get-together.

photo Jerry Partain

NCJ: Some conservatives are criticizing the president for lacking fiscal restraint.

JP: Listen to my commentary [this week] and you'll see that I am, too. I just taped it. We have this spending disease that is rampant throughout the country. In this state, certainly, the Democrats have done it. And now at the national level, even though we have a Republican president and a Republican-controlled -- barely -- Congress, they're spending money like it was going out of style. I recently sent an e-mail to Wally Herger [the Redding area congressman, a Republican] and asked: "Wally, for God sakes, when is somebody going to say to the president, `You're spending too damn much money?'"

NCJ: Why is the excessive spending happening?

JP: I would assume [the administration] is trying to buy some votes on the moderate Democrat side. But I also said in my commentary that we ought to talk to our congressman, because Mike Thompson swears he's a fiscal conservative. So all right, Mike, if you are fiscally conservative, why not get your blue dog Democrats together with moderate Republicans and stop this spending? Get an alliance there that writes out extremists on both sides and gets us back to some kind of responsible fiscal policy in the country because we certainly don't have [that] now.

NCJ: Back in Washington pork makes the world go round. So in terms of spending, does it matter if you have a Republican in the White House?

JP: It really doesn't [matter] because everybody is buying something for themselves by supporting others. If [Senator] Robert Byrd [of West Virginia] wants another office building in his state for $300 million, he'll tell the other senators, "I'll vote for whatever you want," and it goes through and taxpayers are ignored.

NCJ: It almost seems ingrained in the system.

JP: That's right. I was the one in 1989 after I came home from Sacramento who filed the term limits initiative. John MacDonald and I from Santa Rosa filed. My logic was, Willie Brown had been in there for 30 years and had absolute control over the state Legislature. Same thing in Congress. I worked for Sen. [S.I.] Hayakawa, [a California Republican], for three months one year. And I presented his opposition to a bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee, and the chairman just dominated everything. Whatever the chairman wanted, it went through. And I got a good dose of how there is no democracy in those senior committees because the senior chairman runs everything.

NCJ: No legislator challenges it because they'll get punished.

JP: That's right. You won't get the next piece of pork that comes your way. The only thing I see that can break this is to limit the terms there [in Washington], too. My God, Robert Byrd has been shoveling pork into West Virginia for 50 years now. And you can't tell me that a guy that age -- and Strom Thurmond on the Republican side when he was there -- has that much influence except to get something for his state. He doesn't have new ideas; he can't be up to date like he should be. He really should be the hell out of there.

NCJ: What about the federal deficit? It's exploded under Bush. Is that a problem?

JP: No, not really. We've had much larger deficits in the past on a percentage basis (the percentage of the total economy). But this one came from a nice surplus to deficit in a hurry. So it appears to be worse that it is.

NCJ: Was Clinton more fiscally responsible than Bush?

JP: No, he was trapped. In the first two years of his administration he spent, too. Then Newt Gingrich came in [as Speaker of the House] in 1994, and that restricted [Clinton]. Then we had the House and Senate on one side and the executive branch on the other. That's when you're more likely to get control over spending and anything else.

NCJ: So if I were Bush what would you tell me?photo of Jerry Partain

JP: I would be telling Bush that, "Look you've been tough on Iraq, tough on homeland security, now let's get tough on the budget and domestic spending. You've given the public a tax cut. Now back it up with cost cuts. Let's establish a `just say no to spending' idea here for awhile." [I'd tell him to] veto everything that comes in that is discretionary. That would set a tone for legislators; that would tell them that it's not going to be easy to get through what they want this session.

NCJ: Some liberals think Republicans don't care about poor people or sick people. Can you articulate the Republican vision?

JP: I think so. The cornerstone really of Republicanism is the individual and relying on the individual to take care of themselves. Obviously, with the complicated society we have, that isn't always possible. But Republicans also believe that the best way to take care of the people who can't take of themselves is, first, the family, and secondly, the private sector. The most inefficient way is to turn it over to a government agency. Having run a large government agency I can vouch for that. That's the reason the welfare program was changed in the 1990s. It was so ineffective and inefficient. Money got siphoned off and never got to the people who should get it. Right now, for example, 60 percent of [education] funds go to administrative and other costs and only 40 percent goes to teachers and classrooms.

But you talk to liberals, and the first thing they think of is how can the government help solve the problem. We don't believe in no government like Libertarians do. If you look at the Constitution, it says provide for the common defense and that's the main spending area that Republicans believe should be supported strongly. The basis for all the benefits we get from a democracy like we have is through national defense. The rest of it all comes as gravy.

That's the reason [Republicans] support investing at least a portion of Social Security in your own way. It's your money. The government earns maybe a half percent or so of your Social Security money. Anybody with any brains at all knows that if you take your own money and put it away, even in the most conservative savings account, you can accumulate a lot of money over the years. You put it in Social Security and you have no control over it whatsoever and the chances are that most of us will never get back what we even put into Social Security. Although that's changing now that people are living longer; they're getting more of their money back.

NCJ: So the market is the solution?

JP: The market is the main solution, but the market doesn't work all the time. We've seen that in California [with the deregulation of the electric industry], and across the country with the scandals involving Enron and other major corporations. Republicans say that the market system will work if it's a fair market system and that problems will eventually work themselves out. And that's what's happening with the corporate scanals -- [people got caught] and the system is now correcting itself.

NCJ: What kinds of controls should be imposed on the market?

JP: That's where the big controversy is. How much control do you need to guarantee a fair market system? Let me tell you what I know the most about -- forestry. The [state] Forest Practice Act was passed in the `70s; its objective was to get regeneration back on the site, keep soil on the hillside and protect the creatures. I argued at the time before the [state] Legislature as a professor at Humboldt State, as the head of the forestry department, that you should have goals-based rules. You set goals -- you have to have so many trees back on site after X number of years; or can't allow X amount of soil to erode; or you can't destroy the habitat of endangered species. But how you do that, how you meet those goals, should be up to the landowner. That's the difference. What we got [instead] was a whole set of specific rules -- for example, that you have to put a water bar in on a skid trail every 300 feet. Well, what if you don't need a water bar every 300 feet? It sort of depends on the lay of the land. Or you should leave X amount of shade along one side of the stream. Maybe it's a stream that needs more or less shade than that. And today we have a huge stack of regulations that are specific in nature and guarantee nothing.

NCJ: Does the current system of regulating logging work?

JP: No. The current system should be thrown out completely. Start out all over again. When I first went to Sacramento I ordered a study [to see] how effective the forest practice rules had been. We found no direct correlation between the rules and the results of harvesting under those rules.

[The system has become so complicated that] I would say that the average THP [Timber Harvest Plan] today probably runs between $8,000 to $12,000 just to file it no matter what size it is. Well, that doesn't do much good for the small landowner who wants to manage their forest on some sort of sensible basis. All it does is force them to cut more timber to pay for the THP.

It also gives the opponents of timber harvesting an opportunity to get into the act -- if you don't do each one of these 4 million items, they can always pick one of them and make a big deal out of it. But if the state were to say, "The objective is this and the company or the landowners is meeting that objective," then there's nothing to argue about.

NCJ: Let's get back to politics. What's your take on the Democratic presidential race?

JP: I believe that things will sort themselves out by South Carolina. That will be the first southern state. That will be the first test for [John] Kerry. And I think [John] Edwards has a chance of showing up good there. Then he can make a good race of it. If he doesn't, why I believe Kerry has a good inside track on it. But Kerry is not liked in the south. He'll have trouble there in the general election. But for the nomination [Howard] Dean has to do well in New Hampshire or he's in real trouble. And I just don't see him doing well in South Carolina at all. He's not a South Carolina kind of man.

NCJ: What about [Wesley] Clark?

JP: Clark's a real enigma. I was checking some stuff on the Internet last night. He really got annoyed when some reporter said, "You got reduced from a general to a colonel with Kerry winning in Iowa." And Clark said, "Look, I was a general and Kerry was a lieutenant." That kind of thing doesn't sit well with people. I learned early on that you'd better have a strong [self-] deprecating sense of humor if you want to be in politics.

NCJ: So it sounds like you think it may be between Kerry and Edwards?photo Jerry Partain

JP: I think so. I really think so. Edwards is a young face, he's got charisma. But the Democrats don't really have an issue. The Iraq issue? Yeah, but it's one they're going to lose on. Regardless of weapons of mass destruction, people believe we've done the right thing in Iraq. You've got 27 million people who are free, who are not getting shot and killed and tortured every day, and I don't care how hard your heart is, you have to say that's a big improvement. If you go back and look at the stances taken by politicians in the past on the WMD thing, Clinton believed it, Clark believed it, all the naysayers to the war supported the idea that [WMDs] were there and they may still be there; we don't know.

NCJ: Is the president vulnerable this year?

JP: The real vulnerability I see is in the employment picture. Economists will tell you that whenever these ups and downs occur in the economy, on the upside employment is always the lagging factor. You can get an expansion in manufacturing, but until companies become firmly convinced that the good economy will continue they don't start hiring. The Democrats will argue that we'll have to create 300,000 new jobs a month to bring back the 3 million jobs lost over the last four years. And that's not going to happen. Whether that's a strong enough negative [for Bush], we'll just have to see.

NCJ: If people are no longer so concerned about Iraq, then that triumph for the president may not mean that much in the election.

JP: It may be a zero factor. It may be nullified. It may not even be a major part of the debate. The election could revert back to the domestic issues. And that's where we're back to the spending thing; perhaps [the president is] trying to cover his butt a bit by generating a few new programs.

NCJ: Is Bush a polarizing figure?

JP: I think he is. But I think it's mainly a hangover from the election results. I've never seen some of my friends who are Democrats so bitter against anyone in my life as they are against Bush. And I don't think it's anything he's done. I think it's the way he was elected. We haven't had a majority-elected president since 1988. Clinton was elected twice without a majority. The last one was George Bush, Sr. If you want to look at minority-elected presidents, Abraham Lincoln was a minority-elected president. So was Harry Truman. As far as the state here, Schwarzenegger wasn't elected by a majority either. But he got 48 percent of the vote out of 135 candidates.

NCJ: How do you feel about the Davis recall?

JP: I thought it was worthwhile. I had been very critical of some of the things that Davis did. I think he gave away the store in November 2002. What he did was he gave huge increases in salaries and benefits to the major labor unions in the government -- the corrections officers, the CHP, the CDF firefighters. All of them can now retire at age 50 with 30 years in service at 90 percent of their salaries. Plus they don't have to pay into the retirement. And that was all done to buy his reelection. That must be corrected. We can't sustain that.

I've got an e-mail in to Tom McClintock. [Partain did not vote for the southern California conservative, who was one of the replacement candidates in the Davis recall; but he has great respect for his knowledge of state government. "He knows where the bodies are," Partain said.] The governor [Schwarzenegger] has put up a $15 billion bond issue on the ballot. And we also have a $12.4 billion school bond issue on same ballot. So that adds up to almost $30 billion in debt that we would saddle ourselves with when we have a very low credit rating, which means a high interest rate, which means we will go into debt about $60 billion for the full term. So my question [to McClintock] is what happens to the state fiscal system if we don't approve the $15 billion bond issue? And Tom is on record as saying he's opposed to paying off back debt with future debt. People in Sacramento are saying if we don't get $15 billion the whole government will fall apart. I don't know if that's true.

I want to know whether I should support [the $15 billion bond]. That's what I'm asking for guidance on. If Tom points to some kind of real disaster, I'll vote for it. But I know that without some kind of major pressure legislators won't make the significant structural changes in government that we need. So taxpayers, by not supporting the bond issue, might apply that kind of pressure and say, "Look, we want changes made. You have no choice. You have no money."

NCJ: What did Steve Schectman want to talk about?

JP: He wanted to explain to me that it was unfair to start a recall of a district attorney after he's only been on the job three months. I have some sympathy with that. But my main question to Steve, and one I still don't understand, is how did the PL lawsuit start? Perception is extremely important. To what extent was there an agenda created before [Gallegos] took office?

And shortly after Gallegos is in office he hires Tim Stoen. I've known about Tim Stoen because he ran for the Republican nomination for State Assembly in Ukiah [in 1990] and I had voted against him because of the information I had that he was kooky. So those two things really colored the whole election [with Terry Farmer].

I've never gotten an answer to my questions about the lawsuit and [the hiring of] Tim Stoen and what the connection was there and the relation between those events and the election itself.

And then there are all these sideshows going on, [Gallegos] surfing, Tim Stoen running for Senate one day and not the next. I would say if asked that Paul is running with a Stoen around his neck. Or swimming with a Stoen around his neck that's not too comfortable.

I voted for Gallegos in keeping with my theory that people run out of good ideas. Terry had been in there for 20 years. And I felt we needed a change, needed new ideas. So I voted for Paul -- I didn't campaign for him -- on that basis. But then that [the lawsuit and Stoen] happens and some of the police units started complaining and pretty soon we had a brouhaha going there. I know enough about running a major department to know that if you have a lot of confusion and controversy going on, you don't have a very good working unit; it doesn't run very well. That's my main concern.

NCJ: Sounds like you feel Paul Gallegos betrayed your trust.

JP: Yeah, in a way. I was impressed by his sincerity. But if you look at all the screwball things and the bad decisions he's made, you think, "Well, wait a minute, maybe this isn't so good after all." I don't really know anything about the argument as to whether he's tough on crime or not as tough on crime. I don't know.

NCJ: I don't think two months into his job you can say he's not tough on crime.

JP: I don't think so either.

NCJ: I don't think a year from now. I think you've got to wait three or four years to make that judgment.

JP: Yeah. And very few of us are capable of making that judgment. We don't know the inner workings of the judicial system, how many problems there are associated with prosecuting a case.

NCJ: So you support the recall, then?

JP: I support the recall, mainly because of the turmoil it has created for the office. It's not functioning as effectively as it should. I don't think the people are getting their money's worth.

NCJ: Your suspicion is that the environmentalists came to Gallegos [about suing PL]?

JP: I'm positive of that.

NCJ: Is it simply that PL is an important economic actor and they don't deserve to be sued? Or is it Gallegos' judgment you have a problem with?

JP: It's more his judgment. Certainly his decision to bring Stoen on was just plain dumb.

Even with the controversy that has surrounded Pacific [Lumber] for the last several years, people still see it as an important and productive part of the economy here, and we've lost so damn much in the county. Now people have a legitimate concern that this could be lost, too.

NCJ: And you'll vote for Dikeman.

JP: I'll vote for Dikeman.

NCJ: Because he's most qualified?

JP: Yeah.

NCJ: Schectman's gotten some ink about Dikeman's "duplicity." What about that?

JP: I don't know about the duplicity. I'm not familiar enough with that to say. I did call attention to Steve's problems [that were] in the paper [over a dispute with Earth First! members over payment for legal support work they did for Schectman]. I said [to him] that people who do those kinds of things, protest out there [in the woods], they have no loyalty to anyone. Look at you, I told him. Here you helped these kids out by making them interns and they turn around and sue you. Hell, they have no personal loyalty at all. They don't give a damn. I said if you give EPIC or Earth First! 1,000 acres of land they'll want 2,000 acres of land. Just like your interns. It's impossible to satisfy them.

NCJ: Let's go back to the state budget crisis. Just because Davis has gone away doesn't mean the crisis has gone away. What is the solution?

JP: The solution is that the Legislature and the governor must work together. Which means that the Democratic controlled Assembly and Senate must realize that taxpayers in the state won't continue to hand them all the money they want. It would appear to me that the overwhelming election of Schwarzenegger and the tossing out of Davis should have come as a bright and loud warning to all the legislators that something has to change drastically. But it's not going to change unless the legislators go along with it.

That is the one thing that the governor can do. If he really wanted to he could eliminate the office of state architect or the printing office or whatever, but obviously you don't want to do that unless you have some support on the legislative side. To what extent [Schwarzenegger] would be willing to gamble his political power to do some of those serious things I'm sure is weighing on his mind at the present time.

NCJ: What about the local economy?

JP: I still believe the potential is here. And it irritates the hell out of me to have people off-hand turn down opportunities that come along. I don't know whether this liquefied natural gas is a real potential or not. But I've seen other proposals come in here and get shot down before they even get started.

The economy is benefiting greatly right now, continuing to benefit, from the overpricing of housing in the Bay Area and southern California that's driving people out of there, and a dribble of them at least are coming in here and buying homes.

NCJ: What's motivating you to continue to speak out on the issues of the day?

JP: Oh, I don't know. Intellectual curiosity, I guess. I always encouraged my students to participate in society, activities, get out of the classroom. I have a scholarship I give to HSU forestry students every year. And part of the requirement is you don't have to be the most brilliant student in the class. I've seen too many brilliant students who weren't worth a damn once they were out on the job. But you do have to participate in extracurricular activities; you have to do something other than forestry. You have to be out learning what the world is all about.

And let's face it: Everybody has an ego. And I speak well. And I have a sense of humor and I enjoy using it. So why sit on my butt and do nothing in retirement?




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