Roger Hedgecock, the youngest San Diego County Supervisor ever elected, sometimes has an excited vision of Idi “Big Daddy” Amin circling in a C-130 Transport 15,000 feet above the ocean just off the San Onofre nuclear power plant. “Big Daddy” holds the United States at bay with one small cruise missile, a birthday present from Leonid Brezhnev. (“What are we going to do,” mutters Hedgecock, “nuke Uganda?") The giggling dictator fires the missle down into the three huge globes of the nuclear plant and wipes out all of Southern California, including Hedgecock and the solar panels he had so proudly posed as the alternative to such expensive, vulnerable, and dangerous targets.
The way Roger Hedgecock shoots around his office, you get the feeling these visions are always snapping at his heels. Hedgecock's advisors race after him, flapping memos to gain his attention. This morning, he’s running through the Supervisors’ chambers at the County Administration Center handing roses to the women, cigars to the men. He is celebrating the birth of his first child, James Webb Hedgecock. He and his wife, Cindy, named the baby after Hedgecock’s former roommate, James Webb, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for city attorney in 1973. Shortly after his defeat, Webb, bicycling to work, was killed by a speeding car. Webb’s widow, who has nothing but disdain for Hedgecock, didn't appreciate the tribute. “I was really upset when I heard he had named the baby after Jim," says Wendy Webb. “It was opportunistic and extremely public relations oriented.”
The naming of the child, and the controversy surrounding Hedgecock’s motivation for doing so, illustrate the ambivalence many people seem to feel toward San Diego’s new rising star. To the people who like him least, Hedgecock is a walking media hype, a man of nervous contradictions. But to his admirers, he is the rarest of political animals, an extremely intelligent politician who can cut through bureaucratic haze with a single slicing phrase, a Republican who lives in the future instead of the past. He is destined, they say, to go far beyond the bounds of local office, to the Governor’s mansion, or further. He epitomizes energy: a new Jeffersonian technology, populist rather than corporate power, a solar cell on every roof, every man an energy czar.
Hedgecock grabs a second box of cigars and breaks it open, pausing to command the reporter not to quote his executive assistant, Carl Ludlow. Then he rushes off again. A young, slightly flushed aide, having managed a rapid-fire exchange with Hedgecock about an important memo, is left standing alone looking a little dazed. He stares curiously at the cigar Hedgecock has just stuffed into his hand, rolls it around in his mouth to try it out, takes an imaginary puff, and mumbles to himself, “We’re all becoming politicians."
Roger Hedgecock was born 31 years ago in Los Angeles. “My first memories," he says, “were of chasing the chickens out of a house in the San Fernando Valley, so we could live in it. We were very poor." During World War II, his father had been a still photographer for General Omar Bradley; when he returned from the war he went to work as an industrial photographer. “To make ends meet. Mom got into electrolysis, and still has a little shop in San Diego,” adds Hedgecock.
His father was fighting a bout with polio when he moved the family to their present home in Point Loma and went to work for Convair. Roger, then 12, attended St. Agnes Elementary and St. Augustine High School. He got his first taste of surfing and backpacking, experiences he says are responsible for his love of the environment. During his senior year in high school, he devoted time to Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign and invested his savings in a down-payment on a $12,000 house in Ocean Beach. After two years at San Diego State, he left to complete his undergraduate work at UC Santa Barbara. There he learned a new appreciation for the environment when he helped restore the coastal beaches after the assault of the huge 1969 oil spill.
That was his first experience with organized environmentalism. His second exposure occurred after he moved to San Francisco for a three-year stint at Hastings Law School. Two Standard Oil tankers collided in San Francisco Bay, leaving a destructive slick. Since the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, refused to come to San Francisco to view the tanker spill, Hedgecock and his fellow environmentalists took the spill to Ruckelshaus.
“We took a can of oil and straw to Washington and confronted Ruckelshaus in his office. I put the can on his desk and shoved it across under his nose and said. ‘There is no way I can describe what a slick does, and why we need new tanker regulations. I’ve just got to show you.’ ” Hedgecock says he pulled a gob of the fermented mess out of the can and held it under Ruckelshaus’s nose. Even then, Hedgecock had a certain talent for making a point.
Curiously, during the late 60s and early 70s, Hedgecock shirked the anti-war movement, with one exception: “I helped organize the first strike at Hastings. It shut the school down for a day." Generally, he remained apolitical. “The less I thought about the war, the better I felt."
Hedgecock got a 4-F draft classification because of a skin condition. “I have to admit, I was looking for a way out. I didn’t agree with the war, but wasn’t ideological enough to be a conscientious objector or go to Canada or to jail. I saw it primarily as a legal question. There was no clear definition of what the war was."
While he avoided most of the ideologies of the 60s, Hedgecock did not avoid the drugs. “I took illegal drugs, I won’t specify which ones, but I took most of what was being taken at the time." Hedgecock slipped into what he called the “hedonistic, apolitical scene" and lived in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco for a time. He let his hair grow below his shoulders, bought his furniture at the Goodwill, and worked his way through law school as a rock promoter. “I arranged concerts around the state for Jimi Hendrix, Quicksilver, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Buffy St. Marie, Ray Charles, Jim Morrison and the Doors—all the San Francisco bands." He recounts long nights spent with Hendrix and the others. “Musicians are different from human beings. It was a fun period. I did a lot of deliciously illegal things."
While his rock promoting business flourished, Hedgecock dealt frequently with rock entrepreneur Bill Graham, a brash, arrogant man who had become the P.T. Barnum of rock and roll. “I didn’t like Graham. I was jealous of how he could devote his full attention to what he wanted to do. I was distracted from the rock business by law school and couldn’t fully concentrate on anything. I shied away from becoming a Bill Graham-type of person." Focusing his attention on law school, Hedgecock was determined to “understand w'hat they didn't teach us in high school: how to get real power and how to use it. I had seen too many people screwed over because they didn’t know the law."
After returning to San Diego in 1972 with his law degree. Hedgecock helped run the local campaign for a coastal protection initiative and successfully competed with some 200 young lawyers to land a spot with the highly regarded law firm of Higgs, Fletcher, and Mack. Within a year, he had carved out his own niche in the firm by building up a solid practice anchored in the growing field of environmental law. Citizen groups, generally composed of upper-middle-class homeowners, sought out his services to save an Diego’s finest canyon lands, golf courses, and parks threatened by encroaching development. Hedgecock’s concentration on land-use law brought him into contact with groups of voters who would remember his name when it came election time. Meanwhile, he solidified ties with his fellow lawyers, playing football in weekend pick-up games and attending breakfast meetings of the Barristers Club, a group of young attorneys. Still with Higgs, Fletcher, and Mack, he took on a part-time job as city attorney for Del Mar, a township he said had “committed itself to being a battleground for environmental quality control."
He fit perfectly the low-key ambiance of that wealthy coastal town. Doffing the suit and tie he’d worn at earlier court appearances in San Diego, Hedgecock would offer advice to councilmen and citizenry alike. At one time he paused to tell residents how to circulate a petition to overturn a zoning ordinance he had helped the council to write. And he learned the turf that made up a good portion of the supervisorial district on which he had set his sights. He made fast friends among the young, stable, progressive Republican bankers and businessmen who would be the backbone of his challenge against incumbent Lou Conde: people like Nancy Hoover, then mayor of Del Mar, and her husband George, an investments counselor; Del Mar councilmembers like Herv Sweetwood, who led the North County protests against offshore oil drilling; and businessmen like Bob Fish, a branch manager of United California Bank who would later become Hedgecock’s campaign treasurer.
One morning, just a few months before he took the Del Mar job, Roger Hedgecock left his Pacific Beach home and drove to the offices of the Internal Revenue Service in Mission Valley where he deposited his $200 federal rebate check. The rebate checks had been distributed by President Ford as a sign that his administration was doing something to counter the toll taken by inflation. Democrats labeled the rebate ineffective; newspapers ran punchy humor columns about how the checks would just about cover the down-payment on a week’s grocery bill for a family of four. But millions of Americans laughed all the way to the bank, where they paid off a bill or cashed in the rebate for a night on the town.
Not Roger Hedgecock. Then a 29-year-old attorney, he invested his check in some priceless publicity. Trooping through the corridors of the IRS building with a gaggle of reporters and cameramen, the young Republican gave his bonus back to the government, saying the rebate “snatches recession from the jaws of recovery." Turning to the reporters, he asked his fellow citizens (who tuned in as far away as Indianapolis) to follow his lead, to show the President and Congress they disapproved of a “massive deficit-spending program" that would only be increased by the multi-million dollar refund.
Six months later, in August, 1975, Hedgecock began dropping hints that he would oppose incumbent supervisor Lou Conde in the 1976 elections.
Like the race between Pete Wilson and Lee Hubbard, the Hedgecock-Conde battle was a study in political contrasts. Forty-nine-year-old Conde, a Cuban immigrant who made his money in real estate and retailing, was unabashedly pro-development and outspokenly opposed to the county’s deepening commitment to social spending. His backing came mainly from the entrenched Republican right — builders, businessmen, self-made millionaires. Hedgecock. considerably younger, played more to the political center, aiming for the same vote and the same money that propelled Mayor Wilson to a second term the summer before. He pledged an equally strong fiscal conservatism, but he weaved his way across party lines by offering as proof of his enlightenment an uncompromising environmentalism. He would save the canyons, valleys, and coastlines, whose days he claimed would be numbered if Conde were re-elected.
The ensuing battle, though, skirted the issues. It was, all observers agree, one of San Diego’s bitterest campaigns. When the two emerged as finalists following the early summer primary" they agreed to draw up a “code of ethics” barring personal attacks. That same day, June 17, 1976, the name-calling started. “I welcome this change on Roger Hedgecock’s part,” Conde said. “If he promises not to tell lies about me, I won’t tell the truth about him.” The two traded barbs throughout the summer, the contest made all the more bizarre by the persistent presence of Nancy Bradshaw, an unsuccessful primary candidate who helped and harassed both candidates. By early October they had mutually abandoned the “code of ethics." Hedgecock told Conde not-so-politely where he could shove the agreement; Conde countered that he planned “to slam that guy just as hard as I can.”
A month later, bolstered by an endorsement from Mayor Wilson and a series of impressive television commercials, Hedgecock took a surprisingly easy victory at the polls, cornering almost 59 percent of the vote.
Hedgecock considers himself a representative of a new Republicanism, first embodied in San Diego by Pete Wilson. But Hedgecock goes back further; his hero is “Fighting” Bob La Follette, the Midwestern politician, who, in 1911, convinced Republican rebels to bolt the party and form the National Progressive Republican League. La Follette fought for abolition of monopolies, collective bargaining by unions, public control and conservation of natural resources, and initiative and referendum.
Establishment of the coastal commission to provide public control of land use along the shoreline is in the best La Follette tradition, claims Hedgecock. And even though he sees no national Republicans who stand for the same sort of “true Republican tenets” that he does, Hedgecock contends, “There is a new Republican Party germinating. The over-65 crowd from Illinois thinks they control the Republican Party here, but they’ve got a surprise coming.”
The new Republicans, says Hedgecock, will stand against “the new fascism: a government alphabet soup—I.C.C., F.C.C., etc.—which concentrates power in large entities which are not accountable to the people. The new Republicans will stand for public involvement in land use and environment, populist sources of energy, neighborhood power, and fiscal conservatism.
“My constituency is basically made up of people who have worked hard to buy a home, and now that they’ve made it, they’re threatened with losing that home because of rising property taxes which provide services for some new development in East County." Only secondarily, says Hedgecock, is his constituency concerned about the environment the developer is disrupting; the dollars and cents come first. Which may well point out one of the contradictions of Hedgecock’s public image—though he is often viewed as a liberal, the reality may be that his vision does not extend far beyond the aspirations of a La Jollan whose castle is being threatened. Unlike conservative City Councilman Lee Hubbard, Hedgecock does not yet appear to understand the problems of those who have never had the luxury of worrying about property taxes. In dealing with the threat of dwindling resources and the environment, Hedgecock has one foot in the future. But the other foot is planted firmly on the well-manicured front lawns of those who already have material wealth. Like most San Diego politicians, he seems to have a blind spot for anyone hungry for a job, or anyone who makes less than $15,000 a year.
Pressed, he expresses frustration that he has no strong proposals for elevating pockets of poverty. But he views the socio-economic problems of such areas as Southeast San Diego as simply being beyond his realm of effectiveness. When challenged, he defends himself by arguing, “I’m concerned about space travel, too, but I can't do anything about it."
Throughout the campaign, and in his first eight months in office, Hedgecock has never forgotten the lesson of the $200 rebate check. He has kept up a barrage of publicity by mastering a phenomenon of the 1960s—the media event. The day after his victory, while ballots were still being counted. Hedgecock grabbed space in the papers by demanding that the county modernize its election equipment. “It was a quick ego thing on his part,” says one city official. “I mean, who does he think he is, complaining that he had to wait four more hours to see his final count?" Even the spats with Conde continued. For several days in early December the two publicly aired a dispute over a request by the supervisor-elect for a typewriter with memory capability.
Over the past four years, two men. Supervisors Conde and Jack Walsh, both beaten in last year’s election, got the lion’s share of publicity, most of it bad. Conde and Walsh never saw eye-to-eye; the joke was that if Walsh would publicly commend Conde for a judgment, Conde would reverse his vote. The media gave space to their smallest of spats.
Conde and Walsh are gone now, victims of opponents who capitalized on the negative image of the bickering board. In fact, some observers pin much of the credit, or blame, for their defeat on a television commercial used by Roger Hedgecock. It showed Hedgecock standing in front of the empty supervisors chamber; dubbed in were arguing voices. Hedgecock’s message to the voters was simple: Elect me if you want an end to the petty squabbles.
For the most part, the new board, which consists of incumbents Lee Taylor and Jim Bates and newcomers Lucille Moore, Tom Hamilton, and Hedgecock, has taken a higher road. There’s no feud to equal the Conde-Walsh show, but two minor clashes surfaced early. Both involved Hedgecock.
An intense rivalry, played out on a more subliminal level than the Conde-Walsh one, has shaped up between Hedgecock and board chairman Jim Bates. The two supervisors have no deep philosophical differences; indeed, they are extremely close on many of the important issues. But they are very ambitious career politicians. Most observers agree that Bates and Hedgecock both have eyes for the mayor’s spot, which will open up again in 1979 (sooner if Pete Wilson can upset Governor Jerry Brown next year). Additionally, they are the most visible candidates for the proposed position of Chief County Executive, which, if adopted, would be a post of considerable power.
Because of their philosophical similarity. Bates and Hedgecock sometimes get caught trying to claim credit for an idea that both of them—or neither of them—thought of. When Secretary of the Interior Thomas Kleppe announced that the federal government had suspended oil drilling off the coast of Southern California, one reporter recalls how the two supervisors “literally tried to outrun each other to get the first press conference.” Bates, as board chairman, felt he should get the credit; Hedgecock, who long has opposed such exploration, thought the kudos should go his way. Hedgecock, whose legs are a little longer, won the race.
Hedgecock has faced off several times against Lee Taylor, a man who has children Hedgecock’s age. Taylor strongly supports the right of developers to build where they see fit. Admitting to the friction between the two men, Taylor aide Bill Martinez insists, “They try not to get down on a personal level. They apologize and joke about it later. It’s like a card game; one man may lose a deal, but he’ll be ready to come out for the next hand.” Hedgecock agrees: “There is an immense generation gap between Taylor and me, but each of us now feels the necessity to avoid bickering; it's a matter of political survival.”
Even so, in the same breath Hedgecock deals another hand: “Taylor has an advanced case of self-righteousness stemming from the fact that he had little or no formal education. He’s in a very schizophrenic place, personally and politically. Anything I think is positive, he thinks is negative.”
Much of Hedgecock's ability to succeed before the cameras and reporters can be attributed to his unrelenting aggressiveness—a trait pointed out by admirers and detractors alike. The latter say he has achieved too much too fast; that his quick climb has left him devoid of humility, that his aggressiveness borders on arrogance. Co-workers and admirers downplay those traits but agree with Hedgecock’s media consultant, George Mitrovich, a former press secretary to Senator Charles Goodell, who admits that Hedgecock “sometimes allows his ambition to exceed his better judgment.”
—In July, Supervisor Lucille Moore informed her fellow board members that Hedgecock had equipped his delegates to the Charter Review Commission with postcards so that they could report on the performance of the other supervisors’ appointees. The postcards were accompanied by a note that read, in part, “Roger needs to know the positive and negative leadership exhibited at the meetings." Supervisor Moore called it “monitoring”; Charter Review Chairwoman Colleen O’Connor called it a “deplorable tactic aimed at keeping tabs on everyone.” After the scheme was exposed and publicized, Hedgecock refused to back off. He simply changed the wording on the instruction letter; his appointees still have the report cards.
—Hedgecock got a storm of good coverage when he called a press conference to announce that San Diego County faced an immediate ban on new construction if it failed to bring secondary sewage treatment plants up to new federal standards. What he failed to mention was that the source of his information was a routine study ordered and paid for by the county itself, released just before Hedgecock’s pronouncements to the press.
— He got his greatest media mileage from the first real test to come before the new board: the 1977-78 county budget. Early in his tenure he organized a committee of 20 supporters to review the proposed budget for possible savings that may have been overlooked by the county’s professional budget analysts. Hedgecock’s private committee spent three months on the project, meeting for a final marathon weekend retreat to finish their report, released through Hedge-cock. The result: they had “found” an extra $3.4 million in the budget. The committee’s work was dutifully headlined by the papers, which never stressed that the money was never really “lost”—it was part of a contingency fund set aside in every budget to allow a government to cover itself in case of an accounting mix-up or failure to receive funds promised earlier.
Hedgecock’s friends have remained loyal to the candidate they steered into office. And a mutual feeling seems to exist between them that the ascent up the perilous ladder of elective office has only begun. A group of Hedgecock’s most ardent supporters still meets for lunch every two weeks with the supervisor to discuss his progress and make suggestions. The committee—which consists of Mitrovich, his Executive Assistant Carl Ludlow, Del Mar backers George and Nancy Hoover, CPO executive Art Letter, and city council candidate Bill Lowery — bounces ideas off Hedgecock, who takes from the sessions what he deems valuable.
Hedgecock was the first supervisor to establish and maintain a campaign war chest. The balance is now over $8,000 and was funded in part by a most unusual get-together last April. Chaired by apartment builder Ray Huffman and conservative auto baron Pascal Dilday, the “informal session” aboard the Reuben E. Lee raised $10,000, the majority of it coming from developers, real estate agents, and building contractors—the very people who have most outspokenly opposed the managed growth policies promoted by Hedgecock and Mayor Wilson. Many paid more than the $100 requested for an invitation. Rancho Santa Fe realtor Charles Taubman gave $500, Del Rios Ranch owner Ramona A. Sahm scraped together $800. the M.E. Turk construction company, which is building a nine-unit apartment on a lot Hedgecock recently purchased, gave $200 to talk with the supervisor. While there have been no indications that Hedgecock has in any way compromised his stand on controlled growth, some sticky questions arose for the politician who routinely sets aside his Friday afternoons for “informal sessions” with his constituency.
Hedgecock says the party was planned to raise funds for production of his quarterly newsletter, the first edition of which has already been printed and distributed. “Unlike Lee Hubbard (a wealthy man who puts out a similar newsletter at his own expense), I needed some money from my supporters to print it.” He admits freely that he used the mailing lists of fellow supervisors Moore and Taylor as well as those of Lou Conde. Conde, who says the fundraiser was “pure blackmail,” is incensed that builders would “give their money so Hedgecock can propagandize in his newsletter. You don’t have to charge someone $100 a head to talk with you,” he snaps. “Money is given to candidates because the donor expects a friendly gesture in return when he comes before the board.”
In his small Pacific Beach home (decorated with rare, original Edward Curtis photographs and a signed sketch by Norman Rockwell) Hedgecock is isolated from the Draconian and often petty world of county government. Stringing wire through the attic to pipe classical music into the new baby’s room, he is talking excitedly about alternative sources of energy. He is at his best when he talks about “the stuff that technology freaks get off on.”
He views alternative energy sources as the raw material of a renewed Jeffersonian democracy, a replacement for the vanished agrarian frontier. “If every household can have its own source of energy—solar panels on the roof—then Americans will be farmers of energy.”
Hedgecock gets up on a chair in the corner, flips on his power drill, and yells above the racket: “I’m trying to get away from the paranoia of the 60s. I don't think the engineers and bureaucrats at SDG&E are nuke freaks; they’re just doing their job under what they view to be the national mandate, and in a sense they’re right. The government has consistently made it far more profitable to invest in nuclear research than in solar or geothermal energy.”
He stops the drill and spreads his arms. “SDG&E has spent $80 million just planning for the Sun-desert nuclear power plant, and only $4 million on geothermal energy, even though they say there’s enough natural volcanic heat in Southern California to provide for most of our energy needs. The oil companies are in the same boat; Standard Oil would love to profit from geothermal energy, but tax credits for offshore drilling are so much better. So we’ve got to change the economic realities.”
Hedgecock has already put his money where his mouth is. Along with contractor Mike Turk and Carl Ludlow, he will soon start construction on a nine-unit downtown apartment house equipped with solar water heating. Hedgecock is now installing solar panels on the roof of a two-unit apartment building he owns behind his house. And he has proposed to the Board of Supervisors that by January 1, 1979, all new construction in unincorporated areas be equipped with solar water heating.
Gaining enthusiasm, Hedgecock calls some friends over to help him erect a rickety ladder to the roof of the apartment building so he can show off his new solar panels. He climbs up two stories, crawls onto the roof, and stands up. The panels are lying flat on the roof, yet to be activated.
He looks at them like newborn children. They represent his vision of future America: “Every solar panel is a threat to SDG&E,” he states proudly. “These panels mean that maybe someday energy will no longer be centrally generated.”
Then the specter of Idi Amin comes swooping down upon the rooftops. Hedgecock brushes the hair out of his eyes and says, “If we end up totally dependent on nuclear energy, this will be a fascist society, a police state. We’ll need complete surveillance in order to protect the giant nuclear targets from the weirdos. But no police state can protect them, or us, forever. The history of warfare is to pick your enemy’s weak points and then concentrate on them. Unless we decentralize our sources of energy, we’ll be sitting ducks.”
Hedgecock turns back toward the ladder. “I’m building a jacuzzi, by the way. Won’t be solar heated, though. Probably use as much energy on that as we’ll save through these panels. Oh, well. I never was one of those radicals into self-denial.”
Black's Beach: My quasi-libertarian feelings tell me it’s wrong for the city to set aside an area of public land for any group. The city should have kept it informal; the way we did in Del Mar. There, the lifeguards simply asked those who wanted to sunbathe nude to move out of the area where there were families, over to the cliffs. Black’s is a zoo; it’s become a greater attraction than the Wild Animal Park.
Death Penalty: Gary Gilmore told the world he had committed a crime for which the only suitable penalty was death. I think he had a good point. If society is to protect itself, then there are certain crimes for which we just can’t keep people in a jail for the rest of their lives; not even in a warehouse.
Marijuana: Everything was legal at the turn of the century, and I think we overreacted when we drew up all these laws. Marijuana can be abused, but so can coffee and alcohol. These things should be available in a free county.
Abortion: Like sex, it’s a private matter. The government shouldn’t become involved one way or the other. There’s such a heavy moral overtone to it that it has to be a completely personal choice. I'm not quite sure about the uses of MediCal funds for abortions. Anyone should be able to come up with the $100 it costs to have one.
Jerry Brown: He’s a curious kind of guy. My first impression of him was that his campaign was the most cynical, most orchestrated, most-manipulative one I’ve ever seen in California. He not only told the people what they wanted to hear, he repeated it just often enough to give himself 51 percent of the vote. But in office he’s shown the ability to ask some real questions and provoke audiences to debate; that’s a healthy thing to do.
Pete Wilson: If I were Ed Salzman (publisher of a monthly journal on California politics) I'd say Pete Wilson has about as much of a chance as Jimmy Carter did. I’ll vote for Pete if he runs against Jerry Brown. I don't idolize any politician, but Pete Wilson has the uncommon attribute of being able to take a truly controversial issue and carry it out in policy; that distinguishes him from Jerry Brown. My only criticism is that he sometimes moves too slow. For instance, on downtown redevelopment.
Gays: There’s been no showing that sexual preference has anything to do with job performance. I was surprised by Chief Bill Kolender’s statement (that the San Diego police department would not hire gays); I don’t think he gave a single convincing reason for that policy.
Uganda's Idi Amin: I kind of miss him. The world’s been a little dull since he’s been quiet. I think he brought some color to the international scene.