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Hollingsworth speech draws Liberty Quarry friends, foes

 

Last updated 2/12/2009 at Noon

State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth speaks to a gathering of the Temecula California Republican Assembly at Pat & Oscar

A political cauldron stirred by state Senator Dennis Hollingsworth boiled up crucial local, state and federal issues at a Republican Party function in Temecula last Friday.

A low-key protest to a granite mine proposed south of Temecula served as a backdrop for the standing-room-only event.

But the crippling state deficit and a growing Republican backlash to President Obama’s stimulus package commanded equal time at the Murrieta/Temecula Republican Assembly dinner.

Anti-mine foes had hoped to spotlight their opposition to the Liberty Quarry project, which Hollingsworth has long supported.

But the outing took a quixotic twist as Hollingsworth didn’t acknowledge their presence in his speech and the mine issue wasn’t raised during a subsequent question and answer session.

Further, one of the mine foes, a longtime Republican Party member, was hustled out of the restaurant when he tried to speak to the group after Hollingsworth had left the room.

The dinner coincided with what would have been the 98th birthday of President Reagan, who etched a legacy in local, state and federal politics.

Reagan once owned a ranch in the Tenaja area west of Murrieta and was California’s 33rd governor and the nation’s 40th president.

A life-size cardboard cutout of Reagan, as well as one of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, flanked the American flag at the meeting that attracted about 130 people to Pat & Oscar’s restaurant.

Reagan’s memory was repeatedly evoked during meeting speeches and packets of Jelly Belly candy, a favorite snack of the former president, were distributed to audience members.

Before the dinner began, about 20 mine foes – many carrying signs and placards – lined Rancho California Road in hopes of catching Hollingsworth’s attention when he arrived.

Many of them wore bright orange “No quarry” caps and t-shirts.

Granite Construction Co. wants to excavate more than 270 million tons of sand, gravel and other materials from part of a 414-acre site south of Temecula over a 75-year period.

A large group of residents from Fallbrook to Murrieta has battled the plan at each step of the review process.

The mine foes came inside the restaurant when the Republican group started its meeting. Most paid $10 each, which was the admission fee to hear Hollingsworth speak.

Republican group members paid $15 to hear the speech and eat dinner. Non-members paid $20 to listen and eat.

Once the mine foes stepped inside, they were swallowed by an audience that was more galvanized on politics rather than the quarry plan.

Some of the remarks prompted mine foes to doodle, roll their eyes, mutter beneath their breath or exit the room when the comments took on a sharp partisan tone.

Their grumbling grew louder when Gary Johnson, Granite’s aggregate resource development manager, received an award from the group.

Johnson, who is a member of that Republican enclave, received a lapel pin and two coffee mugs for his years of involvement.

“I’m going to try to be nice,” winced Jackie Lopez, a member of the anti-mine coalition. “It’s really hard.”

Lopez gritted her teeth her teeth further when Republic group members passed out printed materials that included a sheet citing the top 10 reasons to oppose President Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

Another handout highlighted the tax problems that several of Obama’s key appointees have encountered.

A third document urged audience members who worry about “increasing Democratic Party dominance, fiscal irresponsibility in Sacramento and deteriorating moral standards” to attend an event planned at a Temecula library.

Many of those themes were echoed by the speakers

who prefaced Hollingsworth’s remarks.

They praised conservative values and said President Obama’s election victory has prompted them to re-energize their party.

Some of their remarks were sharply critical of the new administration and its emerging policies and programs.

“That was just a little more than I could take. All they do is knock people,” Kathleen Hamilton, a founder of the anti-mine group, said outside the meeting room.

Hamilton, who wore a bright orange sweater, returned when Hollingsworth spoke.

Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) primarily focused on the looming $42 million California budget deficit that has triggered state worker furloughs and halted the issuance of tax returns and welfare checks.

For more than two years, Hollingsworth has railed about the growing deficit and a pressing need to fix a flawed budget process.

Hollingsworth’s sprawling 36th District, which serves nearly 847,000 residents, stretches from Lakeland Village to El Cajon and takes in such communities as Temecula, Murrieta, Fallbrook, French Valley, Poway, Santee and La Mesa.

In May 2007, Hollingsworth issued a press release warning that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget plan – which was eventually approved after a record 84-day standoff – would worsen the deficit because it relied too heavily on borrowing and optimistic revenue projections.

Those budget problems have worsened dramatically as the recession continues to sap state revenues, Hollingsworth noted.

“It’s extremely frustrating up there right now,” Hollingsworth noted. “It’s ugly and it’s getting uglier.”

He said another attempt at a budget compromise might be forthcoming soon, but he fears it will again call for tax increases that Republican lawmakers staunchly oppose.

He also chided Schwarzenegger’s efforts to seek some common ground amid the sharply divided political camps.

Hollingsworth said Schwarzenegger has deviated sharply from his days as a cigar-smoking, Terminator-style leader who was embraced by the party faithful as the “conservative Arnold.”

Noting that the Inland Empire’s unemployment rate has surged beyond 10 percent, Hollingsworth described the region as the “epicenter of the economic collapse.”

He blamed “liberal Democrats” for the staggering economy.

“I feel it’s going to get a lot worse – the situation in California and the United States – before it gets better,” he warned.

Despite the downturn, now is the time to dig in, speak out and seek solutions, Hollingsworth said. He plans to reintroduce a bill aimed at reducing the state Legislature from full-time to part-time status.

“We’re going to keep after that,” he said. “It’s not going to pass, but we’ll keep after it.”

Hollingsworth fielded about six questions from the audience before he ended his appearance.

A mine critic raised his hand, but was not called upon, as the question-and-answer session drew to a close.

As the Republican group began to wrap up its meeting, mine foe Nicholas Biddle Jr. pressed to speak to the audience on what he termed a crucial local issue.

He was quickly ushered outside the restaurant, where he plunged into a loud debate with Ralph Caracoza Jr., one of the Republican group leaders.

Save Our Southwest Hills member Jerri Arganda stands for the Pledge of Allegiance during the meeting. Arganda and a handful of others attended, wearing orange shirts in protest of Senator Hollingsworth

Biddle argued that his 45 years as a Republican entitled him to speak to the group about the quarry plan. Caracoza countered that Biddle should keep quiet because he was not invited to speak at the dinner.

Biddle and Caracoza continued to argue in the parking lot as the mine foes and Republican group members filtered out of the restaurant. As they did, Hamilton caught her breath and collected her thoughts.

“Whew,” she said.

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