Deborah Tharp is a 37-year-old Libertarian who ran for State Assembly of the 70th congressional district in this year’s General Election. A self-admitted paper candidate, she ran for State Assembly while wholly aware that her chances at winning were slim. A decidedly philanthropic politician, she campaigned primarily for the purpose of getting the public involved and voting and less for the prospect of getting elected when November 2nd came around. Though November 2nd came and went in which she ran and lost to Republican Don Wagner, Deborah Tharp still considers herself a politician, and she foresees herself running for office again. Despite the rather grim reality that she garnered only 4.0% of her constituency’s votes, she received the highest percentage of Libertarian votes that her congressional district has seen in at least eight years. Though this recognition has made her tenaciously optimistic, she is keenly aware that her main objective is still looking positively bleak: the voter turnout for this year’s General Elections is projected to be around 44%, a significant decrease from the 56.2% turnout in 2006 and the 50.6% in 2002. Worse yet, this year’s Primary Elections saw only a 24.1% voter turnout, the lowest in California Primary’s in 96 years. Suffice it to say, her campaign for greater involvement has got a long way to go, a verity that she readily admits. “It is an ongoing battle; a lifelong pursuit,” she told me following Election Day, “Just because the Election has happened and it’s done, it doesn’t mean that I’ll stop. I already have the connections, but more so I have the responsibility. If I treated the campaign like a job, and the job is over, then I haven’t done anything for my kids.”
I first met Debbie and her 7-year-old son about six months ago in May as she was recruiting for the seven-member strong Young Americans for Liberty club on campus. Though she began campaigning about a year ago in November of 2009, dressed in a full-length skirt and an oversized t-shirt she appeared to me, to put it quite candidly, a conventional, working-class mom. With short, ginger hair, self-effacing side bangs, and a rather large, but friendly build, Debbie had the looks and the demeanor of a stay-at-home wife. Life stories were exchanged, and she quickly proved herself to be not only a first-time political candidate, but also a pre-med student heavily indebted to a $55,000 student loan and a recent divorcee single-handedly juggling three part-time jobs to provide for her three young children. In August of 2008, she also became a kidney donor for her ex-husband’s kidney transplant, which cost two million dollars and two years of dialysis and kidney tests, then blood tests, urine tests, and more kidney tests, to complete.
“The doctors did so many different invasive tests to qualify me for the transplant when really they were just trying to find something to disqualify me so they wouldn’t have to do it,” Debbie alleged, with not-so-subtle indignation. “There’s no incentive to take a Medical patient because the money is not really there, not like it is from say a cash paying patient. I had to jump through all these hoops because Medical wants you to qualify for this and qualify for that before they pay for the transplant, and in the meantime they’re spending $250,000 a year on dialysis to keep him alive.” And Deborah’s ex-husband was on dialysis for six. While dialysis costs roughly $250,000 a year to maintain a kidney that’s verging on renal failure, a transplant costs roughly $250,000 to replace it. Although a drastically increasing price-tag on our public education system and the continuing recession of our already deeply-recessed economy were good enough motives for Debbie to run for Assembly, it was largely her tortuous and arduous experience with the public health system that actually motivated her to do it. And understandably so, since what is the worth of money if you don’t have your health? According to Debbie: Very little, and quite literally for those who have money to spare.
“You want to know something funny? In 2005, George Lopez had kidney failure and got one donated from his wife, same as my husband. But he had the money—that’s the difference. He plopped down the full price of a transplant, and he qualified his wife and completed the transplant in a matter of weeks. (And after the transplant, was back on the golf-course in less than two.) He never even had to use dialysis, while my husband was on it for six years and literally died on the machine. He went into a coma for two weeks, seven of those days having been on full life support with a ventilator. Anyway, the funny thing is George and his wife split five years after they do the transplant. My husband and I split after only two! Isn’t that funny? So never donate a kidney to your husband because apparently you will just get divorced. And don’t get divorced. It sucks.”
Over the summer, Debbie, along with her four interns Jacqueline Devot, Gareth Vaz, Heather Brown, and Colby Seymour, worked from sun-up to sun-down campaigning for the Election, meaning: meeting with politicians, writing up speeches, preparing for debates, utilizing social networks, and all the while providing moral support. Running on a “shoe-string budget,” Debbie funded her campaign through private donations and fundraisers, which have been less than a thousand dollars in total and so haven’t been reported. Given that there was not enough to spend on media advertisements or campaign merchandise, Debbie and her team relied on public appearances, proposition rallies, and door-to-door campaigning to increase her publicity and generally make her candidacy known. Colby Seymour, the press correspondence of the team, contacted LA Times, OC Register, and other various news publications to get Debbie into the news as much as possible, or as much as a third-party candidate can get.
On August 24th, Colby posted on the Orange Juice Blog a letter that Debbie wrote in response to Republican John Campbell’s decision to abstain from the upcoming Congressional Debate. Headed by “Ultimatum for John Campbell from Debbie Tharp: You have one week, and then it’s on!” and placed under an unflattering picture of a closed-eyed Campbell wearing a JOIN THE RESISTANCE T-shirt, Colby pasted an e-mail sent from an anonymous Republican that informs “Anthony” why John Campbell will not be to attend the debate: “It has something to do with congress being in session and not wanting to campaign till congress is out. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience.” The e-mail ends with a signature of a Paul Greenberg quote that says: No right is safe unless citizens are willing to exercise and defend it.
[WHAT DEBBIE WROTE IN RESPONSE]
I reunited with Debbie about two months ago, October 13th, as she was supporting fellow Libertarian candidate Mike Binkley in the 48th Congressional Debate against Democrat Beth Krom. (John Campbell never showed up.) 50 pounds lighter and tightly fitted into a tight, black dress suit, Debbie looked much more befitting of a running Libertarian candidate and contender to a cut-throat political posse. With her hair pinned up and lips lined neatly in red, she was the spitting image of a composed and collected politician, yet her frazzled and flustered demeanor suggested otherwise.
“I just came back from a six-hour bike ride,” she told me through airy breaths. “I was supposed to go to the voter information fair in Cal State Fullerton today, but my motorcycle broke down on the way so I missed the whole event and had to take the backstreets to get back home.”
“You took your motorcycle on the freeway all the way to Fullerton?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve been using my motorcycle to get around because it consumes less gas. I still have to get my parking pass for it though. It’s only thirty dollars a month to park a motorcycle on campus, but I haven’t been willing to cough it up yet since I make such a meager fucking salary. My paycheck last week was 180 dollars and quite frankly an insult.”
It was 6:30 PM, and we were waiting for the debate to start in Crystal Cove Auditorium, which was barely half-filled with a little more than a hundred UCI students and a handful of elderly constituents. We were sitting behind a row of undergraduates who were clearly Democratic: they each wore light blue T-shirts whose uniformed backs all proudly proclaimed: I’M VOTING FOR BETH KROM ON NOVEMBER 2ND. Amid an ocean of Beth Krom enthusiasts and a sprinkling of Mike Binkley defendants, the attendance at the debate was decidedly Democratic. Regardless, while the Krom-ies were hooting and hollering for Krom’s every sensational and sometimes nonsensical arguments, Deborah was cheering and yeah!-ing right back to Binkley’s less stimulating, somewhat tenuous rebuttals. Though the televised debate ended clearly in Beth Krom’s favor, we headed over to the Pub to celebrate the occasion, and Deborah bought for the both of us a 20-dollar bottle of Barefoot’s white zinfandel champagne.
[INTERVIEW AT THE PUB]
[STATISTICS/PUBLIC OPINION ON PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM, PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM, ECONOMY, AND CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE]
[SECOND DEBATE BETWEEN DEBBIE, MELISSA FOX, AND DON WAGNER]
Q: How did the campaign affect your family life?
“My ex-husband and daughter complained a lot, which happens a lot in politics. Families tend to feel like they’re being put behind all your constituents, and they start to resent you for it. They’re not involved in politics in any way. They are very anti-politics.
[INTERVIEW WITH IVY, DEBBIE’S DAUGHTER]
Q: Were they anti-politics before or after the campaign?
“After. Because I was so involved in it. There’s a lot of resentment there, and also they hear things that turn them off, all the inside stuff that’s going on. The inside deals, the bullshit. It will disillusion anybody from the political system. Our politics is really nasty. It’s the same thing as Russian politics, but at least the Russians are honest about it.”
[TALK ABOUT “INSIDE DEALS.” I.E.: JOHN CAMPBELL’S ‘CASH FOR CLUNKERS’ SCAM]
[ELECTION RESULTS STATEWIDE: JOHN CAMPBELL WINS, LOW VOTER TURNOUT, REPUBLICANS TAKE OVER]
[TALK ABOUT CURRENT ISSUES, i.e. RECENT STUDENT FEE HIKES]
[END WITH ONE OF MY RECENTS VISITS TO HUMANITIES GATEWAY, WHERE DEBBIE WORKS AS THE FRONT-DESK RECEPTIONIST. TOM RAGAN, A REPORTER FROM THE DAILY PILOT, CAME AND INTERVIEWED DEBBIE, ME, AND JESSE CHENG FOR A RECENT ARTICLE HE POSTED ON SUNDAY]
I visited Deborah about two weeks after the Elections at her front-desk receptionist job in UC Irvine’s Humanities Gateway when Tom Ragan, a reporter for The Daily Pilot, came in and asked if either of us knew where we could find Jesse Cheng, the student regent for UCI and one of the five out of the XX student regents statewide who voted no for the recent 8% fee hikes. Making use of her front-desk directory, Deborah found and reached Jesse Cheng on his cell phone, and he met with us at Humanities Gateway just thirty minutes later.
Jesse: When we look at the state contribution, how much the state has cut us overall, the state is projected to cut us 1 billion dollars. I don’t think it’s a long term solution. If we’re looking at a one billion dollar deficit, 8% fee increases, which is $822 per student, create one percent of the budget solution. For the stress and the pain that we cause on our students, to create 1% of our budget solution is almost negligible for our overall budget solution. I think we have to think about our priorities when we look at revenues. In the same meeting that we raised fees we also talked about indirect cost recovery as a budget solution. That creates 600 million dollars for us, when we start implementing that. That’s 6 times the fee increase, and it doesn’t hurt anybody. “We’re causing a lot of stress for what is not a long term solution.”
[Indirect Cost: when we have a research grant from the federal government, for example, they give you the grant for direct costs of research (the hiring of professors, TA, etc.) They don’t account for electricity, the maintenance, the overhead…the indirect costs that you’re utilizing. In Buffalo, they get 56% of their indirect cost recovery. And that’s part of their full grant.]
[Loss of campus efficiencies, student services cuts (like LARC). Getting rid of lecturers who teach the classes, so you have less class lectures. Don’t renew contract (attrition). ]
Debbie: I have a serious learning disability. I mean, I have a high IQ, but I have an intense learning disability. I went over to the disability center and got qualified for it so that I could get the free LARC tutorials that would help me pass my classes. And just when I enrolled in the classes, after I paid my good money and went into a huge debt, they cut the LARC Tutorials. Even though we’re going to pay an extra 8 percent for the fee increase, I still won’t get the funding that I need for the LARC tutorials. And I’m failing my classes.
I’m going to be graduating $55,000 in debt and I’m not even going to be in the major that I intended to graduate with because I’m going to fail these classes. I couldn’t pay to get the tutoring. My plan was to go on to medical school and now it’s not going to happen because I’m flunking my classes.
Asian American studies. 22 year old. He got accepted into Teach for America, and he plans to teach English to middle school students in Baltimore. “Education is always a path.”