🗳️David Dreier: The Politician from Phillips Hall

The businessman, philanthropist, and politician who ran his first campaign while still living on Claremont’s campus

Actually, I didn’t technically run the campaign out of Phillips Hall. I think that would have been illegal. I was, however, living in Phillips Hall when I first ran for Congress as a complete unknown. To be honest, I’m not sure that I really wanted to run until I got into it. I did always, and still do, enjoy engaging in discussions about my basic belief in the free market, less government taxation and regulation, a strong cost-effective defense, and personal freedom. I had also gotten to know Ronald Reagan over the years after arriving from my home in Kansas City and beginning as a CMC freshman. I was able to spend several Christmases with the Reagans. It was Reagan and others, including CMC’s founding President George C. S. Benson, who first encouraged me to run for Congress.

Determined, as I still am today, to save the world, I heeded their advice and took the plunge. At 24, it was a fascinating experience. My campaign manager said that every morning when shaving, I needed to look in the mirror and ask — “what am I going to do today to win this race?” So, in a raucous primary, we won the nomination campaigning hard and embracing Proposition 13 which capped property taxes at 1%. That issue was controversial among the political elite, but it felt like the right thing to do and it carried overwhelmingly. We ran a spirited campaign, won the primary election, and then narrowly lost in November’s General Election. Losing was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It spurred me on, making it all the more exhilarating to win two years later along with Ronald Reagan. Funnily enough, I actually just this week returned from Washington and the 40th reunion of the congressional class elected with Reagan.

Congress has always been slow to make changes, and I would argue that that is not necessarily a bad thing. We need to be careful to ensure that technological advances don’t undermine representative deliberative democracy. In spite of all of the impressive technological advancements, I’m still a big believer in personal interaction. Technology is no substitute for it. Those advances have been helpful in many ways, but we can’t let them turn us into a direct democracy which the framers saw as a real threat.

In my opinion, being entrepreneurial and innovative in virtually everything is good whether it’s promoting ideas, good public policy, or a business venture. Innovation and entrepreneurship should never be restricted to the private sector. Political leaders should learn from young entrepreneurs how to move more quickly and adapt and adjust — never forgetting that law-making is to be a slow and messy process. Entrepreneurs, however, should learn from politicos about the importance of coalition building and thoughtful deliberation. There’s a balance to strike between the two.

Economic and political liberalization are interdependent. Maintaining economic engagement will lead to greater freedoms. Yes, we have serious issues with China, but it is a country filled with free marketeers and entrepreneurs. We often forget that China is not the Soviet Union. If we treat China as an enemy she surely will become one. We must, however, be unwavering in our determination to confront corporate espionage, IP theft, human rights violations, South China Sea expansion, and more.

Certainly, not everyone should run for Congress, but everyone should embrace a commitment, even if it’s small, to public service. It will look different for everyone, but we need to all make that commitment in some capacity.

The Dreier Roundtable at CMC has a three-word mission — “inspire public service.” We recently presented our first annual civility award to Governor Steve Bullock (CMC). He and I (Democrat and Republican) are going to lead the future selection process as well. The blockage of free speech on campuses nationwide inspired us to hold these formal debates. And, our new co-director CMC Professor Michael Fortner also just moderated a debate on the future of policing. Journalists are engaged in public service as well, so Professors Jack Pitney and Terril Jones are continuing our student oped writing contest.

Incubators that focus on space-generated technology are definitely the wave of the future. The phone I’m typing on now, GPS to get me to SoFi stadium, and the MRI, are some of many examples of how entrepreneurs developed great things from space-based technology. Stay tuned, though. We’re just getting started.

I’m not a big government regulation guy, but quality journalism is threatened as Google and Facebook monetize the IP generated by news organizations. Additionally, even the basic definition of a journalist seems to be changing. I’m anticipating lots of uncertainty ahead. While every elected official has had difficulty with journalists, they are essential because they challenge authority.

Any ideas about our effort to build a memorial on the National Mall to remember fallen journalists and the importance of the first amendment are needed. It’s a current passion for me. I’d encourage people to learn about us and join the effort at fallenjournalists.org!

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Between the Lines is a newsletter that tells stories about the Claremont Colleges entrepreneurship and technology. BTL is brought to you by StoryHouse VC.