Wikinews interviews Rocky De La Fuente, U.S. Democratic Party presidential candidate

Thursday, March 31, 2016

De La Fuente at the Lesser-Known Candidates Forum, January 2016.
Image: Marc Nozell.

Businessman Rocky De La Fuente took some time to speak with Wikinews about his campaign for the U.S. Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nomination.

The 61-year-old De La Fuente resides in San Diego, California, grew up in Tijuana, and owns multiple businesses and properties throughout the world. Since getting his start in the automobile industry, De La Fuente has branched out into the banking and real estate markets. Despite not having held or sought political office previously, he has been involved in politics, serving as the first-ever Hispanic superdelegate to the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

De La Fuente entered the 2016 presidential race last October largely due to his dissatisfaction with Republican front-runner Donald Trump. He argues he is a more accomplished businessman than Trump, and attacks Trump as "a clown," "a joke," "dangerous," and "in the same category as Hitler." Nevertheless, De La Fuente's business background begets comparisons with Trump. The Alaskan Midnight Sun blog described him as the Democrats' "own Donald Trump."

While receiving only minimal media coverage, he has campaigned actively, and according to the latest Federal Election Commission filing, loaned almost US$ 4 million of his own money to the campaign. He has qualified for 48 primary and caucus ballots, but has not yet obtained any delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Thus far, according to the count at The Green Papers, De La Fuente has received 35,406 votes, or 0.23% of the total votes cast. He leads among the many lesser-known candidates but trails both Senator Bernie Sanders who has received nearly 6.5 million votes and front-runner Hillary Clinton who has just shy of 9 million votes.

With Wikinews reporter William S. Saturn‎, De La Fuente discusses his personal background, his positions on political issues, his current campaign for president, and his political future.



 ((William S. Saturn )) What are some of your achievements in your business career?

Rocky De La Fuente: From my perspective, my greatest achievements in business are tied to the people and families I have helped. I've had the good fortune to create dozens of business that created thousands of jobs across the United States as well as in other countries. I always paid a fair wage, provided access to healthcare, and tried to create opportunities for advancement for those who demonstrated the desire to improve their lot in life.
Aerial view of De La Fuente's hometown San Diego.
Image: U.S. Navy.
If you're asking for a more traditional answer with respect to what I have personally done, at the age of twenty, I got a job selling automobiles. Less than two years later, I became the General Manager of a dealership. Two years after that, I acquired my first dealership and, over the next 16 years, I added 27 more dealerships to my portfolio. And at the age of 28, I was honored to be elected by my peers in that industry as Chairman of the National Dealer Council for the third largest Automotive Company in the world at the time.
Then, I sold 27 of my dealerships and began a new career investing in real estate. I developed the De La Fuente Business Park and began acquiring [...] other properties in San Diego, San Diego County, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Auburn, El Cajon, Hemet, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, National City, Stanton, and Yorba Linda, California as well as in Cincinnati, Ohio, Cohoes, New York, Hartford, Connecticut, and West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition, I purchased and own residential complexes in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia and have developed assisted living facilities in Los Angeles (San Pedro) and Lemon Grove, California, to care for seniors who are in need.
In between, in an effort to help Mexico during the financial crisis that arose there in 1982, I opened 11 currency exchanges to facilitate free-flowing trade between Mexico and the United States. The network included seven offices in California and four in Texas. Then, over the next five years, I founded three U.S. banks; one being a National Bank approved by the OCC and two State Charter Banks approved by the California Banking Commission and the FDIC.
Some of my efforts were recently recognized when I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate as an "International Corporate Ambassador" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
If you think about that list for a minute, you'll have a pretty good perspective of how many people I've had the pleasure of working with and how many families I've been able to help over the years. And that remains my greatest business accomplishment.

 ((WSS )) According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the FDIC banned you from banking for "unsafe and unsound banking practices." Why did this occur and how do you respond to the allegation?

De La Fuente: Many of the consumer and commercial loan provisions provided by the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act (DIDMCA) of 1980 were reversed by the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. Then, the FDIC aggressively brought charges against thousands of small banks and Savings & Loans for practices that had previously been permissible.
The FDIC closed or otherwise resolved (i.e., punished management, etc.) 297 financial institutions. The Resolution Trust Corporation closed or otherwise resolved 747 more.
While I managed to save my bank, I was one of the causalities of the FDIC's "resolution" of the bank's issues. Personally accepting the FDIC's unilateral punishment protected the depositors' funds and allowed the bank to keep operating. You might have noticed in the article that you cited that the bank sold at a lower multiple because it hadn't fully leveraged its assets (i.e., it hadn't aggressively loaned its deposits as compared to other banks). In other words, it had been conservative in its investments.
De La Fuente: "I probably best fit the term 'Kennedy Democrat' because I am a strong advocate of social equality and freedom but I believe we must be fiscally responsible as well."
Image: The White House.

 ((WSS )) Why are you a Democrat?

De La Fuente: I have always considered myself to be a Democrat, although what that term means has shifted over the years. I probably best fit the term "Kennedy Democrat" because I am a strong advocate of social equality and freedom but I believe we must be fiscally responsible as well. While that may not fit the current narrative of modern liberalism that favors social justice and a mixed economy leaning toward an ever increasing presence of government regulation and assistance, it reflects what I truly believe.
I think, during the modern era, Democrats have been the primary political catalyst for social equality and change. President Kennedy had a unique ability to bring both sides of the aisle together to [make] progress in that regard, but he also recognized that government regulation bore a cost and could pose a threat if it was used in an unbridled fashion. We seem to have forgotten that concept.
Conservatives are relatively adverse to change. I am not. I simply think change needs to [be] achieved in a responsible manner and that federal officials should recognize their [responsibility] to serve as stewards of the taxpayers' money.
I also think we need to figure out how to provide more opportunities for people rather than just mask the symptoms with assistance. The goal of government assistance should always be to provide it as a temporary bridge rather than a permanent foundation. When we lose sight of this, we create programs that deepen our problems rather than resolve them.
I clearly don't fit the Republican mindset when it comes to my position on social issues. However, I'm sure I cause discomfort for some Democrats who think that the government is the solution to every problem. My real world experience in business and my exposure to the economies of other countries have given me a different perspective; one that compels me to assess government programs from a rational basis as well as an emotional one.
I think there's room in the Democratic Party for that type of mindset.


 ((WSS )) What do you hope to accomplish with this campaign?

De La Fuente: Well, imagine if I were to win. If I win, "We all Win" . . . "America Wins" . . . and the World would be a better place.
What I know I can achieve is to broaden the active Democratic base. The Hispanic community in this country has been relatively inactive from a political perspective. While it represents a sizable element of the Party's foundation, it is somewhat underrepresented in elected office and does not participate in the electoral process to the degree it should. I can spotlight the importance of registering to vote and participating in the process within the Hispanic community because my candidacy has attracted some attention in that regard. I hope I will encourage other minorities and underrepresented groups to become more engaged as well.
  I . . . have been subjected to a disappointingly unfair process by which the Party has not even remotely provided an equal chance to other candidates and me.  
I also have been subjected to a disappointingly unfair process by which the Party has not even remotely provided an equal chance to other candidates and me. This isn't unique to the Democratic Party. Both Parties dramatically favor their "politically privileged" member[s]; those individuals who have served their respective Parties for a long time and raised serious money on behalf of their Party.
If I detailed all of the "behind the scenes" inequities that I and others candidates like me have endured, you'd be shocked. Perhaps that will be another legacy of this campaign as I am inclined to bring these issues to light and have the courts decide whether the practices should be continued. That might be a greater benefit to the People than even serving as president of the United States.

 ((WSS )) Are you disappointed by the results of the primaries thus far?

De La Fuente: I am disappointed by the treatment I have received such as being denied the courtesy of automatic ballot access that's afforded "politically privileged" candidate[s], having votes mysteriously disappear from election results, having State Parties in caucus states withhold location information, list me as "Other" and refuse to provide areas for my preference groups to form, etc. However, I am not disappointed by the results under those circumstances.
De La Fuente examines his notes during the Lesser-Known Candidates Forum.
Image: Marc Nozell.
Despite this type of treatment, I have successfully qualified to participate in the primaries and caucuses in a combination of 48 states and territories. I have also already amassed more votes than former Senator Rick Santorum, current Senator Lindsey Graham, former Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia, former New York Governor George Pataki and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal combined. After Arizona, I passed Carly Fiorina's vote total and I'm rapidly closing in on former Governor Mike Huckabee's, current Governor Chris Christie's and current Senator Rand Paul's vote totals.
While those candidates have suspended their campaigns, an independent NPR article recently noted my performance as somewhat of a phenomenon given that my campaign is predominantly self-funded and enjoys absolutely zero Party support or Super PAC money. Conversely, these candidates all received massive support from the Republican Party in terms of the visibility and support they were given. Most also have benefited from the monetary support of conservative Super PACs.
I'm not sharing this information to brag but rather to provide a context for how the Parties have insulated themselves with a set of rules that preclude legitimate candidates such as me from having an equal opportunity to be heard and have an impact. Why not let the People choose?
At least my candidacy is beginning to force some of these practices out in the open. Maybe that's a better result than the one experienced by bigger name candidates who had all the advantages and still failed.

 ((WSS )) In 2012, several primary challengers to President Barack Obama including John Wolfe, Jr., Randall Terry, and Keith Russell Judd all qualified for delegates, though they ultimately were not seated at the convention due to technicalities. Given the money you are willing to spend on a campaign and your ability to adhere to the rules, do you regret not running in 2012?

De La Fuente quotes Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
Image: Ferdinand Schmutzer.
De La Fuente: I found that it isn't a good use of time to second guess a decision you can't change. Did unconventional candidates win delegates in 2012? Yes. That should tell you that the Party changed the rules to prevent that from happening again. That's the real story; not whether I wish I'd run in 2012.
In all honesty, I didn't have any motivation to run in 2012. I only decided to jump into this race late last year because Donald Trump was vilifying entire classes of people and no one seemed willing to confront him. Had there been a Kennedy or even a Reagan in the race, I wouldn't have taken this step. I ran because I didn't see anyone in the presidential race who wasn't also part of the problem.
Albert Einstein once said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." I would suggest that we cannot solve our nation's problems with the same people who created them. We need someone who understands our economy, who understands international relationships and cultural differences, who values education, who has lived and competed in the real world rather than a hypothetical one funded by the taxpayers, and who has experienced the challenges that minorities face in this country and knows how to overcome those barriers. I have personal experience in each of these areas and offer a demonstrated record of success.
I'm not a polished politician; I‘m just like you. I don't make false promises, and I pledge to honor my Oath of Office. I'm a problem solver, and I believe that is exactly what our nation needs. Think about it.


 ((WSS )) What are your thoughts on the job Obama has done as president? Specifically, what would you have done differently?

De La Fuente: I think President Obama is an honorable man who has done the best he could. He took over under difficult economic circumstances, but found a way to help stabilize and reverse the recession. He made significant progress in healthcare and education even in the face of Congressional resistance. I also think his recent steps to normalize relations with Cuba are a step in the right direction.
As far as differences, I hate to second guess a sitting President. I do not have access to the facts behind his decisions and can only hope he always made his decisions in good faith.
I do think I would have taken a different regulatory approach to accelerate our recovery from the recession. I also would have tried to expand the recovery, which has not made its way down to the middle class and the poor.
I would like to have seen a stronger and better defined foreign policy. The President seems to vacillate at times, and we need more certainty in this uncertain world.
  Some of the President's rhetoric and selective interest in social issues may have actually expanded the racial divide.  
I also would like to have seen a greater effort to lessen racial tension. Some of the President's rhetoric and selective interest in social issues may have actually expanded the racial divide.
In addition, I was disappointed that the President's position on equal rights took so long to "evolve." The evidence suggests that he didn't as much "evolve" as he timed his position to coincide with public opinion. I would like to have seen stronger leadership in that regard.
Perhaps the greatest difference would be on my emphasis to create more opportunities for the middle class and the poor. The rich, donor class seems to have benefited to a far greater degree than those who are struggling the most. Welfare has dramatically expanded, homelessness has expanded, and illiteracy remains high. These would all be priorities in my Administration.

 ((WSS )) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing America and how will you deal with these as president?

De La Fuente: I think the five most important issues facing our country are the economy, education, the environment, immigration, national security, and social equality (in alphabetical order).
With respect to the economy: The government cannot create jobs, but it can influence the economic environment. We need to rebalance the relationship between regulation, taxation and economic expansion so that the private sector can create new jobs and attract old ones that have migrated overseas. This will expand the tax base as well as the economy and allow us to begin working down the debt that will otherwise suffocate our country in years to come. It will also provide individuals with the opportunity to pursue upward mobility, which has been "missing in action" for far too many years.
With respect to education: We need to stop masking the inequity of our K–12 system that deprives children in poor areas from enjoying an equal education and having a pathway to a better life. We need to expand trade schools to provide the skills for which jobs exist but well-trained workers do not. We need to refocus our institutions of higher learning on their core mission, which is to provide the best education possible.
De La Fuente speaks with journalist Jorge Ramos, January 2016.
Image: Gage Skidmore.
In recent times, our colleges have become enamored with competing for students on a basis of facilities rather than primarily on the basis of a quality education. As a result, costs have skyrocketed and students have become unconscionably burdened with debt. Government has contributed to the problem by providing funds with "strings attached" that further escalate costs on an ongoing basis. Making college "free" is a great concept, but we must recognize that it is only a shift in payment. Rather than tying the financial commitment to an individual for a defined period of time (the length of the loan), it spreads the commitment across the entire tax base and increases the length of the loan to "forever." We need to develop a smart approach to solving the problem rather than a politically expedient one.
With respect to the environment: We are stewards of our planet, and we bear the responsibility to preserve the environment to the degree that we reasonably can. We cannot ignore science, but we must recognize that it is a two-edged sword. While we cannot deny Man's contribution to climate change, we also have to acknowledge that our attempts to mitigate the damage we do is driven by technological realities that we cannot legislate away.
  While we need a far more efficient and effective way of vetting potential immigrants and providing them a path toward citizenship, it is astoundingly naive to think that building a wall would solve the problem.  
We cannot impose subjective standards if the science does not exist to provide the solution. What we need to do is establish a rational transition plan that moves away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy and encourages an acceleration of that transition. Today, we impose fines and fees if subjective standards are not met. This damages the economy and negatively impacts job growth. We need to reward the achievement rather than punish failure. We need to take the money we use to create and enforce unattainable regulations and use it to reward accelerated achievement of such goals.
With respect [to] immigration: We need comprehensive immigration reform. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution directs us to "provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States," which can have countervailing impacts. We need secure borders to "provide for the common Defense." However, we also need to embrace immigrants to "provide for . . . the general Welfare."
As such, we need to assess immigration from a different perspective. Rather than viewing immigrants (documented or undocumented) as a liability, we need to view them as an asset. While we need a far more efficient and effective way of vetting potential immigrants and providing them a path toward citizenship, it is astoundingly naive to think that building a wall would solve the problem. People enter into the United States from two borders as well as by plane and ship. A wall has little practical value beyond [...] political rhetoric. We need real solutions for this real issue, and we have to remember and honor the values upon which this great nation was built.
De La Fuente at the Veterans Museum in Washington D.C., October 2015.
Image: Claire Cousin.
It is not logical to suggest that we can deport 12 million immigrants just as it is illogical to suggest that we cannot deport the extremely small percentage who have committed felonies in our country. It is also ignorant to punish children, who entered the country illegally with their parents, for the decision of their parents. And it is appalling to deport individuals after we permit them to serve in the United States military; a practice of which most Americans are unaware.
We can also secure our borders without abandoning the values upon which our nation was built. We must first admit that our current system of immigration is broken and recognize that a wall is not the solution. Then, we must create a more intelligent, effective and efficient way of welcoming well-vetted immigrants to our borders and providing them with a clear pathway to citizenship.
With respect to national security: Again, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution directs us to "provide for the common Defense . . . of the United States." However, it does not say that we must do it in a fiscally irresponsible way. It is not the government's responsibility to support a military–industrial complex simply because it has allowed that structure to become unduly important in the financing of our political parties.
Our focus should be to maintain a technological superiority over every other military on earth in as cost effective way as possible. Our ability to project force in a timely manner, when necessary, should be measured against current capabilities rather than historic principles. We do not need to maintain military bases abroad to the degree that we do. We can project force far more efficiently today than we could decades ago when many of those installations first were built.
We also have to recognize that the enemy has changed as has the weaponry. Cyber-attacks on infrastructure and financial services pose new threats as do terrorist attacks (as opposed to traditional invasion tactics). We need to build an intelligence capability that can identify and anticipate such threats and a counter-cyber capability that can defend against and respond to the delivery of any such attacks.
With respect to social equality: My number one priority as President would be to refocus our country on providing an equal opportunity to all with regard to jobs, education, healthcare, etc. We have established programs that make our leaders feel good but, from a practical perspective, fail to advance the cause of delivering an equal opportunity to all. As a result, we waste a great deal of time and taxpayer money on programs that have not improved our nation or the lives of its citizens. We need to return to the concept that "all men are created equal" and have the unalienable right to pursue happiness as they choose to define it. This does not mean that we all have to choose the same path or achieve parity in income, etc. It means that we should be given the tools and choices that are necessary to be able to pursue our individual definition of happiness.
"Equality" supports the right to be different; however, it demands the opportunity to choose which path to pursue. I would do everything in my power to provide every citizen with an equal opportunity to make that choice. This alone would stimulate our economy, resolve many of our social issues, and underscore the importance of the concept of individual Liberty that separates our country from any other nation on Earth.
We spend an inordinate amount of time and money intervening in the affairs of other nations. What if we were to redirect our efforts and capital toward improving vital issues at home (i.e., our homeless, our displaced veterans, illiteracy and poverty (which continue to hover around 15%), the availability of health care for every American, etc.)? We could lead by example rather than try to convince the rest of the world why it should follow our model, and at the same time, we would be taking care of our citizens and restoring hope and dignity to their lives.


 ((WSS )) If elected, what would constitute a successful presidency for you?

De La Fuente: Simplistically, if I could make meaningful progress toward achieving the goals I just listed, I would have a successful presidency.
De La Fuente: "I don't need to serve in a political office to be happy, but I would be honored to do so if I thought I could give something back to my country."
Image: Marc Nozell.

 ((WSS )) Which individuals would you like to see in a De La Fuente administration?

De La Fuente: I would take a fundamentally different approach to staffing the De La Fuente administration. Currently, over 80 percent of the senior White House staff positions and approximately 50 percent of the ambassadorships have gone to individuals who bundled $500 thousand or more for the current Administration. While these people shouldn't be banned from serving the Administration if they are qualified, the disproportionate distribution suggests that the positions are more likely to be a repayment of political debt. I will not do that.
I learned in business that I did best when I hired people who were better than me at what they did. I didn't hire them to be subservient to me nor did I hire them because they were friends. I think that same approach is needed in Washington, D.C. During these difficult times, we need our nation's best and brightest individuals to tackle our problems. I would select people to serve in my administration on a basis of merit.

 ((WSS )) Do you plan on ever running for political office again?

De La Fuente: I'm a first generation American who is extreme[ly] proud of being a citizen of this great country. To give you some perspective, I once wanted to fly a large American flag over one of my car dealerships, but the city's governing body emphatically said, "No!" For nine years, I fought back before winning the right to honor our country with what has become a prominent landmark; a 3,000 square foot flag flying from the tallest free standing flag pole in the United States.
I don't need to serve in a political office to be happy, but I would be honored to do so if I thought I could give something back to my country.


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