by Peter B. Gemma
Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente began his successful business career in California’s automobile industry and has branched out into the national markets of banking and real estate. In 1982, at the age of 28, he was elected Chairman of the National (automotive) Dealer Council. His involvement in politics includes being elected by the California Democratic Party as a Delegate-at-Large (Super Delegate) to the 1992 Democrat National Convention. De La Fuente ran for President in several Democrat primaries before declaring as a third party and independent presidential candidate. He is now a resident of Florida.
Peter B. Gemma: I appreciate this opportunity for an interview. You ran for President on the Democrat ticket but moved on to an independent run for President. Why was that?
Rocky De La Fuente: I had unfinished business. When I ran as a Democrat in the primaries, I thought I would be given an equal chance. That was not the case. Some state parties unilaterally blocked ballot access, while others imposed ridiculously high signature petition requirements, which I often became the first person in history to overcome.
Many of the 46 states, territories and the District of Columbia, in which I did qualify, tried to block my candidacy in other ways. Some denied acknowledging me on their websites. Others denied sharing critical information about election logistics that they routinely shared with other candidates. Some refused to list me on their caucus sign-in sheets, etc. The bottom line is that they did everything in their power to undermine my campaign along with the campaigns of other candidates who did not represent the political establishment.
When my votes actually began disappearing as election results were being reported, I decided that the issue of election manipulation and fraud was too big to ignore. The American people need to know what is occurring and how their votes are being abused — that’s why I am still running.
The need for substantive election reform is far bigger than me. I am trying to bring attention to the issue to force the political establishment to address the issue. Every candidate should be treated equally, and every vote should count. Neither of those positions is currently being honored.
Gemma: You’ve been quoted as saying, “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.’” What do you mean by that?
De La Fuente: President Kennedy offered balanced leadership. He did not try to enhance his image by denigrating the image of others. He was far more diplomatic than the typical polarizing politicians we see today. I think leadership involves having the temperament to respect others unless they do something so profoundly inappropriate to merit criticism — otherwise, if you constantly attack others because their political ideology may differ from yours, you will not be able to build the consensus you need to move forward. President Kennedy was a master at building consensus.
President Kennedy was a social progressive — as am I — he blended those beliefs with fiscal responsibility. As a businessman, I know you should not write checks you cannot cash. Too often our government officials view the taxpayer as a limitless resource to fund any political project they might choose to pursue. This is unrealistic, and it is also disrespectful of the fiduciary duty we have to the taxpayer. President Kennedy understood this and led our nation accordingly.
I take the same approach. That is what I mean when I say that I am a Kennedy Democrat.
Gemma: You’ve also said, “we need a far more efficient and effective way of vetting potential immigrants and providing them a path toward citizenship,” and that, “we can secure our borders without abandoning the values upon which our nation was built.” What are your views on illegal immigration?
De La Fuente: First, I dislike the term “illegal.” While I accept the fact that there are laws in place, the term “illegal” suggests an element of criminal intent that is not at the root of most immigrants’ decisions to come to the this country. The vast majority of these people are simply trying to secure a better future for themselves and for their families. While they may be entering the United States in a way that conflicts with our existing laws, they aren’t entering our country to be disruptive, and they may not even understand what our laws require.
I think we need to start from a different place. Rather than viewing immigrants as potential liabilities, we need to begin to view them as assets. If we did that, the necessary changes to our archaic immigration laws could begin to be intelligently discussed, and we could make progress toward the comprehensive immigration reform that almost everyone agrees needs to happen.
Today, we vilify immigrants on a generic basis. We also selectively enforce the laws that are on the books, which allows us to ignore how incomprehensively out-of-date those laws are.
Our approach is almost anti-American when you compare it to the values that have always defined our country. We need to de-politicize the issue and work toward effective and comprehensive immigration reform.
Gemma: On foreign policy issues, what are your main concerns — how do they set you apart from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
De La Fuente: First, it is difficult to determine how my approach differs from those of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump because those two individuals have been anything but clear with respect to where they stand on foreign policy. If you try to decipher their positions, I suppose you could point toward how they both like to brag about their willing to use our strength to impose our will on others. Trump wants to “bomb the s–t” out of everybody, and Clinton thinks Libya was her greatest policy triumph as Secretary of State — a policy that President Obama has accurately described as the greatest political miscalculation of his Administration.
To succinctly frame my foreign policy position, I believe we should extricate ourselves from the failed exercise of nation building — trying to impose democracy on countries that may not chose to embrace it or may not be ready to build upon it from a cultural perspective. I would like to see us be less active in that regard as it often leads to us being view negatively among other countries.
We also have a duty to protect our citizens. If we are attacked or there is a clear and present danger of such attack, then we have every right to defend ourselves. I simply don’t think we should champion the political rhetoric that both Trump and Clinton have chosen to pursue that suggests that we should use force to intervene in the events of other nations if their cultures differ from ours and we see an opportunity to impose our will.
I am reminded of the Civil War, the most brutal war in the history of our nation. Just as our country had to suffer through the pain associated with fundamental change, we must allow other countries to find their political equilibrium without always assuming it must reflect ours.
Gemma: How is your platform regarding government health care initiatives different from the two major parties?
De La Fuente: I do believe that as a civilized nation, we should provide healthcare for all those who need it. However, I think we once again politicized the issue and, as a result, missed the mark when we passed the Affordable Care Act [ACA] which has become not so affordable.
Special interests were served in the structuring of the ACA, and political graft was paid for the required votes in support of that bill. I would work to reform the health care initiative so that neither of these two elements was involved.
I would remain focused on all three of the original goals of health care reform — lower cost, maintained or improved quality, and open access. The ACA ultimately only focused upon the access issue because of the political capital it carries with it. However, if you don’t address cost and quality, you will have provided access to a systemically poor approach.
I think we need to readdress health care reform in a way that addresses cost and quality along with access. For example, substantive tort reform needs to be included in the discussion because of the way it distorts costs. Pharmaceutical advertising should also be on the table since it disproportionately adds cost without improving quality.
Catastrophic insurance coverage would probably be the best starting point to begin the reassessment. Then we could build upon that to ensure operational efficiency while minimizing the potential for abuse.
Gemma: You have stated that, “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.” What are your priorities in defense and national security policies?
De La Fuente: I do believe in a strong defense. However, I believe there is an incredible amount of waste and inefficiency in our current military budget. There also is a disgraceful relationship between our politicians and the military-industrial lobby.
It’s all about favoritism — all you have to do is follow the money. The cost of our military is unjustifiably high and our war fighters are unnecessarily put in harm’s way. We need to become far more intelligent in the way we invest in our military, and the bonds between lobbyists and our elected officials must be broken. We cannot allow bad decisions and unjust enrichment to be dictated by which companies’ PACs contribute to which candidates’ campaigns.
Defense should focus on exactly that — defense. National Security should focus in the more proactive role of prevention. However, National Security cannot come at the sacrifice of our unalienable rights. While we must remain vigilant, we must also do it in a way that reflects our fundamental values. Fear-mongering has led to investments in purported National Security agencies and programs that bear little return. We must look at those investments judiciously and eliminate the ones that have not proven to be effective. Today, we ignorantly tend to expand them.
Gemma: Do you have specifics on how you would deal with the threat of terrorism?
De La Fuente: To the degree that terrorism posed a clear and present danger to the United States, either at home or abroad, we should aggressive address the threat and eliminate it within the constructs of our legal authority. However, we must also learn not to incite it.
Occupying other countries and trying to impose our political culture on them has not worked. How would we feel if some other nation tried to occupy our territory and impose its political system here? I think the answer is obvious, but we chose to pretend that other nations welcome our intervention. This is naïve, and what we have fomented in the Middle East is a vivid example.
Gemma: You’ve called for “more opportunities for people rather than just mask the symptoms with assistance,” and said that, “Government assistance should always be to provide it as a temporary bridge rather than a permanent foundation.” Do you have examples?
De La Fuente: Affirmative Action programs provide a pretty clear example. Right now, many universities apply a generic racial criterion to Affirmative Action as if President Obama’s daughters have suffered the same disadvantages that African American children who reside in a blighted inner city environment have experienced. That is absurd, but it gets worse. The truly disadvantaged inner city youth is given preferential treatment with respect to university enrollment. This makes us feel good that we have taken some steps to try to “level the playing field,” but think about that. Our youth are “disadvantaged” because we have done nothing to address why the individual is disadvantaged.
Through the application of Affirmative Action, we allow those youths to remain disadvantaged. In fact, we guarantee it. We provide them with inferior schools, inferior educational resources, and in some case, inferior teachers for 13 years — K-12. Then we pretend to solve the problem by giving them a preference to pursue an education for which we have not, in many cases, adequately prepared them.
The “preference” we provide is like treating melanoma with a band-aid. It may cover the mole, but the cancer is still there. We need to fix the problem rather than provide a program that merely engrains it.
Gemma: Do you have new ideas to address challenges and changes in education policies?
De La Fuente: I would like to create an environment that actually supports the concept of equal opportunity as oppose to just paying lip service to it.
I would also like to see us find a way to finance education for those who need such assistance. We have created economic barriers in our upper educational system that make it cost prohibitive for some individuals to pursue their dreams. This discourages those individuals and also prevents our country from enjoying the full range of talent these individuals have to offer.
Again, given some of the radical excesses in which our government currently indulges, we should be able to intelligently find a way to fund college and trade school education to allow everyone to have access to those resources. I would favor constructing a free education system, but we would need to identify the funding mechanisms before launching such a program.
You will notice that I mentioned trade schools as well because they are often ignored in favor of “higher education.” The reality is that different people express their creativity in different ways and can contribute to society in different manners. Having created thousands of jobs across the United States over the years, I can assure you that not everyone needs a college education nor do some people with a college education have the prerequisite skills to effectively provide some of the vital labor talent that our Nation also needs. It has become fashionable to leave skilled labor out of the discussion. I have too much respect for its contribution to ignore it.
Gemma: You are primarily funding your own campaign — as of now, I think the figure is $6.6 million. Do you have a budget for the entire election?
De La Fuente: I understand that I am competing against individuals who will spend in excess of $1 billion to secure the presidency. I will not even remotely approach that level of competitiveness. However, I am personally willing to spend a reasonable amount of money to give a voice to those who otherwise might not have one and to expose the corruption that is strangling our political system.
When I speak of providing a voice to those who don’t have one, I am talking about providing a role model for minorities who are dramatically underrepresented in our political process. I have spoken with many people who believe their issues are not being addressed because they simply do not see or hear from elected officials who look or speak like them. I want to provide those people with hope and inspire them to take a more active role in our political process.
With respect to exposing the corruption in our political system, suffice it to say that I want to do everything within my power to insure that your vote actually counts.
I will self-fund my campaign to the degree that I comfortably can, but the more that others participate through volunteering and donations, the bigger the voice I will have. I do not have the personal resources to compete equally with the Clintons and Trumps of the world, but I have the integrity and tenacity to make up for it. I just hope that those who care about our country will contribute to the cause because every dollar that is donated helps spread the word.
Gemma: You are blessed with financial resources for your bid, but some make the argument that the government should level the playing field for all candidates. Do you believe in federally financed elections?
De La Fuente: I certainly endorse federally financed elections. It would level the playing field and allow the candidates with the best ideas to rise to the top. That is not the case today.
You may have generously attributed a greater financial capacity to me than I actually have — the reality is that no one can compete at the highest levels in today’s political environment without selling themselves to one of the major parties. The cost of running a campaign has become enormous, and only the parties have demonstrated the ability to raise the kind of money that is necessary to compete.
Keep in mind that the parties created this economic monster, and they did so for a reason. They want to eliminate any viable competition so they can remain in power and attract candidates who will follow their direction. It is a bad system that needs to change.
Gemma: You are running under the banner of the Reform Party, your own party — American Delta — and as an independent. Which states, and under what designation, do you now have ballot access?
De La Fuente: I am currently on the ballots of 21 states, not including write-in status, and expect many more to follow. The best way to remain current on that issue is to visit my website.
As for the designations under which I will be running, you have already mentioned them. I will appear as an independent candidate for President on most of the ballots as well as the nominee of the Reform Party and the American Delta Party on other ballots.
Gemma: Your campaign has taken several states to court over ballot restrictions — what are those states and what is the status of the litigation?
Some states have established absurd signature requirements to try to dissuade anyone from pursuing ballot access. We are challenging the constitutionality of those statutes.
Other states have tried to apply equally absurd interpretations of the law to disqualify our signature petitions on the basis of meaningless technicalities that ignore the obvious intent of the citizens who signed our petitions. We are challenging those decisions.
Some states have challenged the validity of the signatures we secured — often on the basis of a frivolous technicality. It is important to keep in mind that we often provide more than double the number of signatures required and always pre-test for validity to make sure that we have a sufficient number of signatures to qualify. We are suing those states as well.
Other states have attempted to apply “sore loser” laws and/or a misinterpretation of the Twelfth Amendment to block my appearance on their ballots. We are taking those states to court as well.
We are also working behind the scenes to secure evidence of the more blatant forms of election fraud that have surfaced during the primary campaigns. We will actively be involved in exposing what has transpired and in the litigation of those issues.
Gemma: Tell me about your running mate.
De La Fuente: Michael Steinberg is my running mate. He is an extremely intelligent and dedicated individual.
Michael has been litigating on behalf of the people for more than 30 years principally to defend their rights in the areas of Social Security Disability, Veterans’ Disability Benefits, Private Long-Term Disability, and Personal Injury claims. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Michael has been active within politics at both the state and local levels. Most recently, he ran for President during the primary season and did admirably well.
He also has been very active on advisory boards and executive committees that further the interests of the citizens who reside in the area in which he lives [Tampa, Florida.] I am blessed to have such a sincere and intelligent Vice Presidential candidate and one who exudes integrity and commitment.
Gemma: You and Michael Steinberg are from Florida — I’m confused on whether under the Article II of the Constitution you both can get electoral votes. Richard Winger, of Ballot Access News, believes the only restriction on a same-state ticket is that their home state electors cannot vote for both candidates. All other states can vote for two candidates from the same state. What’s your opinion?
De La Fuente: Mr. Winger is correct. The Twelfth Amendment is the applicable law and it only applies with respect to Electors within the State of Florida.
Gemma: Finally, if you were in a debate with Clinton and Trump, what two questions would you pose to them directly?
De La Fuente: For Donald Trump, “Your behavior reflects an abnormal level of insensitivity and self-absorption to the point that you come across as the poster child of clinical narcissism. How will you manage that embedded behavior in a way that will prevent it from becoming a threat to the American people?”
And to Hillary Clinton, “You have demonstrated an utter contempt for the truth and a dangerous propensity to sacrifice the best interests of others for decisions that inure to your political or monetary interest. What proof can you offer that your embedded pattern of behavior can be managed so that it will not pose a threat to the American people?”