On Wednesday night, June 19, the Rustic Theater hosted a meet and greet
on for Will Rollins, Democratic challenger to incumbent Ken Calvert.

Will Rollins Photo by David Jerome

This will be Rollins second effort to unseat Calvert in 2022 and he came
within 11,100 votes.

Rollins invoked the future of republic, saying that because of all the
issues on the ballot in November “the cliché that this is the single
most important election of our lives is actually true.”

On a lighter note, he called the Idyllwild event an “excuse to get out
of the desert to where it’s 30 degrees cooler,” and asked anyone who
knows someone giving away a home in the Idyllwild area “to let him
know,” adding that he does not expect to be taking out a mortgage
anytime soon due to his “poor financial decision to run for congress.”

Rollins explained his reason for a rematch. “Why? It is the single most
important question anybody running for congress can answer.”

He offered a short version: in 2022 he was “impulsive, naive and angry,”
This time he’d “had a few drinks at a hotel bar.” Acknowledging the
laughter, he promised that the long version would sound better.

The 2022 election was close, but Rollins was up by 10,000 votes on
election day. The media and the House leadership believed he had won. He
was invited to Washington for the training and orientation sessions,
“new congress member training.” He met Nancy Pelosi, who told him “You
could be 218,” the number needed to keep a Democratic majority.

He was “on cloud nine, getting a tour of the house chamber, led by the
first woman ever to be the speaker of the House of Representatives…”
Then, around 11 p.m., he got an alert on his cell phone that the
absentee ballots had gone Calvert’s way and he had lost.

He thought about returning to his job in law enforcement. Prosecuting
cases involving major drug distributers and cartels, sales of military
technology to China. As he sat considering how much he preferred that
job to fundraising. When the news broke] that Donald Trump was running
for the presidency again in 2024. The memory of January 6 made him feel
he had no choice but to run, “because if we don’t have folks in the
House of Representatives willing to defend the constitution, it doesn’t
matter whether we have folks in courtrooms… doing the same there…Each
one of us here in this room is going to be asked… years from now:
‘What did you do when the house was on fire?’ And our answer in this
district will be that we beat the longest serving election denier in the
state of California.” 

Bipartisanship is a theme he came back to frequently. Former Assembly
Republican leader Chad Mayes, Republican, former Riverside County
Sheriff Stan Sniff and a Palm Springs police officers’ union have
supported him. He called these party-line crossers “people who know that
what makes America truly great is not that this country is perfect or
was perfect in the past, it’s our collective responsibility to make our
union more perfect for the next generation.”

Most of the event was left for questions from the audience. The first
person asked on which house committees he would like to serve on.
Rollins noted that first term representatives do not get to choose, but
listed House Intelligence and Homeland Security as top of his list. He
said that he has. “a deep interest in figuring out how we fix out broken
information system… As I’ve said to folks who are Trump supporters when
I meet with them, ‘We may not agree about January 6, but all of us can
agree that it’s not good for China, Russia, Iran to use our own
technology to divide us against each other.’”

Transport and Infrastructure also interest him. He mentioned the 91/71
exchange project in Corona, and the $300 million from the Bipartisan
Infrastructure Law that came to Riverside County to help build it and
other projects, noting that Calvert voted against the bill. 

Veterans Affairs is another committee he would like to serve on, making
sure that veterans get the benefits they are entitled to. He noted that
his grandparents, both life-long Republicans, met while serving in WWII.
He added that Riverside County has one of the largest population of
veterans in the US.

Other questions drew out his views on Supreme Court (cautious about
creating a tit-for tat but open to reforms) and the electoral college
(in favor of abolishing it, but seeing constitutional amendments as
difficult and the Interstate Compact a possible route to reform.)

Answering a question about career technical education programs, Rollins
said that some of the best conversations he has had on the campaign
trail were with young people entering the workforce without a college
degree, hearing about the jobs they had lined up because of career
technical education or apprenticeships. “My grandfather was a welder,
never finished high school. Started a small business that still operates
to this day.” He called these types of programs and jobs critical to the
state and to building the middle class.

Someone asked about “Lithium Valley,” a proposal for lithium extraction
at the Salton Sea, and whether money from this could help “stabilize” or
“fix” the sea.  The project promises to be the world’s single largest
source of the element, essential to battery production and thus to the
transition to electric vehicles, and to generate its own geothermal
electricity. Rollins noted that the Lithium Valley is in Imperial
County, but jobs there will affect our county. He recalled that Governor
Schwarzenegger, who he worked for as an intern out of high school, held
that “protecting the environment and growing the economy go hand in
hand.” Rollins said he wants to create incentives to have those new
clean tech jobs in our district for the coming century. He referred to
Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to keep long term jobs in the area and
protect the environment.

In closing, Rollins circled back to his connection with Governor
Schwarzenegger. He recalled going to a staff reunion where there were a
number of democrats among the crowd including Willie Brown. He recalled
one of Schwarzenegger’s stories: Considering the run for governor, he
called his old friend Willie Brown, who encouraged him. Schwarzenegger
declared, and then almost immediately saw Brown on TV, wearing a dark
jacket and shades, saying that voters should “terminate the terminator.”
The candidate called his old friend, who told him “this is politics,
you’ve got a lot to learn.” When Schwarzenegger won, he reached out to
Brown to lead his economic recovery team.  This represented the kind of
“bipartisan spirit, the sense of country over party, the sense of humor”
that he promised to bring with him to congress.