Not a rock star, but worth watching



Rep. Eric Swalwell texted my phone on election eve wondering how JD Scholten was doing. This California Bay congressman is bent on running for President, and bears watching.

Swalwell had been in Storm Lake over the summer. I had been corresponding with him for a year as he started to explore his possibilities around the place where he was born, Sac City, and where his dad worked as police chief a few years in Algona.

John and I knew the old man pretty well. Eric Senior was a “Blue Meanie” — that’s what the protesters called them at Berkley — from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. He worked security for the Angela Davis trial and helped restore order at the speedway after the Hell’s Angels ruined the Rolling Stones’ party.

Senior came to Iowa looking for Mayberry RFD but got embroiled in a classic small-town battle with the mayor over fixing parking tickets at the county fair, and the outsider-come-in wouldn’t let the firefighters drink beer at monthly meetings in the firehouse anymore.

Swalwell got run off and fled West to the Bay Area to get a job in private security.

But the kid came back.

We got acquainted at Plaza Mexico where Scholten had packed them in on a hot working noonday.

Like his dad, the son has a wicked sense of sarcasm and isn’t afraid to take issues head-on.

He proposed an assault-weapons buy-back program last week that was of course attacked, and Swalwell joked on Twitter that the government will nuke those who don’t comply.

Swalwell, an otherwise button-down kind of guy, immediately got blasted all over the gun-rights digital universe for nuking himself with such a Tweet. They thought the former district attorney had done himself in. But Swalwell has used similar tricks before to get attention. Now he is at the forefront of the gun violence discussion in America. And he has a dad and policeman brother to fall back on as body men.

On television every hair is in place and every statement carefully considered as he talks about how the House might proceed with charges of collusion and obstruction of justice. He has been elevated to his position as spokesman on the Trump scandals by no less than Bay Area neighbor Nancy Pelosi, who happens to be the de facto leader of the national Democratic Party.

If Swalwell wants to get some more attention among early caucus followers, he should convince the Speaker-elect to target Scholten’s 2020 campaign against Rep. Steve King as part of her red-to-blue strategy. When I suggested that she will come to regret not getting onboard Sioux City Sue, Swalwell immediately responded that he was riding shotgun through Northwest Iowa in the Winnebago last summer.

Tom Vilsack advised last week that Democrats don’t necessarily need a rock star to win. They need someone who can speak to rural America. The former governor may have been thinking about himself, and he should. Nobody speaks integrity more than Vilsack, who certainly understands how to win in rural areas. But maybe Vilsack was thinking about the likes of Swalwell: deliberate, young (he’s 38), cagey, not charismatic in that Barack sort of way but steady in that familiar combed-down Vilsack way, and willing to fight for principles and risk it all like his father did when he took on small-town conventions nearly four decades ago.

Iowans will not be short of choices in the caucus cycle that’s already off to the races, from Joe Biden to Kamala Harris, rock stars for sure. But they will be turning green with envy while Swalwell and fellow California crime-fighter Rep. Adam Schiff suck up all the cable oxygen in the wake of the Mueller Report. Swalwell also serves on the House Judiciary Committee. Watch for him. There’s a decent chance you won’t be able to avoid him as events unfold in a timely manner for the Iowa calendar.