Like father, like son

Swalwell says the rule of law is in peril

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

More than 30 years ago I was the editor at the Algona newspaper and Eric Swalwell was the new police chief in town. He came in from the Bay Area, where he had been a “Blue Meanie” from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department during the Berkeley unrest, and was a jailer during the Angela Davis trial. He came to enforce the peace in Algona, which was sometimes a curious proposition as controlling the Hell’s Angels at Altamont Speedway.

The chief founded a Boys and Girls Club and a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Chapter. He brought E9-1-1 to Algona. And, he made two strategic enforcement errors: Swalwell told the fire department they couldn’t drink beer in city hall anymore, and he refused to void some parking tickets from the county fair for friends of the mayor. That set up a classic small-town melee between the mayor and city council that ultimately resulted in Swalwell taking his family, including two-year-old son Eric, Jr., back to California.

“He was a by-the-book guy. That’s how he raised us,” said a full-grown Eric, Jr., 38, a congressman from Oakland who is running for the Democratic nomination for President. Now 72, the retired cop wishes he could have gone to school to be a lawyer. The congressional son, a former prosecutor, says he was brought up a Reagan Republican. He was the first from his family to get a college degree. Most of his kin remain Republican, including his wife from southern Indiana.

And here is Rep. Swalwell calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Robert Barr from his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

“Our arguments can get pretty heated,” he said of holiday dinners, during a Saturday stop in Storm Lake.

He reminds his brothers and pop that they are all cops.

“You spent your careers upholding the law and the rule of law. You look at this President and he doesn’t respect the law. Even if you like his tax breaks, what are you giving up by assenting to this behavior?”

He gets them to thinking, and he believes he is winning the argument.

The President and his minions have flatly asserted that any subpoena from Congress will find File 13. Swalwell also sits on the Intelligence Committee, and wants to get to the bottom of how the Russians used the Trump campaign to interfere with US elections.

His Republican father-in-law can’t stand Trump but urges Swalwell the younger not to try beating up the President. “Leave him be and let people see him for who he is. You have to show restraint,” the congressman was told.

He heard echoes of his own father. He lived by rules. Lost his job by them. That means something to the son.

“We would lose the rule of law if we rush to judgment. If we forget the rules, we’ve lost what makes this a special place,” Eric, Jr. said.

Last week he called for the impeachment of the attorney general for failing to turn over documents, for what Swalwell believes was lying to Congress about the special counsel’s report, and for refusing to testify before the House.

“He is a real-time obstructor. We need the documents that he has buried. One-eighth of the special counsel’s report has been redacted. We need that information.”

Swalwell believes that impeaching Barr could start immediately and take two weeks to complete.

“I think that’s where we need to start. Maybe it will be the wake-up call we need,” Swalwell said. “There has to be consequences. That’s all these people understand.”

Then how does he explain this position to his father-in-law, or to voters who are ready to move on from the Trump-Russia inquiry?

“It’s not ideal, but it’s the job I have. They will see me do my job with integrity and passion,” he said. “People are tired of this reality show.”

By his position he has entrée to most of the cable talk shows from now until the House has wrung the last detail of obstruction and conspiracy from Robert Mueller’s voluminous report. That keeps Swalwell in the discussion. He has qualified for the presidential debates with strong-enough polling, albeit in the single digits, by using his father’s example to follow the facts, and to presume that no one is above the law.

He continues to argue, and not just about Trump and Barr. Among his lead issues: gun safety. He has a target on his forehead from the NRA. He is ridiculed by the gun lobby — the same lobby that took out the last of the Democrats controlling the Iowa Senate not so long ago. His family members disagree with him, and it is not a darling position in gun-happy rural areas.

“I tell my dad and my brothers it’s a selfish issue for me. I don’t want them to be out-gunned by the bad guys. They fear the slippery slope. I want them to stay alive.

“But I might have to follow him into the voting booth,” the son joked of his father.

The congressman sticks to his guns. He is ready for impeachment of the President if the facts support it, but will abide the Speaker’s wishes. He says that’s the way he was reared, by the book.

Articles Section: