Doug Ose was manning the entry kiosk at Gibson Ranch Regional Park last fall when a family of four motored up to the gate and began digging around in their aging sedan.
Ose, a multimillionaire developer then mulling another run for Congress, said he noticed the young parents scrambling for enough nickels and dimes to access the park.
I sat there and I just went, This is not the America that I want, said Ose, a Republican running for a suburban Sacramento congressional district on a platform of reigniting the economy and getting people working. Everything else aside, it was like, Get off your ass and go do something. You cant let this continue. And if you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. But you have to speak up.
Ose left Washington in 2005, honoring a pledge to step down after three terms. A nascent challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California never materialized. Supporters lauded him for keeping his word, for never confusing the House with his home.
When he tried to go back three years later, Ose was branded a closet liberal in a bruising primary defeat by Republican Rep. Tom McClintock. He settled his business affairs, saw his daughters off to college and entered into a public-private partnership with Sacramento County to run Gibson Ranch.
Now he wants to claim the redrawn 7th District that flipped to Democrats two years ago when Dr. Ami Bera won a rematch against Dan Lungren.
At 58, Ose said he believes he could harness his business acumen to revive the sluggish economy and help people like his park visitors by lowering taxes and rolling back regulations. He said the federal government doesnt have to be mired in dysfunction, because he served when things werent broken and his leadership helped.
While he voted time and again to cut spending and make permanent the Bush tax cuts, Oses record on abortion, guns and immigration policy placed him on the moderate end of his caucus. Hes never been particularly partisan, or easy to pinpoint.
He touts introducing a measure to stop automatic pay raises for federal legislators, chairing a panel investigating the state energy crisis and spearheading a probe into gifts received by Democratic President Bill Clinton. He co-sponsored legislation to put Ronald Reagans face on the dime and introduced a bill to carve the Republican icons likeness into Mount Rushmore. Reagan would fit in well on the mountains north side, to the right of Lincoln, he told a reporter at the time.
Another proposal that gained widespread attention, drawing mention in Penthouse magazine from famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, sought to ban profanity, including variations of the word ass, from the airwaves. Oses office received thousands of emails and letters. The congressman dismissed it as fairly arcane regulation.
The campaign themes hes espousing now focus on fixing the economy, controlling spending, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and reforming the budgeting process. In many ways, not much in his message has changed since his first run for Congress. In a recent speech to fellow Rotarians, Ose repeated nearly verbatim a pledge from that campaign: To hold government accountable for the promises it makes, the money it spends and the results it delivers.
As far as I am concerned, I thought he did a good job when he was back there, said Sacramento County Supervisor Jimmie Yee, a Democratic supporter.
But critics from both major political parties insist that he failed to fulfill his promises.
Sandie Dunn, the Democrat who had the blessing of retiring Rep. Vic Fazio when she lost to Ose in 1998, was unimpressed with his six years in Washington, and said his later campaigns undermined his term-limit pledge.
I am not sure I know what Doug accomplished when he was there. He had an opportunity once to do it and I dont know why he thinks he can accomplish any more, said Dunn, a retired environmental attorney from Carmichael.
While the primary election pits him against a pair of conservative Republicans, Elizabeth Emken and Igor Birman, Ose has focused much of his early attention on Bera. Ose said the freshman congressman struggles to articulate clear positions on issues, citing Beras waffling over the disastrous federal health care overhaul and his leadership in the bipartisan group No Labels, a coalition that works to craft solutions.
This No Labels thing just grates on me. Its like saying, I am not going to do anything so you cant hold me accountable, Ose said, his voice rising. I dont mince words. I am very straightforward. I tell you what I think. And I want to be labeled. Label me: Tax cutter! Business owner!
Bera responded he was proud to join the No Labels Problem Solvers group and hold Congress accountable by helping to pass a version of the No Budget, No Pay Act, which withholds congressional salaries if members dont pass a responsible budget.
Meantime, Oses Republican rivals contend that he achieved too much in Washington little of it for the betterment of the country. Birman, the chief of staff to McClintock, has been the aggressor, dusting off many of his bosses old lines of attack. He ripped Ose for supporting congressional earmarks, accepting farm subsidies while serving on the House Agriculture Committee and for being the proud owner of a liberal voting record.
Ose stands by the earmarks he secured for the community, specifically for state Highway 99s Sheldon Road interchange and the Grant Line Road interchange, along with funding for flood protection work and school resource officers. My earmarks, you could actually see them, he said, acknowledging others requests were ripe for ridicule. Those were the rules then, and we abided by the rules.
He did accept more than $700,000 in farm subsidies through 2004. But he also supported legislation to protect the payments for farmers and make them unavailable for landowners like himself. The measure failed, and Ose has since refrained from receiving subsidies, repaying the roughly $4,500 he got in 2005. I argued to eliminate the subsidies, and even though the law allowed us to take the subsidies, we didnt, he said.
Oses conservative opponents point to his lifetime rankings from organizations such as the American Conservative Union (78 out of 100) and the National Taxpayers Union (58 of 100) as evidence that hes too liberal for the districts Republican voters. He wrote legislation to give the Environmental Protection Agency cabinet-level status and supported Brady Act background checks on sales at gun shows.
His campaign has pointed to the hundreds of floor votes he cast to slash taxes, reduce wasteful spending, protect gun rights and bolster the nations immigration laws. Notwithstanding the fact that people disagreed with some of my votes, I conducted my affairs as a member of Congress without scandal and I kept my word and came home after three terms, which is something a lot of members of Congress cant say, he said. I think keeping your word defines who you are.
Ose also appeared regularly in lists of the wealthiest members of Congress.
His wealth increased significantly while there, rising from between about $13.5 million and $60 million to between roughly $51.5 million and $175 million, according to financial disclosures. Ose has always been the largest financial supporter of his campaigns. In 2008, he spent more than $4 million of his own money on loans and contributions.
Born into a family of prominent developers, Ose began forging his own path while still a student at UC Berkeley. He bought his first piece of property in his last semester, despite suggestions from friends and classmates that he wait a year or two.
He spent several years in the family business developing subdivisions. In 1985, he started his own company building duplexes and mini-storage facilities.
He soon turned his ambitions to politics, serving on local boards such as the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce in a city he helped incorporate, but his passion was federal issues.
When Ose first campaigned for Congress, he says a senior member of Californias congressional delegation questioned why he wasnt running for county supervisor. Ose became a subcommittee chairman in his second term in Washington.
He knows how to negotiate, said Frank Ramos, a developer and unofficial father of West Sacramento. He got things done. America got things done.
Ose would rather talk about policy than himself. In recent interviews at Vinces restaurant in Elk Grove and his campaign headquarters in Fair Oaks, a short drive from his alma mater, Rio Americano High School, Ose confessed it was sometimes difficult to bare my soul without being maudlin about it.
Friends and close associates say hes a byproduct of the people he admires the most: his parents, sharing their Midwestern sensibilities.
He is a sensitive guy with a huge heart, said Doug Elmets, a longtime confidant and former aide in the Reagan White House. One of the ways it is sometimes masked is in his quiet philanthropy. The beauty of helping those that need it most is not having to talk about it. That gets to the very core of who he is.
Ose also can be thrifty. He often slept on an office roll-away bed and left it up to staff to warn him about going out with a rumpled blazer or unpolished shoes. Its not like he doesnt have the resources to do it its just not a priority to him, Elmets said.
Ose said hes always felt comfortable going where hes needed. He helped his sister, Mary, mount an unsuccessful campaign to succeed him in the race won by Lungren. His last business project concluded in 2006, and Ose returned to volunteer in the community directing traffic at his daughters Arden Middle School.
He remodeled his house, which lies just outside the district. He took on the partnership at Gibson Ranch, for now a philanthropic venture of sorts, which was met with early complaints about contamination, dangerous construction and other problems with management. Ose said his biggest challenge has been working to make the project economically sustainable after the county paid hundreds of thousands annually to keep it shuttered.
If you look at my family, when we do something and this affects all six of us we are going to change it, we are going to fix it. We are going to have some measurable change from where it is to where it ought to be. Thats what we do, he said.
He turned his attention to his college-age daughters largely why he returned home but also part of the reason why he wants to go back to Washington.
I am not going to have my kids grow up, and they are 30 years old scrambling around on the floor of their car looking for nickels and dimes to get into a park, Ose said, recalling the scene at Gibson Ranch. Thats not satisfactory in my view for them. And its not satisfactory for anybody.
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.