By then, Cook had been appointed by her colleagues to represent Huntington Beach on the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Her aim was to rally other officials to the cause of solving what she saw as Southern California’s biggest challenges: transportation and energy.

“New airports are not the solution,” she says. “Look at the price of gas; airlines are going out of business. We need mass transportation, light rail, not toll roads. We can only solve these things when we work together: water, runoff, transportation, air quality and the port [of Long Beach]. That huge red plume from the port sits over Huntington Beach. We’re impacted by all that bad air.”

Through SCAG, Cook opposed building a commercial airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, as well as a desalination plant slated to operate as an appendage of the aging AES Huntington Beach Generating Station. “One of the things I learned is what a boondoggle ocean desalination is,” she says. “The energy intensity is unbelievable. It can’t be sustainable as energy prices go up.”

Debbie Cook at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands
John Gilhooley
Debbie Cook at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Dana Rohrabacher
Dana Rohrabacher

Cook’s interest in sustainable energy took her to a 2004 conference in Denver held by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, which argues that global oil production peaked in the 1970s and has been on a steady and inevitable decline ever since. The conference sealed her passion for lobbying for alternative sources of energy. “There is nothing more important to our society than energy,” she argues. “America will drill 50,000 wells this year alone. We drill 150 new wells every day. We are drilling like madmen, and it’s just a thimbleful of oil out there. But politicians don’t stay in office by telling the truth.”

*     *     *

If ever there were a politician who represents everything Cook is trying to eradicate in Orange County politics, it is the man she is trying to drive out of office. Rohrabacher got his start in politics as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. An ardent anti-communist, he took a personal interest in the various “freedom fighters” opposing Soviet-backed regimes in the Third World, including the Nicaraguan contras—many of whom were viewed as terrorists and drug dealers by the U.S. Congress, which blocked funding to the rebels in 1984—and the South African apartheid regime-backed UNITA rebels of Angola.

Rohrabacher once told the Weekly he personally hosted a cocktail party for Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi at a Republican congressman’s house in Washington and that so much alcohol was imbibed and expunged in the back yard that the grass would probably never grow again. In November 1988, Rohrabacher has also bragged, he visited the front lines of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. During that trip, he says, he was warned to stay away from a group of “Saudi Arabians under a crazy commander named bin Laden.”

After being elected to Congress that year, Rohrabacher made a name for himself as a far-right-wing legislator matched only in craziness by his colleague Robert K. Dornan, who in 1996 lost his seat to Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Rohrabacher chaired a series of environmental panels that featured testimony by hand-picked scientists who claimed global warming was a hoax and that all the greatest human achievements, such as the medieval-era construction of European cathedrals, took place during periods of relative global warming.

As a conservative Republican, Rohrabacher not only railed against liberal “hoaxes,” but also consistently voted against any spending bill that would benefit his own district. Meanwhile, he retained his interest in global affairs—especially an upstart group of religious zealots in Afghanistan who turned up on the scene in the mid-1990s: the Taliban. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rohrabacher claimed he’d tried to warn the Clinton administration about the dangers of the Taliban, but as reported by the Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley, nothing could be further from the truth.

In “Rogue Statesman” (Sept. 7, 2002), Moxley reported that in 1996, as the Taliban imposed its brutal interpretation of Islam on Afghanistan—caning unveiled women, beating barbers who trimmed beards, and bashing radios and televisions to smithereens being the less brutal examples of their reign—Rohrabacher was hyping the jihadists on Capitol Hill.

“The potential rise of power of the Taliban does not alarm Rohrabacher,” the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs noted that year, because the congressman believes the “Taliban could provide stability in an area where chaos was creating a real threat to the U.S.” Rohrabacher also claimed that the Taliban are “not terrorists or revolutionaries,” that liberal-media accounts of the Taliban’s human-rights abuses were “nonsense,” and that the Taliban would bring about a “disciplined, moral society” that did not harbor terrorists and would pose no threat to the United States.

Since 9/11, Rohrabacher has continued pushing his eccentric views on terrorism by unsuccessfully seeking to force Congress to reopen an investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, convinced that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were recruited by Islamic terrorists. But he frequently found himself in close contact with shady businessmen already being investigated by his own government. In 2005, Rohrabacher got in trouble for helping a would-be film producer, Joseph Medawar, obtain access to U.S. Department of Homeland Security installations for a supposed film project that never materialized. In return for Rohrabacher’s help, Medawar optioned a decades-old film script Rohrabacher wrote. That year, the FBI indicted Medawar for swindling investors.

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