The Lovable Loser
Ryan Gene Williams moved from Houston to Orange County two years ago to attend Orange Coast College, and by November he'll be dead.
The Santa Ana resident is running for state Assembly—a white guy in an assembly district that includes parts of Garden Grove and Anaheim (whose residents are likely to have been born in Mexico or Vietnam), and all of Santa Ana, the most Mexican big city in America. He's a political science major at OCC, but has no formal political experience. In this, his first campaign, he's running against José Solorio, a veteran Democratic pol and Santa Ana council member. Ethnicity and inexperience are enough to explain why Williams, a Republican, doesn't expect any support from his party, but there's also this: he opposed the re-election of GOP favorite Mike Carona in last week's race for sheriff.
And he's just 20 years old.
But we can dream.
Affable, sharp, with eyes as blue as his high school class ring, Williams is an anomaly among your traditional county Republicans: a straight-talking, working-class guy who doesn't breathe fire and brimstone, and doesn't drink from the corporate punch bowl. And he'll tell you—and make you believe—that his negatives are really positives: that his youth reflects the youthfulness of his district, that he left the comforts of home and family to bet on his future in California like many in the community; that his failure to march in line with the Leninists who run the local GOP marks him as a maverick among voters who are just as independent.
He recently spoke to the Weekly—while munching on chicken tacos on Santa Ana's Fourth Street—about why none of that will help him win in November:
Ryan Gene Williams: I like to be optimistic, but I'm also realistic. If [Santa Ana Councilwoman] Claudia Alvarez had won the Democratic primary, I think I'd actually have a better chance, because Claudia isn't that well-liked. But with José Solorio as my opponent, it's going to be much more difficult. He's popular and a good guy. I'll just have to do the best job I can do against Solorio.
OC Weekly: Even doing your best, how can a 20-year-old gabacho from Texas possibly appeal to 69th District voters?
Easy. Let's take the gabacho issue. Many of the Latino voters are immigrants or children of immigrants. Well, my mom was born in the Netherlands of German parents, so I share their background. Lots of those immigrant voters came to Santa Ana to improve their lives. Like them, I came to California for a new opportunity. And Santa Ana is the youngest city in the United States. As a young guy, I can appeal to young voters. I spoke at Century High School in Santa Ana during an assembly, and all the kids applauded when I announced I was a candidate. To see a candidate walk in their footsteps, deal with their issues, is important for youth.
Speaking of issues, I noticed that you don't have illegal immigration in the "issues" section of your campaign website, yet that's all Orange County Republicans seem to yap about these days. Do you think illegal immigration is a problem?
Yes and no. We're here on Fourth Street, and I know many citizens don't like walking through here because they feel as if they're in another country. I don't have a problem with it, but others do. But really, why deny someone the right to be happy? California is a place for opportunity, and if people want to find it, damn it, they should try. Of course, people should come here legally, but many illegal immigrants are not going to wait around a decade to improve their families' lives. We need to realize this.
Don't you think it says a lot about the Orange County Republican Party that the only candidate they could find for the 69th District is a 20-year-old kid?
I'll be honest: a lot of Republicans look at me and see a flight risk. When I was going around for signatures to get on the ballot, one elected official told me she was ashamed I was the best the Republicans could do. But those people aren't seeing the bigger picture. Santa Ana is the youngest city in the United States. You know how much attention you can get if I win? Any issue that I think would be important to the youth of Santa Ana would get headlines. Instead, the local Republican Party is putting all their resources in the 34th Senate District race and Republican candidate Lynn Daucher. Lynn's a nice lady, but she's a tea-and-crumpets lady trying to run in a taquería district.
Another thing that separates you from the local Republican establishment is that you're troubled about the influence of money on elections.
It's difficult for candidates, whether you're Democrat, Republican or Green, to get your message heard when you have self-funded millionaires or candidates with ties to corporations drowning you out with money. How can we get our issues heard? That's where we need campaign-finance reform. That shocks a lot of Republicans, but most Republicans aren't 20-year-olds with no money.
So you won't take money from corporations?
The sad reality is that in order to run a decent race, you need to raise as much money as possible. I'm going to need money and I'll try to raise it—it just depends on where the money comes from. But me, I'd rather walk my ass off looking for votes.
You wear a Stetson almost everywhere you go. Cheap attempt to garner more Latino votes?
[Laughs] Being from Texas, I wear my Stetson well. No cheap attempt. But I need boots.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT WWW.RYANGENE.COM.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.