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MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Dispatch / October 1, 2009


This article was first published by Vice magazine.

We do not live in a democracy because America is all about serving the haves and the have-mores: a capitalocracy, where money talks and broke nobodies like you and me walk. Many people vaguely understand this, but I get to see it every day up close and personal in my adopted home of Victorville, California.

This place might be a low-rent desert exurb of 100,000 people—with only a third of them registered to vote—but the amount of money candidates have been spending to run for local town office is already creeping towards the $300,000 mark. And that’s just official money declared to the authorities. On a per-capita basis, vote-for-vote, that kind of spending approaches LA and San Francisco levels.

So where does that campaign donation money come from? The same places it always comes from: corporations, developers, speculators, and industry lobby groups. Yes, even here in the Third World section of America, it’s the same as in Washington, DC.

Allow me to explain. I’ve been getting heavy into the dirty world of water politics and recently found myself at a session of the local wastewater reclamation agency. It was the type of thing that would bore any sane man into a coma: a bunch of cheap suits sitting in a room with fluorescent lighting, talking in jargon about sewer improvements and who’ll finance them. The only people truly interested in its doings are the ones who are trying to make money off of it, like convincing it to pay for sewage lines that will open up new vistas for future real estate developments and various other nebulous expansions, which is what was happening that day.

But boring as it was, this session had a bit of spice. A youngish woman was sitting up front, all dolled up like she was taking part in a businesswoman pageant: crisp pantsuit, serious cleavage, heels, styled hair with huge fluffed up curls, layers of makeup. She stood out against the old, overweight bureaucratic suasagefest background of the meeting, and the dudes there couldn’t help but steal glances in her direction. It looked like she was on display, and it turned out she was.


Her name is Angela Valles, an ambitious upstart running for a spot on the Victorville city council in the upcoming November 2010 elections. She is the perfect beginner’s guide to this city’s politics, a sleazy circle-jerk raging in the local halls of McPower, lubed with campaign contributions, lucrative contracts, industry jobs, government posts, and, when it can be proven, direct kickback schemes.

There’s still a year to go till election time, but Valles has already mobilized her campaign through the Internet and a swanky fundraiser. Going by the life story and political platform laid out on her site, you’d think Valles was the Obama-like “change” politician Victorville desperately needs. She’s a young, Hispanic single mother of two who dropped out of school when she got pregnant at age 16, only to pull herself together and go back to school for a master’s from Pepperdine University.

She lays out her guiding political principles: Fiscal Responsibility, Trust, Organizational Development and Sensible Growth. “My passion is to make a positive difference, and Victorville needs to start moving in a positive direction,” she writes on her website. “I’m ready to put the interests and needs of Victorville residents above all else, so when Election Day nears, remember: VOTE VALLES!!!”

For about as long as anyone can remember, Victorville’s been under the thumbs of a revolving crew of mostly pasty white men who’ve run it like a banana republic on behalf of out-of-town business interests, complete with sham elections, backroom deals, and flat-out plundering of city coffers by a handful of private interests. Angela Valles seems as far away from that world as could possibly be. About a third of Victorville is Hispanic and have experienced exactly the kind of hardships she had overcome. Finally, someone would be looking out for the good of the people.

Yet, instead of mounting a campaign against her, the High Desert network of insiders is promoting her all the way. Looking at her contribution records reveals a whole different side to her story and gives you a whiff of the black rot built into city politics, the bedrock of American Democracy.

“She’s a plant,” one political insider here in the High Desert told me. “The good ol’ boys got her a job doing human resources at the reclamation agency and elected her to the board of the local college to build her political resume and parade her—and her cleavage—in front of as many people as possible.”

Her campaign contribution records seem to bear his sentiments out.

The vote is a year away, but Valles has already raked in a good chunk of change, collecting $12,969 during a single fundraiser dinner.  Most of the contributions are fairly small—anywhere from $100 to $425—but the list reads like a Who’s Who of the High Desert ruling elite: developers, speculators, local and county politicians and their wives, Chamber of Commerce types, sheriffs, and mayors. (Valles is already connected to local business interests through her seat on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.) And then there’s a contribution of $10,000 from Dan Tate, a notorious local dirt merchant and speculator, a generous gift that ties her to some of the High Desert’s most corrupt political players.

Tate (who sometimes goes by Daniel Tate, or W. Daniel Tate when he’s being classy) used to work for one of California’s largest real estate brokerages. During the peak of the boom, it took part in something like a $1 billion in land deals, much of which involved scooping up worthless raw land and flipping it to home builders and other big-time speculators such as KB Homes and SunCal. (An aside: SunCal, California’s largest privately owned land speculator, laid the groundwork of the neighborhood where I live. Its astronomical profit margins and wild gambles are what helped bring down Lehman Brothers.) Word on the street has it that Tate moonlights as a front man, spoiler, and operative for a variety of local home builders and developers, a sort of Howard Hunt of the real estate industry.

During the previous election, Tate funded a smear campaign against an incumbent council member after the poor sod pissed off the local developers by requiring that new projects have pipes that would deliver reclaimed water for irrigation and industrial uses. He was looking out for the future of Victorville by trying to conserve water, a precious commodity out here in the desert. But his green leanings cost the real estate goons a whole lotta money, and one notoriously corrupt home builder supposedly pledged $100,000 to unseat him. Tate successfully carried out that mission at half-price, bringing down his target with a $50,000 all-out mailer smear attack. $50,000 on a single mailer for Victorville’s city council?! Independent candidates running for city council have barely managed to collect a tenth of what he spent on a single mailer.

The address he listed next to his contribution to Valles resolves to a cozy real estate lovers nest: a two-storey office building right off the highway with a huge yellow sign reading KB HOMES. The building houses a real estate agency, two tract-home-building companies, the offices of Dan Tate, and the regional office of San Bernardino County Supervisor, Brad Mitzelfelt. Yep, all of these in succession, on the second floor. An elected country official shares office space with real estate developers–that’s how committed these people are to political depravity.

County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt is a classic example of the type of  sleaze you see around these parts. Before he went into politics under the wing of his hardcore, closeted-case, meth-head mentor Bill Postmus, Mitzelfelt used to work as the PR guy for the local chapter of the Building Industry Association. That’s a home builder/developer lobby group pushing for the usual: less regulation, less taxes, more sprawl. When Postmus crashed and burned in a way that only sexually repressed conservatives can after investigations of corrupt dealings and kickbacks and arrest for drug possession, Mitzelfelt took over.

His free-market Republican base hasn’t been loosing sleep over their boy’s departure. Over the years, the local government has been thoroughly stacked with friendlies—water boards, school boards, planning commissions, redevelopment agencies, and just about every city and county-level office—that the powers that be rich and scamming have hardly skipped a beat. But they are always planning for the future, looking for the next big star who won’t mind repaying them for their generosity.

So, yeah, go ahead, VOTE VALLES FOR VICTORVILLE CITY COUNCIL 2010!!! But I’m not so sure I will. Who knows, I just might run against her.

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Add your own

  • 1. Durumdog  |  October 1st, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    I don’t really care about her politics, I just wanna fuck her.

  • 2. cult of skaro 23  |  October 1st, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    “Who knows, I just might run against her.”

    Go for it. Nothing to lose. but people have a tendency to vote against decent candidates. Look at the numbers Gravel pulled in the 2008 Primary. Or that poor fellow in the article who got unseated.

  • 3. buzz kimball  |  October 1st, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    yeah! yasha and what’s the first thing you’ll do when you get elected ? maybe, vote yourself a raise and put your girlfriend on the public payroll…..?

  • 4. az  |  October 1st, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Let’s just hope that there is no political assassination tradition in the High Desert then, eh.

  • 5. wengler  |  October 1st, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Go for it. Use it as a platform to trash her corrupt donors and promote this site.

  • 6. Allen  |  October 1st, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    If too many of the good folks at Victorville get wind of what you have been writing about their fine all American town and its bestest government money can buy, they might just have to run you out on a rail!

    Also, I prefer “plutocracy” … “capitalocracy” vaguely makes it seem like useful stuff is going on … the Capitalists are on the march felling feudalism with the power of industry or something … rather than just being at the stage where they spend most of their time calculating who needs to be bribed and how much.

  • 7. techno  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 2:29 am

    The genius of Thorstein Veblen was probably best exemplified when he wrote in 1904, “The laws of the land are written in the interests of the petty real estate speculator.”

    Because, c’mon, this is what we do. This country was organized by land speculators–still is. You just happen to be able to see the workings up close.

  • 8. scott  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 6:27 am

    If anything, it would be a fascinating read

  • 9. Dr. Luny  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Go ahead and run! Your campaign slogan should be:

    “I may be a depraved commie journalist, but at least I’m not a whore!”

  • 10. adolphhitler  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 8:46 am

    you gotta do it dude…i would actually help

  • 11. Expat in BY  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Okay, I’m trying to see the visual appeal to Angela Valles, and I just can’t. Maybe I could if the only other people in the room were Good Ole Boys (and that was all that was put before my eyes for weeks), but, well, maybe I’m just spoiled by what you can see just walking down the street here in Belarus. Granted, eventually they turn into babushkas, but Valles looks much farther along that road than most of the women you can see in this neck of the woods.

  • 12. adolphhitler  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    yasha, #8 is right, it would be a fabulous read. you’re not doing anything else anyway.
    write the next great political novel about mainstreet. it will do for you what IN COLD BLOOD did for capote

  • 13. Justin Orser  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Yeah fuck it run! It’d be like HST’s sheriff campaign in Aspen!

  • 14. Anonymous  |  October 3rd, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Didn’t HST have a drug bust at his Aspen cabin not too long after his failed bid for office? I’m pretty sure I remember him writing about the subsequent trial, and some woman testifying against him struggling to describe whatever little horn like device he had been using to funnel cocaine into his body, and he realized he had it in his pocket, took it out to show her and ask if that was what she meant, dropped it, and was scrambling around under the desk, disrupting the trial and getting dirty looks from the judge and his own attorney as her testimony went on.

  • 15. jonny.m  |  October 3rd, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Yasha if you ran, I’d donate. Like the other guy said, use it as a platform to point out how shady all these fucks really are.

    You likely wouldn’t win but maybe you’d enlighten some people — and you’d have the satisfaction of knowing at least you stood up to them. (Plus your misadventures in sleazy small-time California politics might make for a good book.)

    Just make sure you set up a *really good* alarm system & always have a bag packed, so you can leave town in a hurry when it’s over.

  • 16. Johan  |  October 3rd, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    UK mainstream media article on California: Will California become America’s first failed state?

    And yeah, run. Could you accept overseas donations?

  • 17. Mark  |  October 4th, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Alternatively, you could volunteer for one of the sleazebags (if you’re not too well known) and get the inside scoop, although I imagine that Victorville evil is quite banal…

  • 18. Necronomic.JustIce  |  March 6th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

  • 19. Lee Dorgan  |  July 27th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    The VV2 power plant was only permitted onth contigency of 3500 acre feet of recycled water per year, now there is a shell game pulling recycled water from the hdpp and purchase of paper water to cool it. There may not be enough water if we meet our water conservation goals and they may have to hijack Adelanto’s wastewater, bypass Department of Fish and Game and put them in the trick bag. They have classically recharged their recycled water. And yes, I agree she is a plant. She is doing the books at VVWRA and the accountants have been let go.

  • 20. Ann I. Foraneye  |  August 5th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    oh yeah – Ms. Vales will take down VVWRA just like she did when she was warden at the Adelanto Prison! She not only fired all of the accountants, she got rid a some other long time dedicated employees — last month she laid off the Construction manager, the construction planer and the environmental compliance supervisor all in one day! she said it was due to the economy – but yet the budget was approved with all of those job titles included for fiscal year 2010 – 2011. Within the last year she has her title from director of hr, to director of administrative services to director of finance. she has given raises and promotons after the so called lay offs. so why don’t the citizens go the the vvwra board meeting on aug 19 and ask ms. vales to explain the budget – all by herself with no help. then ask her if the economy is so bad then why is she having a dirt road at the plant tiled (by Abadie tile in apple valley) because she broke her high heal! since she has worked vvwra, which is a company of about 40 employees, 20+ employees have ben either fired, left because of her, forced into retirement, or threaten by this tyranical woman on a rampage. those emplouyees are scared to death one of them will be next…
    the gm is afraid of her, and so are her peers, so how did she get all of this power – when she can’t even spell “wastewater”.

  • 21. Lee Dorgan  |  December 28th, 2010 at 4:52 am

    I was wrong about Valles. She’s the real deal. She’s trying to get a grip on the slippery Charter city Victorville made itself into and not allow the city to make any more ridiculous missteps. I’m not sure that VVWRA needed all that top heavy admin. With the sewer rates going through the roof and the power plant interests separate from the city trying to dump or at least dilute replacement water obligations on the constituency to their financial advantage, she’s got her work cut out for her. The quality of life development has occurred at the expense of the residents.

  • 22. Lee Dorgan  |  December 28th, 2010 at 4:57 am

    oops, has not occurred. The ideal would be to repeal the city charter with a petition of 10 er cent voters and restore it to a general law city.
    The city already is overusing water and will have to replace the water being drawn from the aquifer at great expense to the residents, and great disadvantage to other communities. There is a finite amount of water that is allowed to be used in the whole Mojave Water Agency Territory. Thank goodness water intensive Stirling/Tessera solar contracts have been cancelled.

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