Wednesday, March 23, 2005 | For a radio man, Roger Hedgecock is no mere talker. He’s got plans for everything from securing diapers for babies to changing policy on borders. You might have heard of a few schemes he’s already had a finger – or a torso – in: Operation Homefront, a locally sponsored program to help military families, or Hold Their Feet to the Fire, which rallies people from all over to lobby in Washington D.C., or maybe a small something called the recall election a few years back? The former city mayor and current host of KOGO 600 AM news radio’s “The Roger Hedgecock Show” talks about hosting the governor, healing the city and keeping the toes of government toasty all over America.

Why don’t we see more about you in the local papers?

The Union-Tribune sees talk radio and me in particular as a rival. I think what’s happening here, as in the rest of the country, is that there are now alternative sources of news and information for people, and the old established newspapers are losing readership and credibility – and they don’t like it!

What kind of stuff keeps you awake at night?

I’m never kept awake by anything! I sleep very well, and it’s because you have to be totally calm, rested and prepared for tomorrow’s battle.

Which currently is…?

One of the themes of the show has been the danger of the U.S. not having a good system of legal immigration, forcing people to come here illegally in numbers that are overwhelming – with a big impact on our emergency rooms and hospitals, a big impact on our criminal justice system that’s full of illegals, a big impact on our education system … We’re going back to Washington on April 23; we’ll see if we can get something done.

More recent issues surround the city government which I was a part of, so I have become a source of information for how it works for people who don’t know how it works. They want to know why there is such a big problem with this pension deficit, why the potholes can’t get fixed after these rains.

So what would you do if you were mayor right now?

They’ve got to get a grip on spending. The biggest problem is that they’ve overpromised and overspent for 10 years. They’ve never restructured city hall. It’s run in pyramids and top-down, mansion style that is 50 to 60 years old. They need a lot more restructuring and a lot more people doing the real services – a lot more librarians and cops and street sweepers and highway fixers – than middle-level bureaucrats that shuffle papers to make all that happen.

Secondly, I would get the city out of the business of owning land that it has no business owning. Brown Field, for instance, is a joke. It is an airport that should be thriving, there should be lots of businesses and jobs but when the city owns it, it’s a dump. If they have no capability of making it productive, it ought to be sold. That one-time money ought to be used to finance the pension fund fully and finance the city’s deferred maintenance.

The third thing I’d do is get into all these lawsuits and settle them out, because they’ve got a whole backlog and an unbelievable amount of money that could potentially fall on the city like a ton of bricks.

Then the city would be in pretty good shape!

What’s your perception of public opinion on these matters?

The public is thoroughly disgusted, and it doesn’t matter where they’re coming from. This is not just editorial writers and talk show hosts. The city can’t replace the streetlights in Mission Bay hill! So before we start looking like Tijuana, people want to know what we can do to put this back the way it was.

Sounds like you’ve been getting pretty deep into the Mount Soledad Cross issue.

The city was thrown a lifeline from the federal government and, 5-to-3, the city declined. Well, over the weekend tons of people got together and said, “No, that’s not good enough. Who knows what might happen in the federal courts, but we should at least give this a try.” So this referendum, if we get sufficient signatures in the next 28 days, will put the issue back on the docket for the city to reconsider.

How did you get the governor on your show?

Schwarzenegger called us. We have a long-standing relationship with him ever since the recall. The recall was made possible by talk radio and the Internet – a new kind of marriage in political life – nobody’d ever seen it act like that before. It worked spectacularly, and as a result Schwarzenegger is the governor. So when he got to the point of calling the special session of the Legislature this year and they didn’t do a thing, he contacted us and said, “Look, I’m gonna travel around the state, introduce the four reforms as initiatives,” picking up on the whole recall as an ongoing theme. The recall wasn’t just the election. That was only the beginning.

Can you set the stage…?

The government truck came, set up a stage, lighting, barriers. It was a very Hollywood production, very professionally done. We had a thousand people here, and the governor went down and worked that line, he worked it like a rock star!

What’s the story behind your Military Family Program?

Since 9/11 there’s been a feeling like, “Well gosh, isn’t there something we can do,” particularly in an area like this where lots of folks who serve in the armed forces are deployed out of San Diego, and a lot of them leave behind families. I talk to a lot of wives who say, “The first thing that happens when he leaves is the transmission goes out on my car. It’s near Christmas, and now I have a choice between buying the kids presents and getting the transmission fixed so I can get to work.” So I said, look, we can help with this. We started Operation Homefront and it became nationally famous, won awards. A couple of years ago we helped about 7,300 families. It helps everything from car repair to baby wipes and diapers.

Whose feet will you be holding to the fire next?

This time around George Bush deserves it most because his open border policy is a disaster. The state Legislature – they try to act like the recall never happened, so we will be after them. And locally we’re gonna be after the City Council. They seem to be giving up on this fight. It isn’t gonna happen!

For more information on Operation Homefront, you can call (866) 424-9467, or visit http://www.rogerhedgecock.com/homefront.html.

Jessica Horton is a senior at the University of California, San Diego and is a photographer for Voice of San Diego.

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