Scott McVarish has never met Donald Trump and probably never will, because he doesn’t play golf and doesn’t consider himself rich enough to stay at a Trump-owned property. He also doesn’t agree with Trump’s policies, especially regarding immigration.
“I oppose his ending of DACA,” McVarish, who spent about a decade working as an immigration attorney, said about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “He is not a good enough leader, like Reagan, to bring something positive to immigration. That’s not impeachable grounds.”
Collusion with Russia and violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, however, are grounds, and McVarish is convinced these are true, which is why he is running for office on an “Impeach Trump” platform.
But clues to the genesis of his campaign theme – which sets him apart from the other six Democrats seeking to unseat Steve Knight in the 25th congressional district – lies with his father’s failed campaign and his work as a labor attorney and immigration attorney.
All in the family
If the McVarish name sounds familiar to longtime residents, it’s because Scott’s father, Tom, ran for Congress in 1992 as a Republican. That was the first year of the newly drawn 25th district, which had previously been held by Democrat Edward Roybal, who retired. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon defeated Tom McVarish in the primary and went on to win the seat and hold it for six terms.
Scott said he clashed with his father on how to run a campaign. Scott felt his father should highlight how he differed from other Republicans, and there were some marked differences. Tom McVarish was pro-choice, favored lesbian and gay rights, and was in favor of immigrants’ rights – not exactly the platform of today’s Republican Party.
“I felt other Republican candidates were cookie-cutter, all exact duplicates. He should play these up,” Scott said. “He didn’t need a majority of Republicans. He only needed a plurality.”
Scott reasoned that the conservative Republicans would split the vote, allowing his father and his unique stances to receive all the votes from people who liked his views. Instead, Tom ran a similar campaign to McKeon, but McKeon had way more money and won easily.
Still, Scott shares some of his father’s views. He’s pro-choice, but he would like to see fewer abortions, and the means to that end is reducing unplanned pregnancies, which means funding Planned Parenthood and similar agencies.
A teacher and gay rights
He’s also in favor of LGBTQ rights, and he has been on the front lines. As an attorney working with the California Teachers Association, McVarish helped successfully defend teacher James Merrick in 1998-9. Merrick, then 61, was a gay eighth-grade teacher at Rio Bravo-Greeley Union School in Bakersfield who filed a discrimination lawsuit after parents pulled 15 students (10 boys, five girls) out of his science classes, citing his mannerisms and language in front of the students, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In March 1999, the state Labor Commission ruled Merrick had been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, and the parties settled. Merrick, who had won a Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year award two years earlier, got his students back and an apology from the school district. Also, the district would not contest the Labor Commission ruling and could never again remove students for reasons relating to ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, political or religious beliefs; and the district and Merrick would collaborate on a new district anti-discrimination policy.
“This settlement will be the blueprint for how all school districts in California must protect the rights of gay teachers,” McVarish said at the time. “This decision will stand as an important precedent for gay teachers and other gay employees throughout the state.”
The tale of Mayra Godoy
After spending 10 years as a union attorney, McVarish spent 10 years as an immigration attorney. When he declared for the congressional race earlier this month, one who came to see was Yvonne Miranda, a teacher in Lancaster whose mother, Mayra Godoy, might have been deported to Guatemala without McVarish’s intervention (Miranda posted a video of McVarish’s announcement on Facebook).
According to the McVarish and the New Republic, Godoy fled civil war and came here in 1991. She had no money for an attorney and instead went to a “notario,” people who typically cast themselves as immigration consultants but usually end up scamming the people they are supposedly serving. Due to incompetent representation, her request for asylum failed, and Godoy didn’t receive the notice to appear from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) because it went to the wrong address – even though the INS had the correct address on file. McVarish blames Godoy’s attorney at the time for that.
Godoy found work as a maid, paid taxes, gave birth to Yvonne and never committed a crime or even got a parking ticket. But by failing to appear, she faced deportation and fought it for more than 17 years.
Claiming incompetent representation, McVarish successfully secured residency. Miranda went on to Berkeley.
“She’d never become a teacher, probably would’ve been on welfare,” McVarish said. “This story would have had a different ending.”
It is people such as Godoy and Miranda that make McVarish value his immigration work, and why he wants to effect change in Washington.
“We’ve criminalized immigration to such an extent that immigrants are afraid of being arrested for everyday things like driving or going to the store, so they cluster and isolate,” he said. “We need to take a deep breath. We’ve always had it, always will. The best way to deal with it is to help people already here. … Give them an opportunity to prove they’re playing by the rules. That’s been my goal since day one: keeping families together. There’s nothing more destructive than having a parent, or both parents, deported. There are no positive outcomes when the parent of a child, whether a citizen or not, is deported. Nobody wins.”
Playing the Trump card
Trump’s victory in November “alarmed” McVarish, and the president’s actions since have concerned him. As far as McVarish is concerned, Trump already has in two places committed the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the Constitution requires for impeachment.
McVarish said he thinks there was enough for former FBI director James Comey to investigate Trump, and Trump’s firing of Comey “was a direct interference into that investigation. That one moment is enough for impeachment. It’s obstruction of justice. How do we know? The president said that part of the reason he fired Comey was to relieve himself of the investigation. He also said it to the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office.”
The Emoluments Clause forbids members of government from receiving gifts or titles from any king, prince or foreign state without the consent of Congress. McVarish said that Trump not releasing his tax returns is a sign he is hiding how much he actually has gained from doing business in foreign countries. Plus, not putting his assets into a blind trust and instead letting his children run the businesses indicate he is still gaining from these transactions.
“What we’ve seen is foreign governments are continually doing incredible business in his hotels, his resorts, that he is gaining from it,” McVarish said.
McVarish entered the race six months after Bryan Caforio declared he again would challenge Knight (Caforio lost in 2016). He also announced after Katie Hill, Jess Phoenix, Diedra Greenaway, Kelan John Farrell Smith and Daniel Fleming.
According to opensecrets.org, Caforio and Hill each have raised more than $440,000 and Phoenix more than $124,000, so McVarish also is behind in money.
But he’s undaunted.
“Almost no voter will make up their minds until May 1,” he said. The California primary is June 5. “There’s a lot of time between now and then.”