By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
At the convention, its delegates still reeling from a political blowout by the Democrats in 1998, Unz trolls the hallways, playing no official role but sounding a few key people out about a possible Senate bid. Proposition 25 is not even discussed, because campaign finance is an anathema to party regulars, and he speaks on no panels. He seems remarkably unconnected to the most heated discussions taking place in convention meeting rooms, which center on President Clinton’s veto of the Republican tax cut and plans to make the party a kinder, gentler, warmer place for independent swing voters.
Unz‘s chief political and press adviser, Sheri Annis, does some trolling of her own. Annis is the largely unheralded secret of Unz’s success during, and since, the Proposition 227 campaign. Savvy and energetic, she runs Unz‘s English for the Children office in Los Angeles and serves as his key media strategist and sounding board. She’s as warm and personable as Unz is sometimes distant and cerebral. And she carves up some diagonal alliances of her own. Even though she works for Unz, she opposes Proposition 25 because it doesn‘t regulate indirect ”soft money“ contributions. She’s pro-choice, and she also opposes the conservative ”Definition of Marriage Initiative“ sponsored by state Senator Pete Knight (her boss has endorsed the initiative).
One place where convention buzz and Unz‘s concerns intersect is in the intensity of interest in finding a challenger to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. So far on the Republican side, only San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn, state Senator Ray Haynes and Orange County businessman J.P. Gough have expressed any interest in the race, and they’re virtually unknown statewide. Several highly placed party officials have already urged Unz to consider the run. They want someone with both tenacity and deep pockets to take on Feinstein.
None of Unz‘s acquaintances from high school and college would have predicted a rough-and-tumble life in electoral politics for Ron Unz. ”He was too much of a geek,“ says one. ”There’s, like, this social gear missing in him, you know?“ Nor would anyone have predicted the antecedent, Unz‘s initial foray into business.
”I would have been less surprised with Ron getting the Nobel Prize than Ron going into business,“ says his Harvard dorm mate Robert Dujarric. Eric Reyburn, another classmate at Harvard who hung out in a loose circle around Unz, adds: ”He didn’t want to have anything to do with [political] parties. It was a total shock to me when he got involved in party politics.“
Unz‘s life-changing stint in business occurred almost by chance. He’d just finished the second year of a Ph.D. program in physics at Stanford University in the a summer of 1985 -- tired, one friend says, of ”the mental masturbation“ involved in higher-order physics -- when his former dorm mate Dujarric suggested that he try out a summer internship with the First Boston Corporation in New York.
Unz felt stifled, frustrated most of all by his failed effort to establish a magnet program -- he called his proposal a ”School of Advanced Studies“ -- in the junior high school he‘d attended. Working around the clock in a way that seems familiar to him now, Unz had succeeded in raising promises of funding, had gotten the Los Angeles Times to pay attention to his idea, but then ran headlong into the opposition of the school board.
”That really made me angry,“ Unz recalls, a rare expression of emotional heat. ”I’d spent all that time and effort, done all these amazingly improbable things. That was the whole reason I went to work on Wall Street. I said to myself, the next time I try to do something in public policy, I‘ll make sure that I have some money to do so. I’ll have some flexibility in my life or credibility or leverage to get things done.“
Unz‘s business career has been reported, typically, as a kind of slicked rail: a summer at First Boston, followed swiftly by the founding of a spectacularly successful software company, steady and secure growth of the company and then a remarkably lucrative payoff launching his political career. But the real story reveals a far more turbulent trajectory and also demonstrates Unz’s propensity for high-stakes gambling.
Unz was actually fired that first summer from First Boston. He‘d worked solo on a computer program to automate the analysis of complex mortgage securities. ”It was really my best invention,“ Unz says now. ”But I did it secretly. It caused a lot of friction, because part of the group worked in the program that I’d made obsolete. And since I‘d been the one who had done it against orders, they said, ’We think you should resign.‘“
Only after being forced out of his job did he go off on his own to develop the idea further and produce new software programs useful to large banks and brokerage firms that trade in bonds. He founded a company that fall with a former First Boston colleague. ”I really didn’t like working in a big organization,“ Unz says. ”Instead of doing what is the most efficient thing, or the most productive thing, or the most successful thing, you have to go through all these channels. I work much more effectively independently, with a broader mandate.“