The year was 1987. Reagan was president, Ron Roberts was just elected to the San Diego City Council and Competitive Edge was a newborn baby. Having no idea what to do to keep our clients happy and build a business, we went to lunch with news reporter and political consultant John Kern. He was fresh off helping some guy named Clint Eastwood win his race for Mayor of Carmel, California. Honestly, I can’t recall the pearls of wisdom that dropped from John’s lips, but Competitive Edge has been successful for 30 years, so I’m sure pushed us in the right direction.
John went on to bigger and better things, like helping Dick Murphy win his race for San Diego Mayor in 2000 despite being far outspent. John has a reputation for being one of the more philosophical political consultants as he continues to work in local politics. He’s someone who thinks deeply about politics and his craft. – JN
If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?
Ronald Reagan. I would like to finish the conversation I had with him in 1972. It was his last year as Governor and each Capital Press Corps member got an exit interview. I was a very low ranking reporter and one of the last. By the time I got my interview there wasn’t much to say – or so I thought. Toward the end of the interview I mentioned that I had been at a play where the actors came into the audience and it made me feel uncomfortable. Reagan says, “Oh yes, you should never go beyond the proscenium arch. Just like politics.” My mind seizes!! “Ah, Governor, you think politics and theater have a lot in common?” Reagan, visibly relaxes, says “Oh yes . . .” And the door opens and Clyde Walthall, the press secretary comes in and says, “Governor, time is up.” Now, knowing what I know now I would have said “Clyde, give us a couple minutes here.” But I was young and dumb and folded. I got a good story. I won an award for the interview story but I have often thought I missed a truly great story.
What’s the best thing about the USA?
It’s the USA. We have a lot of problems and we have always tried to do better. There is often disagreement about what is “better” but that’s what makes us great.
Tell us why you think California should or should not split into 5 states.
It’s an idiotic idea. To begin with, it is not possible. New States get new Senators. Other states are going to allow 10 new Senators? Really? And what is the split? LA? Orange and San Diego? Inland? The Valley? San Francisco? Not going to happen. And this part of our history called the Civil War settled the idea of secession.
What music are you listening to these days?
What was the last book of fiction you read? Give me a one sentence review.
I like series – multiple books featuring the same characters. Ones I read and really like are Daniel Silva whose main character is Gabriel Allon; Ilona Andrews — Kate Daniels; J. D. Robb, — Eve Dallas and Roarke. Not heavy stuff but I like them.
Who is your favorite artist, any medium?
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, an Italian sculptor. I saw his works in Rome. Completely blew me away. Visit the Borghese Museum – truly awesome.
If you were into competitive eating, which food would be your specialty?
Steak, of course. Bacon second.
Favorite breakfast and where do you get it?
Two places – Mimi’s in the Valley and Studio Diner.
Favorite alcoholic beverage in winter and summer?
Wine. When I was in Germany I learned to really like German Riesling and that is generally my go-to wine. I have found when travelling, white wines are generally more even in quality while reds can sound good but be awful. To be really honest, I am kind of a rot-gut wine drinker. Lots of things taste good to me.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?
Personal, from my mother: Play the hand you’ve been dealt; don’t gloat when you win and don’t whine when you lose. Professional: I was a 21-year-old reporter on the Syracuse Post-Standard, worked my way up from Copy-boy, never took a journalism class, and I had to cover a speech by the Archduke Otto of Habsburg, last surviving Crown Prince of Habsburg. Deadline was 10 pm. I show up at 9:30. Editor asks what did he say? I start flipping through notes. He grimaces, then says, “Kid. Listen. You run home, you see your mother, what do you tell her?” I said, “Oh, he said . . .”. Editor says: “That’s the lead kid, write it.” I was a reporter for 10 years, covered government and politics, won awards, and that one lesson got me through many tough moments staring at a keyboard.
What advice do you have for young people starting out in your profession?
Work hard; do the little extra that makes a good job better; read “All God’s Creatures have work to Do” in William J. Bennett’s book “The Moral Compass.” I often copied this and gave it to new employees. For young men – learn how to change the paper in the copier and how to make coffee.
When you retire, what’s your second career going to be, if any?
Right now, I call myself semi-retired. I come back to San Diego and I still have a couple clients so I would say I will just keep on doing what I have been doing.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when grew up?
Wanted to be in the military. When I got there I realized I was totally unsuited for it!
Name a living person that you admire who I may not know. Why do you admire them?
Mike and Jen Tierney. I am in awe of their ability as parents. They are without question the best parents I have ever seen.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Be more athletic.