It's Hard Out There for a Bay Area Conservative

Conservatives in Northern California "have been beaten into submission," says Chris Pareja, host of a weekly political television show in Silicon Valley.

Chris Pareja isn't apologizing for his conservative views, even though he lives in the most liberal region of the country. The 42-year-old former marketing consultant hosts a weekly conservative talk show, The Right Side, which broadcasts on public television in Silicon Valley from a studio in Mountain View (home of Google).  Pareja has conducted Charlie Rose-style interviews with such guests as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona and former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Pareja, who is Filipino-American, grew up in the East Bay and unsuccessfully ran for Congress and for City Council in his hometown of Livermore. But he's not giving up just yet. Pareja recently spoke to National Journal about why there are more conservatives in Northern California than you might think.

How did you get involved as host of The Right Side, and what is the message you are trying to get across to viewers in Silicon Valley?

A business client had been involved with KMVT and approached me, wanting to know if I would be interested in hosting a show that would convey the conservative voice in the Bay Area. Part of the thrust of that show is debating immigration, transportation, and sales-tax issues. I've found that if we talk as humans, 70 to 90 percent of the time we all agree on the issues. We don't always agree on the solutions, but if we just talk to people as people and get rid of the conservative and progressive labels and everything else, we have a lot more in common than divides us. The show is about reinforcing the idea that we need to talk about what we're told not to talk about.

You had Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio of Arizona on your show in May. I heard there were protests going on. What was that like?

Actually, he joked at the Conservative Forum that the protesters around here are really weak. They were all friendly, they were all posing for pictures with him. He's used to a much more hostile reception. Outside the studio, he was interviewed by Telemundo, and he just talked to everyone and it was fine.

You ran for Congress and [Livermore] City Council and lost both times. Do you feel alone as a conservative in the Bay Area?

No, and actually, when you start going door to door as I have, what you find is that there are a lot more people who have conservative viewpoints even though they might consider themselves Democrats. They're not necessarily willing to speak openly and publicly. One of the reasons conservatives are quieter in Northern California is that they have been beaten into submission. If they speak out, then they're considered racist or homophobic or whatever. The name-calling begins. I have friends that are progressive environmentalists, and we've been working together with tea partiers on initiatives to fight tax measures. But the progressive environmentalists don't want to be associated with the tea partiers because their friends will call them names and berate them and belittle them.

The tea partiers don't care so much because they're used to being called names, and they don't care, but it's amazing how close-minded a lot of the liberal communities can be about things that are different. They're also very susceptible to being pushed into compliance just by someone calling them names or questioning their empathy. And I think a lot of conservatives are very quiet for the very same reason. They just don't want the drama.

How did you become conservative growing up in one of the most liberal states?

I think I was a registered Democrat when I came out of high school. One of our teachers did a test on us and said based on your demographics and your age, you're probably a Democrat. But there were a few things that occurred. No. 1, 9/11 happened. Before that I didn't pay attention to politics as much other than the big scandals that you would see on TV. I just took people's word that Democrats are good and Republicans are bad, and I voted accordingly. But 9/11 occurred, and I started doing things like listening to talk radio, and it started to make sense why some things were happening.

Then I went beyond that around the health care debate, and I started reading the legislation. When I started understanding what was occurring and how it could impact people negatively when it was supposed to help people, I got frustrated to the point where I actually started to speak out at town halls and that kind of thing. Then, honestly, one of the things that pushed my conservatism even further was running for office and having to identify what I believe, why I believe it, how strongly I believe it. That pushed me in a more conservative direction. But it's not necesarily the conservatism that we're told about in the media. I don't consider myself racist or homophobic or any of those kinds of things, but I do believe in the rule of law. I do believe that government has gotten too large and unwieldy, and it's continuing to develop and consume its own power and serve itself instead of its citizenry.

What do you think of California's new laws that let undocumented immigrants get student loans, financial aid, and subsidized health insurance?

It makes me nuts. My grandparents were immigrants on the Filipino side and came here legally. Even my wife is Canadian, so I know that working with our immigration system can be inconvenient. But it's necessary to do things within the proper channels for reasons of health, for reasons of the economy, for reasons of education. I have no problem with immigration as long as it's done legally and people go through the proper channels.

I would support something like the former Bracero program if we had a scenario where we truly could not find U.S. workers for the agriculture industry. Then we could issue seasonal permits or something like that to allow people to come in if they comply with the health check, background checks, and everything else. They come, they stay for a fixed period of time and then they return to their country of origin until they are needed again. I'm fine with that. But when we start to give undocumented residents the same--or better--treatment under the law than we give our own citizens, that's where I start to get concerned.

National Journal recently visited Silicon Valley to see how immigration and technology have transformed the San Jose area. In the coming weeks, Next America will publish a series of stories about the people who are finding their place in America's wealthiest region.