Burnishing his biography

SUN JOURNAL

Discrepancies: As he runs for governor of Calif., questions are resurfacing about GOP Rep. Darrell Issa's resume and arrests.

August 01, 2003|By Gregg Jones | Gregg Jones,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In his transformation from car-alarm magnate to Republican congressman and, now, candidate for governor, California's Rep. Darrell Issa has often recalled his rags-to-riches rise in the business world. Issa's campaign Web site promotes an achievement that seems to symbolize his story: "In 1994, Inc. Magazine recognized Darrell Issa as Entrepreneur of the Year."

But Issa has never won the prestigious national award. The founders of Outback Steakhouse took the magazine's top "Entrepreneur of the Year" honors in 1994.

In an interview, Issa said he actually had won a local Entrepreneur of the Year contest in San Diego, and he hadn't been trying to suggest that he had received national honors. The local contests are conducted as qualifying rounds for the national award.

"I was runner-up three, four, five times, whatever it was - at least three - in San Diego, and then I won the San Diego award," Issa said. "Nobody would ever imply or mislead to, you know, something as simple as the Entrepreneur of the Year award."

In his short political career, Issa has faced small and large questions about his record in business and the military and his brushes with the law. Republican and Democratic opponents have accused him of concealing arrests as a youth and embellishing his story.

Issa's statements and campaign literature from the past 13 years have been compared with military records and other public documents. The review reveals a number of claims contradicted or unsupported by records and verifiable facts.

In a recent interview, Issa said questions about his past are "irrelevant to who is Darrell Issa now and who is Darrell Issa as a governor."

Among the issues:

Issa, who served two stints in the military, first as an enlisted man and later as an officer, has said he was an Army computer research and development specialist. In a 1995 interview, he said that as an officer he had spent four years in the New Mexico desert perfecting electronic warfare techniques that were later used in the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

His military records list Issa's postings during that period as Fort Riley, Kan., and Fort Ord, Calif. Those records and Issa's 1980 Army separation form make no mention of computer training or computer specialty.

The extent of Issa's military education as an officer, according to the records, was an eight-week "motor officer" course in 1976 and a four-day "Equal Opportunity United Discussions Leaders Course" in 1978.

In the interview, Issa said he had "served at the computer facility" at Fort Ord's Combat Development Experimentation Command in the late 1970s, and the Army had sent him to the Boston area for computer training at a commercial school. He said he couldn't recall the name of the school.

During his campaign in 2000 for a seat in Congress, Issa said he had received the "highest possible" ratings in the Army. Military records show that he received a "fair" conduct rating while undergoing basic combat training at Fort Knox, Ky., in November 1970. In June 1971, while serving with the 145th Ordnance Detachment in Manor, Pa., he received "unsatisfactory" conduct and efficiency ratings.

Later ratings were more positive.

During his 1998 campaign for the U.S. Senate, at a time when he was trying to link his candidacy to the legacy of former President Richard M. Nixon, Issa's campaign literature said he had been a member of Nixon's security detail.

Issa had previously said he attended the 1971 World Series as part of Nixon's security team. Records show that Nixon did not attend the 1971 World Series.

In recent comments to the Los Angeles Times, Issa has stood by his statement about having served on Nixon's security detail but has sidestepped the one about the World Series, which has not been repeated in this year's campaign.

"That's from something years before, from a misquote, er, you know, interpretation, years before I even ran for office," he said in an interview this summer.

Issa blames California Gov. Gray Davis for the questions about his resume, some of which were first raised by fellow Republicans in his Senate run.

Those weren't the only discrepancies raised by Issa's GOP rivals, though. And some assertions by Issa about his past have been questioned by other news organizations.

Some of Issa's statements in media interviews, campaign statements and official biographies have disappeared from his resume over the years.

In his 1998 campaign, Issa backed away from a statement that he had started his car-alarm company "from scratch" after The Times reported that he had taken control of the business in a legal dispute with the original owners.

Other statements, such as the one about the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, have become part of the story that Issa offers voters as he campaigns for governor.

Issa speaks often of his rise from a humble upbringing as the grandson of Lebanese immigrants in Cleveland to millionaire manufacturer of car alarms.

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