In 1988, Richard (Rick) Dykema and his father met with Dana Rohrabacher, a speechwriter for President Reagan, in the White House mess hall. The topic of conversation: an open House seat in Los Angeles County.
"We had a good meeting," the younger Dykema recalled. "I gave Mr. Rohrabacher some advice on how to smoke out his competition on some conservative issues…. The idea was to get his opponent to be specific, rather than just giving platitudes."
Rohrabacher, who was raised in Huntington Beach, Calif., returned to Southern California to challenge the front-runner, an abrasive local official reviled by the GOP establishment. Among those trying to thwart her campaign was the elder Dykema, the founder of an Orange, Calif.-based financial-services company and a Republican kingmaker.
"My dad didn't like Harriett Wieder," Dykema said. "She was so obnoxious that a lot of the local people wanted to [send] her to Washington just so they wouldn't have to deal with her."
Ultimately, Wieder's campaign would be undone by a 25-year-old lie.
A few weeks after meeting Dykema, who was serving as a legislative assistant under the late Rep. Herb Bateman, R-Va., Rohrabacher invited him to be his campaign manager. "I turned him down at first," Dykema said, "But I was impressed enough that I used two weeks of my vacation time to go out and do what I could to help. It was during that time I discovered that … his opponent had lied on her resume."
Wieder, who did not attend college, had claimed for most of her adult life that she had graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit. Her fate was sealed a few days later when Wieder's press secretary impersonated a reporter to gather intelligence about an effort to remove his boss from Orange County's Board of Supervisors, generating a media firestorm.
Dykema has been Rohrabacher's top aide ever since helping him get elected to Congress 25 years ago. He is one of the longest-serving chiefs of staff on Capitol Hill and has been in and out of the majority twice. "The minority can be more fun, because you don't have any responsibility, and you can just do stuff to get publicity," Dykema said, with refreshing candor. "That said, you always want to be in the majority."
Now in his 13th term, Rohrabacher is in a category of his own. The self-styled "surfer Republican"—who once sang in a folk band called The Goldwaters—has flummoxed Democrats and Republicans alike with his dogged opposition to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In June, he issued a threat to the highest-ranking Republican in Congress.
"If Speaker Boehner moves forward and permits [immigration reform] to come to a vote [without the support] of the majority of the Republicans in the House … he should be removed as speaker," Rohrabacher said on World Net Daily Radio.
A native of Long Beach, Calif., Dykema was student-body president in high school and attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. During the spring break of his freshman year, he met Frank Meyer, the top aide to then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, R-Mich., in Washington's Christian Reformed Church. This translated into a summer internship in Ford's office, which allowed Dykema to ingratiate himself with the Republican establishment. In August 1968, he attended the Republican nominating convention in Miami.
Returning to Grand Rapids, Dykema was elected president of the Calvin College Republicans but later took a leave of absence to run his father's unsuccessful campaign for the City Council. Now convinced that he wanted to pursue a career in politics, Dykema then went straight to Washington, where he received a degree in computer science from the University of Maryland.
Before joining Rohrabacher's office, Dykema served as an aide to then-Reps. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., John Cavanaugh, D-Neb., and Rohrabacher's predecessor, Dan Lungren, R-Calif. Now 60, Dykema is an elder at the Christian Reformed Church and sings in the choir.
This article appears in the September 3, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.