Veteran Hill Staffer Started as an Intern for Gerald Ford

Richard Dykema is chief of staff to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Sept. 2, 2013, 8:07 a.m.

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.

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