Conservative U.S. Navy veteran to challenge Arlen Specter for Pennsylvania Senate seat
By Jeff Schreiber
“You know, I stand out here now and look around, and it’s so apparent that we live in the greatest nation in the world. This place just oozes freedom and liberty and independence. My God, it all started here. Now that I have a family, though, now that I have kids, I worry that the America I turn over to them will not be the same America I grew up to love, to serve, and to be proud of.”
It was nearing noon in the shadow of Independence Hall in Philadelphia a week ago today when I met Devon Generally. He had organized his own tea party-style protest, a chance for everyday Americans to come together at the very place America was born in order to uphold the ideas and ideals from which she was established. Within less than a minute, long enough to hear his insight on those who came long before, I knew that Generally was a serious man . . . and that he was going places.
As a newspaper reporter in South Carolina during the summer of 2000, I met then Gov. George W. Bush before a campaign event at Clemson University. Even as a registered Democrat at the time, I knew as soon as he walked into the little room that there was something about him, that he too was “going places.” It was the quiet confidence that only comes from adherence to principle, it was the disarming smile and unexpected chuckle that genuinely lets people in. After even a few brief minutes with Generally last Friday, watching him interact with curious onlookers as well as those who intentionally showed up in defense of our republic, I found myself witnessing much of the same qualities, only this time in a man who has held no formal office, in a man only three years my senior.
At only 33 years of age, Generally will be seeking Arlen Specter’s U.S. Senate seat in 2010. Specter, Generally said, has greatly departed from the idea of a representative republic as advanced by those who had met 230-plus years before in the building behind him. Intrigued, I reminded him that, considering the entrenched support which accompanies lengthy tenure on Capitol Hill, his would be no easy task.
“I don’t do ‘easy,’” Generally said. “I’ve never done ‘easy’ in my whole life. Rarely do I find that ‘easy’ is worthwhile, and if we need anything right now, we need ‘worthwhile.’ If that means that once again I’ve got to do ‘hard,’ if that means that once again I’ve got to sacrifice for the good of our nation, for the very nation I’ll turn over to my baby girls, then so be it. I’m ready.”
It was 15 years ago that Generally first swore an oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, an oath he insists “did not end when his service was over.” In 1995, he joined the United States Navy and, following the path set forth by his father, soon was trained as a Sonar Technician in the elite U.S. Navy Submarine Force. He earned several awards and commendations while serving two tours at sea, one apiece aboard the USS San Francisco and the USS Key West, the latter of which was the first vessel to answer the call of duty following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“I remember that day. It was horrible, agonizing. But we knew what we needed to do. We knew what had happened, and we knew, somehow, that the world had changed that morning,” Generally said. “Nothing would ever be the same, but we were ready for it.”
“And, you know, it only strengthens my resolve now, thinking back on that day,” he said. “That oath I swore is really the duty of all Americans, from the gas stations on Main Street to the office buildings along Wall Street to the assembly lines in the heartland to the halls of Congress on Capitol Hill. It doesn’t matter whether you’re protecting our nation on a battlefield in Iraq or in Afghanistan or merely sitting at a utility bill-covered kitchen table here in Pennsylvania – we’re all blessed with the opportunity to be Americans and, sadly, out of all those places and all those situations, the only ones who don’t seem to realize that blessing are those supposedly representing us all in Washington, D.C.”
That discontent, it seems, is what brought Devon Generally to a boiling point as an American and as a conservative. Even his fiancée, Tande’ Turner, cradling one of the couple’s three-month-old twin girls at her soon-to-be-husband’s first-ever stump speech last Friday, admitted that Generally’s transformation from informed citizen to hopeful citizen legislator came slowly at first but reached a fever pitch during last year’s presidential election.
I found it funny, speaking with Tande’, because it was as though I was talking to my own wife. When she met Devon, she said, he was passionate but not so much in an outward fashion. Slowly but surely, however, things came to a head, to the point at which he was yelling at a press conference or presidential debate on television in the same way that most men his age scream at the television during a hotly-contested football game. It certainly sounded familiar to me and, more importantly, to my own wife, who marveled at the fact that my volume during a presidential debate was equivalent to my volume during a nationally televised Auburn football game.
“I got a little hot under the collar,” Generally admitted, “but it was hard not to, when at every turn you see not only the country you love being taken down the wrong path, but also the political party which provides the best chance at salvation being mismanaged and focusing on the wrong things.”
While he did strongly support Arizona Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, Generally feels as though the Republican Party lost touch with its conservative roots and should have learned a lesson from November’s defeat, if not the mid-term defeat in 2006 as well, the least of which was that the party needs to take a good look at how it presents itself and how it communicates its message to Americans, especially the youngest Americans, and those Americans which could be best served by the conservative message.
The common misperception about conservatives and the Republican Party in general, Generally said, is that “we’re all a bunch of bureaucrat types and trust fund babies” when, in reality, “most conservatives are just hard-working Americans like you and like me, people who believe that if they work hard and earn a dollar, they should get to keep it, people who don’t feel that they must depend—or want to depend—upon anybody else for stability, security and success.”
That, Generally said, is how he lives his life. A product of “a working class family like 95 percent of Americans,” he was quick to remind the 40 to 50 people gathered a week ago at Independence Hall that he may be in a suit and tie that Friday, but “come Monday morning, I’ll be in coveralls.”
Indeed, Generally spends his day working as an Operations Manager for Philadelphia Gas Works. I asked him about how his life as a working class conservative contributed to his decision to oppose Sen. Specter in 2010, and he was quick to oblige:
“You know, Jeff, I was tired of only one side being heard, tired of the idea that government is the only answer, that printing more money and mortgaging America’s future is the only answer, so I decided to stand up and see what I can do,” Generally said. “The other side of the coin is that the working man, the guys like you and like me and like most of America, we’re not being represented anymore in Washington, D.C. Just look at the way Arlen Specter went against the will of Pennsylvanians in the recent debate over the stimulus bill. It’s not right, and I felt as though I should stand up and stand fast.”
Generally is accustomed to the concept. In 2003, he stood alone as 500 anti-war protesters marched on the gates of Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor, where he was stationed at the time. From the February 16, 2003 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser:
Five hundred anti-war protesters — complete with two dozen mock “weapons inspectors” — marched from Aloha Stadium to headquarters of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor yesterday and demanded to examine the military’s stockpile of “weapons of mass destruction” on O’ahu.
The protest was coordinated with similar “Not in Our Name” rallies held elsewhere in Hawai’i, the Mainland and around the world.
“While this protest is partly theater, we are very serious about our opposition to the war, and about our demands,” Sebastian Blanco, an organizer of the event, told the protesters before the rally started.
The march to Pearl Harbor was peaceful but noisy, with banner-waving and drum-beating protesters chanting anti-war slogans along Kamehameha Highway, one lane of which of blocked off by Honolulu Police Department motorcycle officers.
Many passing motorists honked their horns in support. Others, however, rolled down their windows to voice opposition.
“Bomb Iraq!” shouted more than one.
When the throng arrived at fleet headquarters, it was greeted by the solitary figure of Devon Generally, a 27-year-old Navy sonar technician stationed at Pearl Harbor, who had come to protest the protest. He stood in the center of the roadway carrying a sign reading “I support America.”
Making it clear that he was speaking for himself and not the military, Generally stationed himself about 2 feet in front of a line of armed sentries 50 yards from the headquarters gate. The gate was further fortified with more guards and one barking German shepherd.
The marchers were told by the troops that they could go no further, and for several minutes Generally stood nose to nose with those who carried the Not in Our Name banner. Neither side budged.
“I’m here to support those who fight so we can have demonstrations like this,” said Generally. “I have a right to my opinion. This is anti-Bush. This is anti-America.”
The marchers shouted over and over in unison: “We’re not against the soldiers — we’re here against the war!”
Generally responded: “Peace is through might; peace is through strength.”
Generally’s mission now is taking that first step in bringing the GOP back to its conservative roots. Sen. Arlen Specter, hardly the most conservative member of the Republican Party, provides the perfect target for an effective initial volley. Still, Generally takes issue with the way his own party has been handling itself.
“The idea that, somehow, the conservative message must be changed to accommodate those in the center is actually a point of contention that I have had with party leadership,” he said. “You don’t change the message. Instead, you’ve got to take that message to people who have the capacity to understand its strength, its underlying reasoning, and its potential.”
Focus, he says, must be on the youth in America. In fact, one of his first moves as a senatorial candidate is a statewide tour, county by county by county, talking to Young Republicans clubs and any other group of young people he can get his hands on. America’s youth, Generally said, must be shown the merits of conservatism, shown “exactly where the money comes from.”
“There’s no golden goose, and even when I was young, I had no concept of the fact that every nickel spent by the government is not the government’s money,” he said. “Once young people in this country understand that money comes from somewhere, that borrowing money and printing money and in turn spending that borrowed and printed money has consequences, then perhaps those same young people can sit back and say, ‘hey, wait a second, maybe these guys should be a little more responsible with my hard-earned paycheck.’”
“My fiancée and I,” he said, “we look at our paychecks and look at the taxes which come out, and wonder what we could be capable of as a family if we didn’t have so much taken from us only to be squandered by those in our nation’s capital.”
Right now, however, it’s a different kind of financial trouble which worries Generally, at least as far as his fledgling candidacy in concerned. He may be a disciple of Ronald Reagan, of Thomas Sowell and “certainly at least a little bit Barry Goldwater,” but he doesn’t have the same financial backing. In fact, Generally’s chief worry, throwing his proverbial hat into the ring for the first time, isn’t so much the competition itself as the competition’s pocketbooks and balance sheets.
Regardless of whether it is just Specter or if it is both Specter and the likes of a Pat Toomey, Generally said, “these are guys with war chests, guys with entrenched, deep-pocket supporters, guys who have had years and years to build up their networking lists and their contacts.”
“But there’s another side to all of it,” he cautioned. “Yes, the GOP money is entrenched in Specter’s corner. Yes, Pat Toomey can come in to thousand-dollar-per-plate dinners. But the people of Pennsylvania can see that I’m starting from scratch, and they can know that I am not beholden to anybody. It’s not just my campaign. For the first time in Pennsylvania, this is our campaign, this is the people’s campaign, and we’re going to do it in the right way. This is about taking our senate seat back from a man who constantly disappoints and forgets those who put him there.”
It’s frustrating, Generally admitted, knowing that others can generate such campaign funds so easily. “On the other hand, however,” he said, “when people hand a lot of money out over so many years to the point at which they’re expected to hand that money out each and every time, they expect favors in return, they expect quid pro quo. That’s what I’m fighting against. That’s why I have a problem with what’s happening to our republic. The guy I’m running against is going to raise millions of dollars, and as a result I’m going to need to raise that much or more – unfortunately, the days of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are rapidly fading away.”
Regardless, Devon Generally insists that he is ready. He insists that principles will prevail over entrenched interests. He insists that, with the right leadership, America can ensure her position as the world’s greatest superpower for years to come. And, even in the wake of a similar announcement of candidacy by Toomey, he insists that he is the right candidate, the right man, to provide a conservative alternative to the turncoat Republican otherwise known as the longest-serving senator in the history of Pennsylvania.
Last night, I reminded Devon that former President Jimmy Carter was also a submariner, and asked how those of us in Pennsylvania and across America could be sure that, this time, things would be different.
“Well, you know, he was an officer,” Generally said, chuckling for a moment before getting serious. “Really, what it comes down to is that I believe in people, I believe in freedom and I believe in liberty. And if I am given the chance to go to Washington by the people of Pennsylvania, it’s on behalf of the people, it’s a chance for me to once again protect and defend the Constitution, the country, and everything for which it stands.”
“And,” he said, “that’s not a responsibility I take lightly.”
For more information about Devon Generally on the issues, or to make a contribution, visit Generally’s new Web site, GenerallyforSenate.com.