Toreros might be surprised to see a third name on the Democratic ballot for the presidential election and even more surprised to know that man also attended the University of San Diego.
Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a San Diego native, is the Democratic businessman in the election. This year he decided to take the jump and run for president because he did not like the candidates that were running.
De La Fuente is running a full-blown campaign but is stuck in the shadows of other candidates. It has been an uphill battle for the former Torero, who has had to petition his way onto the ballot in every state and has not had access to a televised debate. De La Fuente’s setbacks have not offset his optimism though and he is determined to continue his campaign.
“Imagine competing in a race when they basically cut your leg off, cut your arm, cut your knee, and even if you’re making it, they cut the other leg,” De La Fuente said. “How can you compete? Guess what, I am determined to make it, in spite of all the odds.”
De La Fuente attended the University of San Diego in 1974 for graduate studies in Business Administration and Accounting. Students might share De La Fuente’s opinions on going to USD.
“I love USD,” De La Fuente said. “It is a beautiful campus. I hate your parking, but that is a different issue.”
De La Fuente withdrew before graduating from USD because his automotive businesses were taking off. He started as a salesman at car dealerships in El Cajon and within two years founded American Automotive Management & Services, Inc., with which he acquired 28 car dealerships over 16 years. With a growing interest in new opportunities De La Fuente sold 27 dealerships, renamed his business American International Enterprises Inc., and entered the world of real estate and banking.
He opened 11 currency exchanges on both sides of U.S.-Mexico border and three banks in the U.S., invested in properties across the country, and opened two assisted living facilities in California. Like many entrepreneurs, De La Fuente has spent a fair amount of time in court defending his businesses. In some lawsuits he won millions and in others he lost banking privileges. Legal troubles aside, De La Fuente has built a very successful enterprise and he hopes to be equally successful in politics at a time he feels the U.S. needs a businessman, but not one such as Donald Trump.
“I did not like the direction that the country is going and also I was very challenged by Mr. Trump,” De La Fuente said. “Mr. Trump has insulted every man, woman, and child. Mr. Trump has insulted his fellow candidates. He has no manners, he has no ethics, and he has no logic. You have a person who has forgotten what we stand for. He forgot that it is the United States. He forgot that we are united, he wants to make it divided.”
De La Fuente filed his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission last fall and local newspapers reported on his candidacy in the beginning of October. By mid-October he was interviewed on Politically Speaking with San Diego reporter Gene Cubbison.
Despite his coverage at a local level, De La Fuente asserted that there is not fair access to the media or the debates. He compared his situation to the Wizard of Oz, journalists to Dorothy, and the Wizard to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“Behind the curtain, who is there? Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” De La Fuente said. “Who is telling her what to do? Hillary Clinton. They basically do not want the American people to know who is behind the curtain, but just like the Wizard of Oz, they found out.”
De La Fuente is not the only candidate who has had a problem with debates. In January, when NBC announced their criteria for the Democratic debate, it was uncertain whether candidate Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate who has since dropped out, would be eligible.
“To qualify, candidates must reach an average of 5 percent either nationally or in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina in the five most recent polls recognized by NBC News published before January 14, 2016,” the statement says.
In response both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supported O’Malley and insisted that he should be able to participate in the debate regardless of meeting the eligibility. Brian Fallon, Clinton’s spokesman, tweeted on the issue.
“We believe all three candidates should participate in the South Carolina debate, and oppose any criteria that might leave someone excluded,” Fallon tweeted.
The democratic stage certainly has room for another contender and De La Fuente is still pushing for access. One of his biggest milestones was getting Ballotpedia, the Encyclopedia of American Politics, to amend their standards for listing candidates. While candidates formerly had to receive an invitation to participate in a primary debate or be included in national polls to be listed on the site, they added a third option for listing.
De La Fuente calls the new criterion the “Rocky Rule” and it requires making it onto the party’s primary ballot for at least 75 percent of states, a fairly difficult standard to meet. He has been able to gather thousands of signatures and petition his way onto the ballots in most states.
Political Science professor Del Dickson understands the argument that a candidate needs to prove he or she is serious about presidency. However, he shares that Rocky has been put in a catch-22: he needs poll numbers to get into the debates and he needs debates to get poll numbers.
“The silver lining, I guess, is that perhaps it should not be too easy to run for president, or everyone would do it,” Dickson said. “If he is serious enough to get on the ballot in all 50 states, however, the DNC should recognize his candidacy, and at least give him due respect. If you can do that, you are more than a crank candidate in my book — you are a serious candidate, even if you are the longest of long-shots.”
Additional media coverage would certainly help De La Fuente. Many members of the USD community have no idea he is even a candidate. Junior Dante Enriquez did not know that De La Fuente was running but was not surprised that the DNC would put up obstacles for potential candidates.
“I think that had he received more media coverage, he could have made more of showing on the national stage,” Enriquez said. “However, that’s hard to do, especially when it seems like the Democratic establishment has picked Hilary to be their candidate. Bernie Sanders barely managed to force his way into the conversation, and through sheer will and a grassroots effort remains in the running with Hilary.”
USD President James T Harris III was also unaware that De La Fuente is running but is always excited to see former students moving into the political sphere. He cannot endorse De La Fuente but does see the connection as a possibility for students to engage with the political process.
“The responsibility of a university president or administrator during a political election cycle is not to endorse or oppose a particular candidate or political party,” President Harris said. “But rather, to provide the opportunity and the space on our campus for a balanced exchange of ideas from both sides of the aisle, much like when USD hosted the 1996 Presidential Debate between former President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole.”
Associated Students President Katie Countermash thinks that the connection to De La Fuente could be a great opportunity to invite a presidential candidate onto the USD campus to speak with students.
“Anytime students can engage and interact with politicians there is a huge benefit,” Countermash said. “Not only does it allow students to become familiar with a specific campaign platform, it allows us to ask questions. Regardless of if our own views align with the politicians, there is great educational benefit of hearing another person’s perspective on a situation. Most importantly, guest speakers further the opportunity on campus to share ideas and drive conversation.”
It is unclear how much further De La Fuente will get in the presidential race, but one thing is certain: he could improve his campaigning at his alma mater.