A chat with Bill Wells
BACKSTORY | On politics, music, and treating all people with compassion and respect
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Dr. Bill Wells says his long years as a mental health clinician have helped him tackle the homelessness problem in El Cajon, Calif., where he is mayor. But I wonder whether that experience also helps him remain sane in a political landscape where an overwhelming majority of public officials not only deride Biblical values, but actively and consistently seek to undermine them.
Wells wrote this issue’s cover story about the Golden State’s homelessness epidemic and how powerful politicians in the state capital have tried to dismantle conservative solutions that were actually working in his own town. A Republican and former El Cajon City Council member, Wells was appointed mayor in 2013 when the serving mayor resigned. He was then elected in 2014, and reelected in 2018 and last November—the latter time with 71 percent of the vote. That tally is kind of astonishing since most El Cajon voters are registered Democrats. I asked Wells about his time as mayor.
What’s it like to be a conservative in California politics? Being a conservative in a place like California can be challenging, but I’m constantly reminded of how many people of common sense and good values still live here. Because left-wing politics are so pervasive, there are remarkably few conservatives willing to speak out on conservative issues. This often gives me an opportunity to be a lonesome voice in fighting against things like draconian COVID-19 restrictions and ridiculous homeless policies, while fighting for religious liberty and other important issues.
People are exiting California in record numbers. How is that reflected in your own city? Even though people have been fleeing California in recent years, the population in El Cajon has actually increased by a small amount. Interestingly though, there has been a major shift in demographics. Over the past 20 years we have seen a huge influx of people from the Middle East, specifically Chaldean Catholics. Most of these people fled Iraq after suffering horrible religious persecution. They are great neighbors and have greatly enhanced our city.
You’re a clinician who decided to run for mayor. What inspired you to do that? My journey from clinician to politician began with an injustice I had endured from the government. I was so disheartened and angry that I ran for office and have since spent my time committed to the idea that I would champion anyone who was in a position of powerlessness. I wanted to do what I could to make sure people were treated with justice and respect. I have always kept that as my core value.
What is your favorite part of mayoring? What’s your least favorite? My favorite part of being a mayor is the outpouring of love and support I get from people all throughout the region. My least favorite part is having commonsense solutions stifled by the overwhelming leftist majority.
I understand you’re a musician. Tell us about that. Music and being a musician have been the one constant in my life. I play piano, sax, and guitar, and I had a brief career as a professional musician. At some point I decided to pursue a less unstable way to make a living, but I have never stopped performing.
Where do you play? Over the past few decades, I have concentrated on playing music at church, but I have also played in pop rock, swing, and jazz groups. Over the past few years, I’ve helped put on a series of benefit concerts for various charities, primarily the East County Transitional Living Center (a Christian homeless shelter) and the Home of Guiding Hands (a developmental disability service organization). This has been such a joy for me.
What’s next for you in politics? I have decided to open an exploratory committee to run for the U.S. Congress. I think I’ll have a lot of support, but I have to start this journey to really know.
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