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Located only a few hundred yards from former Rep. Elton Gallegly’s home in Simi Valley, Calif., the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, which is already a significant regional destination, might soon play an even greater role.
The Elton and Janice Gallegly Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement, which began in March at California Lutheran University, is working with the Reagan Library to form a partnership that could include internships, speakers and visiting professors.
The 13-term Republican who retired in January had worked with five different presidents and is Ventura County’s longest-serving congressional representative. Gallegly said the nonpartisan center is a great opportunity for students.
“The objective is to provide access to those that have ideas of going into public service,” Gallegly said. “There’s a lot more to public service than having a nameplate or a plaque on a door.”
Gallegly, who dropped out of college in 1963 because he could not afford it, said he did not think about starting the center until about a year before his retirement.
“I had individuals approach me with the idea; this was not a concept that I dreamt up one afternoon,” Gallegly said. “As I started a dialogue with some folks I had great respect for in the community, it sounded like a tremendous opportunity.”
CLU, a small liberal arts college founded in 1959, is located in the heart of Gallegly’s former district. The Gallegly Center will be part of the university’s Master’s in Public Policy and Administration program, and according to the program’s director, David Powell, one of the main goals is to recruit undergraduates into public service.
“The idea behind the center first was to honor the congressman and his 26 years of service in the House of Representatives but also to provide a kind of living, breathing public policy center whereby we could utilize the center to attract some of the best and brightest students into public service,” Powell said.
Gallegly, who started in real estate, initially had no plans to enter public service.
“Never in my wildest dreams ever did the thought of public service . . . enter my mind,” Gallegly said. “I was a local guy that got a little upset with the way local government was being run and I was recommended by some of my friends — ‘Instead of complaining about it, why don’t you get involved?’”
In addition to scholarships, grants, speakers and forums, the center will select two or three fellows each year who will complete research and intern in Sacramento or in Washington, D.C. According to Powell, the program’s flexibility differentiates it from similar programs nationwide.
Gallegly’s role with the center is developing, but he is loaning his legislative and personal papers for research and is donating his office furniture to the center.
A fundraiser will be held Oct. 3 at the Reagan Library and will include a performance from Frankie Avalon, honoring Gallegly’s public service and kicking off a $4 million fundraising campaign for the center.
The congressman has spent more time with his family and said he does not have plans to run for office again. While he has stayed out of the news, he said it has been a challenge since leaving office.
“I’ve always tried to keep my options open, but the honest answer is I do not have specific plans of running for anything,” Gallegly said. “I still want to stay involved. There’s just so many things when you turn on the news or read the paper . . . that I have a passion for.”
He did weigh in on the recent immigration debate, after working most recently as the chairman on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. He said the Senate’s recently passed bill does not address the problem.
“My record on immigration is kind of a rhetorical question,” Gallegly said. “I feel very strongly no matter what problem you’re facing, you need to understand what the problem is instead of coming up with a solution without understanding what the problem is.”
CQ Roll Call’s Life After Congress is designed to answer the question “Where are they now?” If that’s something you’ve asked yourself about a former member or members, drop us a line. We’ll do our best to track them down.