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Scott Wilk: McKeon: Canyon Country cowboy to world leader

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: November 18, 2010 4:46 p.m.
Updated: November 19, 2010 4:30 a.m.

He has been our congressman for so long it is sometimes easy to forget that Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, is the quintessential American success story.

Buck was born in East Los Angeles, and his family owned a number of grocery stores. As a boy, he loved cowboys and Westerns. That is how he earned his nickname “Buck.” And he would play football with his brothers on their postage stamp-sized lawn.  

Coming from an entrepreneurial family, as a young man he embarked on a number of business ventures — from selling meat out of the back of a truck to being in life-insurance sales.

Buck and his wife, Patricia, came to Santa Clarita in 1964 and purchased a brand new home for $17,000. Santa Clarita had one traffic signal in those days. One of the reasons they bought their Saugus home was the salesman informed them the cross-valley connector was going to be opening in a year.

The McKeons became involved in the civic life. Buck did have one setback, however. He lost his first campaign for public office — the Saugus Union School District Board of Trustees.

Buck was redeemed a short while later when he was the top vote-getter in a special election to serve on the Hart district’s school board. His steady hand was much appreciated when he helped guide the district following the passage of Proposition 13, when local government funding was severely cut.

Born during those years were Howard & Phil’s Western Wear stores (named after his father and mother).  Working with his dad, they opened two stores, one in the San Fernando Valley and the other on Bouquet Canyon Road. Eventually the brothers joined the business as well, and Howard & Phil’s became a chain. At its apex, Howard & Phil’s had 52 outlets in the southwest.

Santa Clarita residents had long been frustrated with the lack of services in the valley, and many thought creating our own city would keep taxes local and give citizens greater input to how our community should be managed.

In 1987, a citizens’ group qualified a ballot measure that would allow the people of Santa Clarita to become a city. On Nov. 3, 1987, voters passed Measure U with 69 percent of the vote.

Also on the ballot were 26 community leaders hopeful of being elected to the City Council. Coming out on top was McKeon. His fellow City Council members elected him the first mayor of the city of Santa Clarita. McKeon and the first City Council literally built a city from scratch. 

In 1992, Santa Clarita was placed in a newly created congressional seat. Already running was Assemblyman Phil Wyman, who was highly confident, and he should have been. In the last century, no state assemblyman had lost an open congressional seat in California. On that June day, McKeon prevailed over Wyman by a mere 724 votes in the GOP primary. 

During nine terms in the House of Representatives, McKeon has consistently voted for lower taxes, limited government and a strong national defense.

McKeon has delivered on local issues as well. He prevented Elsmere Canyon from becoming the largest landfill in America.

About 50 percent of our drinking water comes from the Saugus Aquifer and he has led the federal effort to remove perchlorate contamination from the groundwater. I’m especially thankful for his support of the cross-valley connector, which provides residents a second east/west corridor through our valley.

And who said Republicans don’t care about the environment? McKeon authored legislation to preserve 472,000 acres of California wilderness for recreational use and access. He also secured open space for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Now our local businessman, civic leader, school board member, mayor and congressman is going to be chairman of the House Armed Service Committee.

This committee is responsible for equipping and training America’s war fighters so they can protect America’s interest around the globe. His committee has authority over the $740 billion Defense Department budget.

For nearly three decades, The Signal has been interested on McKeon’s take on things. Now tracking his every statement will be the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Britain’s The Economist and Pravda.

Foreign ministers in every capital from Beijing to Tehran will be parsing every word he utters.

McKeon now enters the world stage. We all wish him well and Godspeed.

Scott Thomas Wilk is a member of the California Republican Party and an elected member of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Right Here, Right Now!” runs Fridays and rotates among local Republicans.


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