Ukiah attorney Al Kubanis has a really cool office. Smack dab across from the county courthouse’s Perkins Street entrance, you can’t miss it from the street; just head for the building with the unapologetic Trump poster in the east second-floor corner window. Once you walk through the glass doors take a deep breath and trudge up the steep 27 stairs to the second floor and turn left. The jovial Kubanis greeted me at the door and led me back to his office, which is beautiful in the way that buildings more than a hundred years old are often beautiful: warm woods, tall windows, lots of light. Except for the window covered up by the Trump poster, of course. “It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter,” he laughed. “I love it.”
About the poster, Kubanis said, “I put the sign up there mostly to offend the Left. I’m telling them I’m not going to be intimidated by your threats and epithets,” which he says he hears early and often. “The Left isn’t about democracy, they’re about power,” he said, explaining how the Left and the Right have come to loggerheads and become so intolerant of one another (mostly, in his view, from the Left). “The Left is much more concerned about politics than the Right,” he said, adding that most of the Right is religious while most of the Left is humanist. “Their religion is politics, which is why the Left views the Right as evil. We sin against their politics; therefore, anything is justified.”
Kubanis didn’t always see things this way. “My parents were very pro-Franklin Roosevelt,” he said. “My dad was blue collar and worked in factories in East Pittsburgh.” Kubanis said that his schooling in California reinforced his parents’ liberal view of the world. “I was indoctrinated in left-wing politics. I never heard a conservative idea when I was in high school. I never heard a conservative idea when I was in law school.” Kubanis said he even voted Democratic back in the day. “In the first presidential campaign where I could vote I voted for Lyndon Johnson,” he said. “I’ll probably burn in Hell for that.” Kubanis believes that LBJ’s welfare program was racist and “did immense harm to the United States, particularly to blacks,” ultimately diminishing the power of black churches and other private local organizations that, in his view, more effectively helped the poor. “If you tell people they’re victims they’re not likely to make the effort to succeed,” he said. “The Left has a very difficult time holding minorities to the same standards that they hold whites. It’s wrong, and unfair to the minorities.” Given this philosophical dynamic, he believes it’s ironic that Democrats have so successfully courted black and Hispanic voters, especially since he says the latter are mostly Catholic and conservative. “The last Republican to get the majority of the black vote was Dwight Eisenhower,” he said.
In the mid-70s Kubanis was a prosecutor in Orange County trying to decide whether to either go into private practice or head north. He opted to head north and hired on as a county prosecutor in Ukiah in 1976. “I took a $17,000 pay cut to get up here, I wanted to come up so badly,” he said. “$17,000 back then was a good chunk of change.” He stayed with the DA’s office until 1985, when he went into private practice, where he still practices mostly criminal defense law to this day. He also ran unsuccessfully for judge and district attorney and served three 4-year terms on the county’s Republican Central Committee. About his tenure on the central committee he said, “Then Republicans were about 30 percent…when I left they were 33 percent of the electorate. Mendo is hopeless.” He blames the Democratic takeover of county politics on several trends. “Most conservatives go into business or maybe the professions,” he explained, "while the Left tends to go into teaching.” He added that when he moved to Mendo the northward exodus was well underway. “When I first moved here in ‘76, the people I call the Berkeley dropouts moved here and took over the Democratic Party. And being well educated and very serious about politics they took it all over.” Kubanis said that those mostly Democratic teachers then branched out to the media and politics, where they still dominate. He cited the AVA as an example. “I know Mr. Anderson’s politics,” he said. “When I visited [him] 30 years ago…he had a poster of Eugene Debs on the wall, a very serious socialist.” (Five-time U.S. presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, the eloquent Debs was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World [“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free”]).
“It’s very hard to overcome a lifetime of education in particular beliefs,” Kubanis said, [even when they are based on] "a misunderstanding of human nature, a misunderstanding of history, a misunderstanding of what I call the human condition.” The Left’s newly awakened support of socialism is a prime example, as he sees it, of this fundamental misunderstanding. “If you know about human nature and the lust for power that doesn’t wash,” he said, adding that it’s also human nature “to want to be rewarded for extra work.” Kubanis believes that the Democratic Party has “lurched increasingly to the left,” forcing political accommodation of socialists like recently elected U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “O-C is a threat to Pelosi’s power but she has to accommodate her,” he said.
Despite this left-leaning trend, Kubanis said it’s way too early to write off a two-term Trump administration. Pointing out that the polls leading up to Trump’s 2016 election, “were all dead wrong,” Kubanis said there’s a lot to like about the president, which does not include actually liking him. “One of the things I like about Trump is that he’s not likeable,” he said. “He is a businessman. He wants results. And he doesn’t have much dogma.” As an example, Kubanis cited the president’s pragmatic views on the endless war in the Middle East as an example of what he sees as Trump’s results-oriented focus. “How long have we been there? What does it cost us? And what do we have to show for that?” are the kinds of questions Kubanis thinks the president asks himself, questions this reporter has heard many times in corporate board rooms about the pros and cons of business deals.
In prioritizing major issues dogging the country, Kubanis sounds a lot like a Democrat. The first he mentioned was income inequality, very much a talking point with Democrats though income disparity has steadily widened for decades through both Republican and Democratic administrations. “When I first moved here there was fishing on the coast, there was logging, they paid pretty well, now grapes have taken everything over,” he said. “The Left made it possible.” He added that the country’s corporate structure is partly to blame, another plank in the Democratic platform (though Democrats have been just as guilty as Republicans in enriching corporations and advancing their interests). “The board of directors is supposed to police how that corporation functions, but it’s gotten to where appointed members of the board virtually go along with whatever the executive says,” Kubanis said. “They could rein that in.” (According to AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch, in 2018, CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average worker, up from 20 times the average worker’s pay in the 1950s.) Hmmm…another stated Democratic priority though Democrats are every bit as guilty as Republicans in eliminating or blunting regulations that allowed this to happen. This led directly to Kubanis’s concern about the inequity of the tax code and the need for an escalated tax system. “Oh, boy, we know that most Republicans are against that,” he said, though he said that Republican opposition is largely because of loopholes that reduce tax burdens on corporations and the rich, to the extent that “even a huge corporation can pay virtually no taxes,” he said. “We have to increase the taxes to the upper segment where they can’t dodge them.” Kubanis believes there should be a flat tax, which he says would tax everyone at between 15 and 17 percent.
Kubanis sounds more classically Republican when it comes to education, another area that he believes needs drastic reform, starting with competition. “Competition is wonderful and forces excellence,” he said. “It works in business. It doesn’t work in government because there is no competition.” Kubanis believes that competition would ultimately reward good teachers (“…a very hard job”), get rid of bad ones, “destroy” the teacher’s union, allow vouchers, and fire half of school administrators. How would Republicans accomplish this? “They have to take an interest in education and get involved in the boards of education, and they have to insist that children be taught English, mathematics, and honest history,” he said. “That has to happen.” And he thinks that kids themselves will lead the charge to change things. “Children never listen to their parents,” he said. “They will revolt against the leftist ideas of their parents sooner or later.”
Finally, Kubanis told me that despite the country’s ills and sometimes wrong-minded thinking, he’s still an optimist. ”I am an optimist that if we can keep our values that we’ll get through and we’ll adapt and we can continue to be a great country,” he said. “Our strength is that we have an almost infinite ability to adapt. But it’s also a huge weakness, which is the way things go. The weakness is that we can tolerate nearly anything.”