Monday, January 14, 2002
Former Republican Assemblyman Larry Bowler Helping in Romania
By DANIEL DULLUM
SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—Larry Bowler isn’t a Romanian, but he’s become a hero to many of them.
By following the well-traveled path of one thing leading to another, Bowler, a former representative in the California Assembly from Sacramento, has helped make college education a reality for many underfinanced citizens of Romania.
Bowler helped organize a foundation for Liberty University of California, a post-graduate Internet-based college founded in 1999. More than 100 students are enrolled and can earn either a Ph.D. or a master’s degree in any of 20 different disciplines. The degrees are accepted in the United States.
“I’m probably more inspired by them [the Romanians] than they are by me,” said Bowler, who was a Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy for 30 years before serving in the Assembly from 1993 to 1999. “It’s been a good thing for me.”
“It’s more than what we expected because we don’t yet have our marketing in place. People found out about it by word of mouth, through friends, the church and the community,” said Dr. Viorel Duca, a chancellor for LUC. “With our colleagues in Modesto, we’re trying to put something together. In the next three months, we expect to expand to 500 students.
“The Romanian community is served very well.”
Bowler’s involvement with the Romanian immigrants began during his term in the Assembly.
“I knew a Romanian businessman who called me and said, ‘We have a delegation of Romanian politicians and business leaders coming up here and I can’t get anyone excited enough to show them respect,’” Bowler recalled. “I said, ‘It’s because Romania is such a nothing country with a throwaway economy.’ I can talk to him that way because he’s a personal friend.”
Bowler advised him to bring his delegation to the Capitol, where he would introduce them to both the Assembly and Senate floors.
“There’s some applause and the automatic television cameras focus on them and it made them feel important,” Bowler said. “Over the years, I became ‘their guy,’ because I showed them respect.
“Their own history is that if you get involved in politics, you get shot. Here, that same philosophy is in their head,” he continued. “Then I came along and said, ‘I can teach you how to maneuver around within the system and raise your political profile as a community.’”
A year later, the Romanians asked Bowler to arrange a meeting with the University of California Board of Regents. He followed through, not only with a meeting with the regents, but also with high-level university officials in Berkeley.
“I drove to Berkeley and made sure the meeting went the way it was supposed to,” Bowler said. “I felt that most Americans have very little regard for Romanians, other than that they’re human beings. Their country, historically, has always been in shambles. It has suffered under 40 years of Communist domination and most of the people who are here literally escaped.”
Bowler accepted an invitation to visit Romania and stayed for 10 days as part of a delegation that mingled with local business, education and religious leaders. After returning home, Bowler began the work of setting up an Internet site for what became Liberty University of California.
“It was originally set up for Romanians,” Bowler said. “The average income for someone working in Romania is $1.50 a day, so they can’t afford to go to college. We set this up so they can get an education on the Internet.”
Even with all of the good intentions, Bowler soon discovered a logistical snag—a lack of Internet access for most Romanian citizens.
Arrangements were made with Vasile Goldis, Romania’s largest private university, and Aurel Vlaicu, a Romanian government university. Both are located in Arad.
“We had to go over to an existing on-site university and arrange to allow our students to use their computers to access the Internet and get their education,” Bowler explained.
The Web site, www.luofc.edu, gives class and registration information. Duca said the four main areas of study are Christian psychology, business administration, law and theology.
“On the site, you can sign up for classes, be assigned to three professors who would be your doctoral board,” Bowler said. “One could be in Africa, one could be in the U.S. and one could be in Romania.”
“Larry is helping us to promote through the American mind. He’s working with us to have the best results,” Duca said. “He’s leading the university in a direction, not only to the European mind, but also the American mind in the curriculum and how the university is supposed to run.”
Unlike in the United States, the Internet is not free in Romania, Bowler said.
“They have to pay per keystroke,” he said. “So they do their work off-line and punch enough keys to send it to their doctoral board mentor.”
Bowler made a second trip to Romania to deliver an academic paper on making and enforcing California law to a symposium. He returned again to deliver wheelchairs and, with each trip, saw more of the oppression created during the term of Romania’s former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who was shot and killed along with his family in a military revolution 12 years ago.
“That country is hard for us to comprehend. All of its infrastructure is in shambles,” Bowler said. “The damage was all created by Ceausescu, who took all the money from the treasury and built a building in Bucharest he thought would compete with the Pentagon. It’s the second biggest building in the world and I’ve been in it.
“It was built completely from marble but he broke the country to build it and they can’t afford to keep it up.”
Bowler is also involved with Romanians for California, which helps Romanian immigrants become more politically involved in the United States. He found himself traveling across America during the 2000 election campaign, in his words, “as a speaker for George W. Bush to the Romanian community.”
“I traveled anywhere I could get 200 or more Romanians together to talk to them. A group of Romanian businessmen funded this,” Bowler said.
“There are 1.3 million Romanians in America and I was able to organize them to vote as a bloc.”
During a Bush campaign stop in Portland, Ore., Bowler received some intriguing insights from two Romanian immigrants following his speech.
“One said to me, ‘The trouble with Democrats is that they smell like Communists.’ The other one said, ‘The Democrats are just Communist Lite,’” Bowler said. “‘The same things the Democrats are saying now are what we heard 40 to 50 years ago and look what it did to us.’
“They’re very aware of their own history and how it seems to be repeating itself here.”
While he never foresaw becoming a professor for an Internet university, Bowler’s work with the Romanian community has proven to be some of the most satisfying of his life, he said.
For his efforts, he received an honorary doctorate from the college he helped found.
During his Assembly term, Bowler survived his share of storms—and an ongoing battle with then Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, D-San Francisco. He regrets only that he couldn’t accomplish as much as he wanted to.
“Once you’re elected to the Assembly, you see that the only way to get anything philosophical done is to have the biggest gang,” Bowler said. “There was one year while I served that Republicans had the biggest gang. That one year, we got some things passed through that are reflective of traditional American values.”
What Larry Bowler has learned since leaving the Assembly, however, is that one man can accomplish a lot in the world—even without the biggest gang.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company