Former Hope Ranch resident Barney Klinger — industrialist, philanthropist, and hub of Santa Barbara’s Republican Party during the golden years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency — died April 17 at the age of 85. Klinger moved to Santa Barbara in the 1970s, buying a 35-acre, 53-room mansion in Hope Ranch, which he opened up to various community organizations and the Republican Party for fundraisers. Klinger counted former presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as personal friends, and Reagan — who famously maintained a backcountry getaway in Refugio Canyon — was a frequent visitor at the Klinger estate. It was Klinger’s proposal to build a cogeneration plant off the coast of UCSB, however, that would trigger then-chancellor Robert Huttenback’s fall from power in the mid-1980s and subsequent criminal prosecution. Huttenback found himself in serious hot water with his faculty senate because Klinger’s cogeneration proposal — which would have supplied the energy needs for UCSB as well as offshore oil facilities — had not been put out to bid.
Klinger broke with his party — violating Reagan’s famous “11th Commandment” that Republicans should never speak ill of each other — in 1994, supporting Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid for the U.S. Senate against Michael Huffington. Klinger openly derided Huffington, describing the Texas millionaire as seeking “to buy” a Senate seat by spending $75 million of his own money and being “totally devoid of intelligence.” For good measure, Klinger added, “He would make a very, very good apprentice at a McDonald’s.” Klinger also worked hand-in-glove with left-leaning Democrats — like Chuck Blitz — to bring Huffington down. Feinstein managed to win that race but only narrowly. Klinger left Santa Barbara not long afterward, moving to Santa Clarita, where he ran the company Applied Companies with Joseph Klinger, his son, almost until the end. He also remained actively involved in politics.