This must be the winter of Richard Pombo’s discontent, or it would be if they had winter in California.
It isn’t just that his plan to privatize 15
national parks and other public lands went kerblooey, or that he
found it prudent to give away several thousand dollars of
embarrassing campaign contributions. It isn’t just that three
Democrats are seeking to run against him in November, or even that
two Republicans plan to challenge him in the primary as he seeks
his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There are other troubles, too. First, Pombo, the powerful chairman
of the House Resources Committee, got Abramoffed. If that
wasn’t bad enough, he also got Hurwitzed. And perhaps most
humiliating of all, the press discovered that one of his supporters
had attempted a reverse Siegenthaler.
are required here. Charles Hurwitz is known largely for owning the
company that clear-cut several thousand acres of old-growth
California redwoods. He is also a Houston millionaire from whom the
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was seeking $300
million as partial compensation for the $1.6 billion taxpayers
spent to bail out a Texas savings and loan he helped run.
Last month, the Los Angeles Times revealed that
Pombo and fellow California Republican Rep. John T. Doolittle
subpoenaed the FDIC’s confidential records on the Hurwitz
case. To call such interference with a federal investigation
unprecedented would be an exaggeration. To suggest that it is
highly unusual would be an understatement. But it worked: The FDIC
dropped the investigation.
John Siegenthaler is an
honored and honorable retired newspaper editor, known for his work
at the Nashville Tennessean and USA
Today He was in the news recently because some fool
inserted false and defamatory "information" into the article about
him in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia "that
anyone can edit," as it proclaims.
How embarrassing for
Pombo, then, that on Super Bowl Sunday, the
Argus in California’s East Bay ran a story
detailing how someone had altered Pombo’s
Wikipedia entry, conveniently deleting material
that might not look good to the average voter.
no evidence that Pombo was behind the changes. Still, it
didn’t look good, especially considering that some of the
deleted material was about Pombo’s relationship with Jack
Everyone not actually residing under a rock
knows Abramoff as the Washington character with whom no other
Washington character wishes to be associated. Especially to be
avoided is any indication of having taken his money, eaten at his
restaurant, or had staff members go to work for his lobbying firm.
All three apply to Pombo.
Not that Pombo was among the
GOP congressmen closest to Abramoff; as far as anyone knows, Pombo
paid the bill whenever he ate at Signatures, the absurdly expensive
eatery Abramoff owned. Pombo received only $7,000 in campaign
contributions from Abramoff (that’s what he gave away).
But late last year, FBI agents visited the headquarters
of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts. It turns out that
the Wampanoags’ 30-year struggle to gain national tribal
recognition made sudden progress after they hired Abramoff as their
lobbyist — and contributed $20,000 to Pombo’s political
action committees. Pombo had considerable say in the Wampanoag
case: The Native American Affairs Subcommittee is part of his
This kind of publicity complicates
Pombo’s two current ambitions — to get the Senate to
pass his emasculation of the Endangered Species Act, and to get
Pombo’s ESA bill narrowly passed the
House late last year. Its chances in the Senate, never very good,
grow worse as the image of its chief sponsor does; a congressman
has less clout when he (a) is under investigation, and (b) could
lose his seat.
For the record, though, Pombo is less
likely to lose his seat than his critics like to think. Yes, Pombo
will face primary opposition from Pete McCloskey, the liberal
Republican who left Congress in 1982 after 15 years, during which
he helped write the Endangered Species Act. McCloskey, though
ruggedly handsome and outspoken, is 78 (Pombo recently turned 45),
just moved into the district, and probably would have a better
chance as a Democrat.
Complicating matters somewhat,
70-year-old businessman Tom Benigno plans to enter the GOP primary,
associating his campaign with the anti-immigration views of
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Benigno, then, would run to
Pombo’s right, no doubt taking more votes from him than from
Still, Pombo is expected to win the primary,
after which he will face either Jerry McNerney, an engineer he beat
in 2004, or former Navy pilot Steve Filson. A third candidate,
self-described activist Steve Thomas, is not given much chance.
Pombo’s district is shaped almost as weirdly as the
famous Massachusetts district that inspired the word "gerrymander."
Like all California districts, it was artfully drawn to protect its
incumbent and his party.
By the usual political
arithmetic, that makes the district noncompetitive. But that was
before its incumbent’s connections to Abramoff and other
shady characters were quite as well known. Pombo could still win,
but were it not an inappropriate figure of speech under the
circumstances, one could advise against betting the family fortune