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Know the West

They're baa-aaack. . .


A sunken-eyed old man dressed in stiff, black Puritan clothes stalks a suburban neighborhood. The TV turns on by itself. A toy phone rings and rings -- tinny and off-key -- in the dead of night. A little blond girl crawls out of bed. Lifts the receiver to her ear, pauses, turns. Then, in a skin-crawling monotone that heralds the monstrous things yet to come, speaks: "They're baa-aaack."

That's right. It's an election year. Well, actually, it's the horror film sequel Poltergeist II: The Other Side, but the parallels are uncanny. 2010 may be only a few days old, but at least one major enviro-political boogieman has already popped out from under the bed. On January 5, former California Congressman Richard Pombo, R, confirmed that he plans to seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, this time from the 19th District, just next door to the 11th, which he represented from 1991 through 2006. 

Pombo, who at the end of his tenure served as Chairman of the influential House Resources Committee, is (in)famous in environmental circles for repeatedly attempting to gut the Endangered Species Act, as well as for promoting bills to sell off federal land, pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, killing wilderness proposals, and going after the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and other environmental laws.

In 2006, the "unbeatable" congressman was unseated by Democrat Jerry McNerney thanks in large part to a $1.5 million grassroots campaign mounted against him by a coalition of environmental groups. Now, Pombo's raring for his sequel, reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

"I'm ready to get back in the wars," Pombo told Fresno radio station KMJ host Ray Appleton ... His first move, he promised, would be to take on the Endangered Species Act again. If elected, he would likely regain his seniority in Congress, analysts said, giving him more immediate clout in Washington than his opponents.

Pombo is not the only infamous Right-winger looking to make a return. New Mexico Republican Steve Pearce, a three-term Congressman who made a losing Senate bid in 2008, is running for his old seat against freshman Democrat Harry Teague. Pearce, who has staunchly backed the fossil fuel industry, appears to be banking that a platform of fiscal responsibility will help him capitalize on voter anger stirred up by the economic crisis, reports the L.A. Times:

(Pearce) criticizes both parties ... saying the explosion in spending under President George W. Bush has only gotten worse under Obama. "Both parties tend to get there and forget who they were and begin to talk differently than they do here," Pearce recently told a gathering of the Chaves County Republican Women in Roswell.

... After battles over healthcare, a climate-change bill and hundreds of billions in spending to spur the economy, it is Democrats who face a backlash and Republicans who are campaigning on a promise of change.

Indeed, Pearce's economic woes strategy isn't unique. In Colorado, Republican gubernatorial candidates have been hammering incumbent Democrat Bill Ritter for his support of sweeping new state environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry. The rules came into effect just as the economy tanked and energy companies began idling drilling rigs and laying off workers all over the state, making Ritter an easy fall guy for gas-patch hardships.

At first, Gov. Ritter tried to capitulate. Last summer, he hailed natural gas as a "mission-critical fuel" to fight climate change and vowed to help up demand for the energy source in the state. Ritter also came out in opposition of Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette's FRAC Act, which would have removed natural gas drilling's exemption from regulation under the Clean Drinking Water Act. 

This week, though, Ritter shocked both parties when he announced that he does not plan to seek reelection this fall. In a letter to supporters sent Wednesday, Ritter wrote,

Ending one of my roles -- as a candidate for re-election in 2010 -- will allow me to concentrate on the things that are most important: taking care of my family, and taking care of Colorado ... The Colorado economy is getting better, but we still have budget-cutting to do on the '09-'10 and '10-'11 budgets, and we'll be submitting the '11-'12 budget in November. By not running for re-election, I'll be able to make the tough and unpopular decisions that simply need to get made -- free and clear of the sometimes bitter partisan politics of an election year.

Ritter's election in 2006 was part of a wave of Democratic and moderate election wins that has often been hailed as a sign of a West growing away from its historically conservative roots.  If Ritter's latest announcement is a sign of anything, it may be that the West hasn't grown so far from those roots after all, and that we may be in store for a jolting swing right back to them.

Then again, Hollywood's been threatening to release a remake of the first Poltergeist movie for a while without any results. Coincidentally, it was supposed to come out in November, 2010. Now, Web sites promoting it refer vaguely to 2011. So are they "baa-aaack"? Maybe. But not yet.