The many problems of Richard Pombo

  • Jon Margolis

 

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.

Some definitions 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.

There is 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 Abramoff.

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 Resources Committee.

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 re-elected.

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 McCloskey.

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 on it.

Author Jon Margolis writes about the doings in Washington, D.C., from a safe distance — Vermont.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000