Monday, October 31, 2005

Pombo's Extremist Ties

One of the bigger themes I hope to address in this blog is Pombo’s constant, extremist attacks on settled American laws that enjoy widespread, bi-partisan support.  The Endangered Species Act is just one of a large number of laws that Richard Pombo is seeking to undermine for ideological reasons that would immediately marginalize him if he admitted them publicly.          

Many people view Richard Pombo’s attack on environmental law as a manifestation of his close ties to environmentally rapacious industries.  Although this is true, it is also less than the whole story.  

You see, Richard Pombo also has close ties to various extremist right-wing fringe groups that have, shall we say, a rather “novel” view of property rights.  David Neiwert from Orcinus, the blogosphere’s resident expert on these fringe groups, looked at Pombo’s relationship to them earlier this month.  Here is the important nugget from a much longer essay, which I encourage everyone to read (emphasis mine):

Since his election to Congress in 1994, Pombo has been on the leading edge of the right-wing assault on environmental law, and in the process has aligned himself with some of the right's most radical elements. Besides constantly attacking the ESA and "radical environmentalists," he has also been a leading proponent of "takings legislation," a strategy favored by some property-rights advocates that argues for compensation for landowners affected by environmental laws.Tarso Ramos explained the upshot of this activism for Public Eye:

Proponents of takings legislation argue that it will provide relief to small property owners who, they say, are increasingly restricted by wetlands ordinances, growth management laws, and other environmental statutes. Such arguments can be persuasive, since government bureaucracy does sometimes generate burdensome, irrational, and even harmful regulations, and as the relationship between, for example, wetlands protection and the public health is somewhat technical, as well as indirect. However, under regulatory takings doctrine, in order to prohibit industrial polluters from fouling air, land, and water, the public would be required to pay the cost of pollution prevention. This quite direct relationship between regulatory takings law, environmental protections, and the public health is either ignored by proponents or is resolved in the manner suggested by Ron Arnold: if a citizen can show a violation of rights by a corporate polluter or anyone else, let her or him sue.
So-called "Wise Use" groups were especially active on this front -- and one of the foremost of these activists, Chuck Cushman of Battle Ground, Wash., has in the ensuing decade become one of Pombo's closest associates. His American Land Rights Association remains one of the most visible and potent of the "Wise Use" property-rights group.

So every time Richard Pombo comments about property rights or environmental policy, we need to understand what he says in the context of his connections to these fringe groups.  We simply cannot and should not allow him to bolster these types of extremist positions, either rhetorically or in the substantively in the legislation he pushes, without calling him to task for this.  

We should all understand explicitly that fighting Richard Pombo means fighting not just his policies, but the ideology that undergirds his policy.  To that end, we must sift through Pombo’s constant stream of bullshit to educate ourselves about the various code-words Pombo uses to appease his allies in the extreme right-wing and about the real aims behind his words and his actions.  Pombo is much more than a venal politician, and that makes him more dangerous.  So let us educate ourselves about him so that we can more effectively fight him and the extremist agenda he represents.  


Something Eerie

Last night, near the witching hour, I saw something dark and evil.  We all know that Richard Pombo rides around as the black knight of American environmental policy, but did you know that he is also a sorcerer and political alchemist?  Do you doubt me?  I have evidence, though it is terrible to look upon.  

Pombo has gathered his base political actions and through the Philosopher’s Stone of the internet, transmogrified them into golden words.  I already knew that he dabbled in these dark arts, but little did I understand how skilled he had become.  Behold all who dare!  Bullshit in bar-form:          

“I'm working for the local people, for cleaner, safer air and water, and healthy, sustainable resources.”

May the gods save us all.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Margee Ensign likely to enter race

POSTED BY Scott Restivo,

I met with Margee Ensign yesterday, and she indicated it is "very likely" she will enter the race for the 11th Congressional District of California. She plans to form an exploratory commission in the next week or so, and then formally announce by Nov. 17th. Of course, nothing is official until it's official. But from my talk with her, she wants to run and is taking the necessary steps to formally enter the race.

Margee Ensign is Dean of the School of International Studies at the University of Pacific in Stockton. She has big name recognition and respect in the Valley. She is an accomplished woman, very bright, energetic, and intelligent. She is on top of the issues locally, nationally, and internationally in ways that I have not seen in the other candidates, or even Pombo for that matter.

My opinion has always been that a successful candidate must come out of the Central Valley. A strong candidate must be known as someone who has contributed to and worked hard for the Stockton area community. Ensign, as Dean, has certainly done this. Her work at the International Studies institute has benefited Stockton. She has been actively involved in the community. Also, she writes a column in the Stockton Record, plus hosts a cable TV show, " The Real Reality", through the Peace and Justice Network of San Joaquin (

She presented me with some real concerns about the Valley -- high poverty, high infant mortality, air pollution, degraded water quality, high asthma rates, poor educational system, lack of high-end jobs.

And my sense is that these are not some campaign consultant's suggestions, derived after polling. These are not soundbites she concocted to win votes. Instead, I see that her concern for the Valley comes out of her heart, as a mother, as a citizen, as a community leader, and as a person living there. She sincerely cares about the people of the Valley and the quality of life there. That was my sense in talking with her, and I think when others hear her speak, they will feel this too.

I believe she could inspire voters both old and young with a positive vision for the Valley's future. An energizing, inspiring candidate is something I have not yet seen in this race, and why it has been so lackluster. I have worked with Jerry McNerney, I have heard Steve Filson speak, but, with all due respect, they are not in the same league.

Both Filson and McNerney also lack the strong Central Valley connections and presence.

In short, my take is that Margee Ensign cares about the community, is involved in it, and has a passion to make it better. She has the professional qualifications and experience to run for Congress. And she has the strongest potential of anyone I have seen so far to present a positive view of the Valley's future, to inspire voters, and to beat Pombo.

Friends, if she does officially enter the race, we will have a contender!

Scott R.

PS: She is speaking at Diablo Valley College on Nov. 17th, I believe, as well as making another East Bay appearance soon. I will send/post details once I hear more on these appearances.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Filson: Raised the Floor and Lowered the Ceiling

As both Babaloo and VPO have noted, Steve Filson spoke at the San Ramon Democratic Club this past Thursday.  Since they have both have posted about the event, I want to go back in fill in some of the blank spaces and perform more of an analysis than engage in a play-by-play description.  If you have not read their posts, it’s probably best to read them before you proceed.

My overall reaction to Filson after the event was, as I noted in the title, that he raised the floor but lowered the ceiling of what I expect from him.

As I mentioned briefly in an earlier post, I had a chance to speak to Steve Filson.  When we met he almost immediately deduced who I was and my relation to this blog, which both surprised me and didn’t surprise me.  

I had known that this blog had been visited by someone located at the University of Michigan Medical School and that this person was directed here by a Google search for the keywords “Steve Filson” and “congress.”  Since I knew Steve Filson had a son at the medical school there, and since common sense dictates that anyone at the medical school in Michigan googling “Steve Filson” (but not say “Pombo”) this early in the campaign was somehow connected to his son, I assumed that the Filson campaign was either aware of everything happening on this blog, or would soon become aware of it.  

But at the same time, I was caught a little bit unprepared for how quickly Filson laid his cards on the table.  I’m not sure if he was trying to play a game of gotcha, if he was just trying to be open and transparent, or if he wanted to seem like he was on top of things.  Maybe it was a little bit of all three.  But since I blog under my own name, I have accepted the fact that people may know who I am and what I’ve said.

In any event, I asked him what he thought of my blog and he gave me a pretty honest answer.  He made two things very clear in his answer.  First he made clear that he was “irked” by the meme going around, and given credence on this blog, that he had been anointed.  Second, he spent a bit of time asserting that he was a genuine Democrat, and expressing his belief that it’s unfair to hold against him the fact that he used to be a Republican.    

With regard to the second point, I agree with him to an extent.  It’s not fair to simply write Filson off because he had been a Republican almost twenty years ago.  On the other hand, Filson made clear in his speech that his transition from Republican to Democrat was more about party self-identification than changing ideology.  He mentioned how the union-busting of Republicans in the 80’s convinced him that they weren’t his “friends.”  Furthermore, in his speech Filson’s apologetics (remember, he was speaking to a Democratic Club) ran along the line of “I have always been a Democrat but just didn’t know it.”  

But this cuts both ways for him too.  If his ideology hasn’t shifted, then when he says that he is a “moderate-centrist Democrat” (which he said in his speech), we ought to understand that on some issues he may even be a bit Right of Center, or at least Right of the most Democrats.  So when people discount him for being a former Republican, it may be more a comment about his ideology than a comment about his party credentials.  This is especially true since Filson has strongly aligned himself with Ellen Tauscher who is, to put it mildly, not beloved by Progressives.                

That said, I want to now return to the first point he made (i.e. that he was bothered by the use of “anointed” to describe him) because the conversation the followed raised some very interesting points.  

After Filson said that he was irked by the meme that he has been anointed, I suggested to him that he could have avoided this characterization if he had introduced himself to the district before traveling to Washington to meet with the movers and shakers in the DCCC.  After all, I know people important Democratic Party grassroots players in area who found out about his candidacy from the newspaper before they even knew who Filson was.        

His response to this comment was one of the most interesting things he said all night.  He told me that everything happened so fast that he hardly knew what was happening.  But then he said about the positive reaction to him in Washington—and this is the bit that has provided me with endless food for thought—“It wasn’t me, it was what I brought.”  

Two things about this.  a) I think he was speaking about the same type of thing (albeit from a different perspective) that led VPO and Babaloo to label Filson “generic.”  What he brings, in terms of a political resume, is very standard for politicians.  He was an Eagle Scout, he was in the Navy, he has deep roots where he lives, he’s married and has some children, he has some involvement with a union, etc.  But b) this just reinforces the notion that he has been anointed by people from outside of the district.  After all, the starting point of his candidacy was Washington, D.C.  The people in Washington liked him because of what he brought.  But what does he bring that is specific to the district, as opposed to somewhat formulaic?  

I could see Filson running for City Council on his resume.  But he has a rather thin resume to be running for Congress if what he’s running on is his resume.  Although the same is arguably true about McNerney, he is not really running on his resume.    

Sure McNerney’s experience in wind energy allows him o speak pretty credibly about clean energy, which dovetails with the environmental concerns that prompt so many to hate Pombo.  But my conversations with McNerney supporters all turn to the fact that McNerney stood up to Pombo when standing up to Pombo was tough and unpopular.  That is, McNerney supporters view his first run against Pombo as a demonstration of McNerney’s character (they view it in terms of moral courage and toughness), rather than as an achievement to go on his political resume.  

So when Steve Filson admits that his backers in Washington chose him based on what he brings to the table, when that does not include any demonstrated ability to win campaigns or any type of  popularity (let alone popular support) within his district, you really have to question what criteria the people in Washington use.  He brings to the table his connections with Ellen Tauscher and a small segment of the Democratic Party establishment in his local area.  He brings to the table the ability to raise a fair amount of money.  But most of what he brings to the table is the formulaic set of characteristics that certainly do not harm him, but really do little to seal the deal for people.  I hope there is something deeper that I’m missing.  Filson would probably say that I’m missing his deep connection to the Central Valley. He made much ado about this in his speech.  But despite the fact that he lived in the Central Valley for four years in the 70’s, and despite the fact that he’s cleaned out a swamp cooler, I just don’t see a connection strong enough to really make a difference.

To some degree, I don’t give him the benefit of the doubt here because of something related, something that is more an impression than anything else.  Listening to Steve Filson, especially how he responded to questions, really made me see him as a upper-middle class to rich individual.  I mean, Filson is an airline pilot and his wife is a lawyer.  Although I’m sure he has his financial issues like most people, he and his wife are probably in the top 10% of the country in terms of their collective income. But more to the point, it’s not just that Steve Filson is well to do (it’s not a sin to have money after all), it’s that he comes across as obviously well-off.  

When asked about pensions, Filson responded by discussing how he will be forced to retire at 60, but will not be considered fully retired until he’s 65, which will apparently cut his pension by quite a bit.  Maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t understand why he was talking about himself when 90,000 residents in the district receive Social Security, and when many of them need their Social Security check just to get by.  He mentioned an attack on the middle class, noting that college graduates were earning less money than ever before.  Fair enough.  But what about all of the people who are priced out of college, or who attended public schools so underfunded that they never were prepared to go to college?  When asked about the recent Bankruptcy Bill, Filson said he was opposed to it because it was bad for small business owners.  What about the rest of us?  Filson spoke a great deal nominally about the “middle class,” but much of what he said sounded to me like it was really about upwardly mobile suburbanites.  True, there are a lot of these people in the middle class, but they alone do not constitute the middle class.          

Looking back on what I’ve written, I realize that it’s very hard to articulate what I’m really getting at.  It’s not just that I thought Filson answered the questions unartfully in my estimation, it’s that he did not seem to have any special authenticity when he spoke about these subjects.  It reminded me a little bit of how my mom speaks about hip-hop—you know something like “Yo yo yo boom boom boom fresh yo” along with a silly dance.  (I’m not sure if that image helps anyone else, but I’m too partial to it to erase it).  In any event, I just didn’t buy it.  On some level, it just didn’t sit right.  This in spite of the earnestness with which he spoke.

I know this post has gotten really long, so I just want to look at one final thing before ending.  I have mentioned in various places that Ellen Tauscher is (or maybe was at this point, I’m not sure) the Vice Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).  A lot of Democrats view the DLC as particularly pernicious to the Democratic Party for a number of reasons.  Steve Filson is not, and ought not to be, held responsible for the activities of Ellen Tauscher.  But meeting with him in San Ramon and watching him speak really brought home his relationship to the DLC.  Specifically, there were two aspects of what he said that were particularly DLC-esque for me.

First, in describing his position on the debacle in Iraq, Filson said the he would demand metrics and measurements of success but not a timetable to withdraw.  This, in broad strokes, is my understanding of the position of Wesley Clark.  But Filson also took the further step of saying that demanding a timetable to withdraw would be “irresponsible.”  

In my view, by calling a position taken by many Democrats “irresponsible” he sinned against the Democratic Party.  The Republicans call a timetable “irresponsible.”  George Bush calls it “irresponsible.”  But this is hogwash.  As a Democrat you are allowed to disagree in substance from other Democrats.  But you are not allowed, in my book, to take a Republican talking point and turn it on your fellow Democrats.  The DLC does this all the time, which is why so many Democrats view them as something of a fifth column within the party.  Disagreement is fine, but don’t make your candle appear brighter by snuffing the flame of other Democrats.  Find some other way to talk about the disagreement.  Period.

Second, Filson spent a great deal of time in his speech and in his conversation with me talking about how he’s been involved in Democratic campaigns for the last nine years.  I think that’s wonderful.  What I think is less wonderful is that he speaks as if one’s connection to the Democratic Party is determined by one’s closeness to the elected Democratic officials.  In fact, he specifically told me that the “stakeholder groups” (my phrase which he adopted in response to a question) of the Democratic Party in the area were the elected officials.

The problem I have with that is that the elected officials are elected to represent The People.  We do not elect barons as Democrats or as citizens.  And there is therefore something fundamentally wrong when someone does not conceptualize elected officials as representatives of The People and instead conceptualizes elected officials as important in and of themselves.  I understand that elected officials have power, and it would be foolish to deny this.  But I take exception to the idea that the people at the top of the hierarchy matter to the exclusion of the people at the bottom.  

And so when Steve Filson spoke about the splinters he had in his fingers from lawn signs from the various campaigns he had been associated with, it came across to me a little like he was extolling his loyalty and usefulness as an apparatchik to some reified Democratic Party institution.  I want to vote for someone who champions the ideas, principles, and values that undergird and give vibrancy to the Democratic Party, not for someone who has simply proven his loyalty to a bunch of officials.

I know that Steve Filson recognizes the values of the Democratic Party.  Moreover, I do not doubt that he is a good person intent on doing what he thinks is right in the world.  But despite all of his talk about fairness, he seemed to have systematically devalued the moral and ideological underpinnings of the Democratic Party in favor of the institutionality of the Democratic Party.  Here too I see echoes of the DLC.

And this devaluation of Democratic values came up in the question and answer session.  I asked Filson why he thinks anyone should vote for him instead of McNerney or potentially Margee Ensign.  His first response was “electibality.”  He said, “We will lose if we go to San Joaquin County and wave the anti-war flag.”  But then he allowed that he might not be “your choice of a champion of Democratic values” or “the Democrat you like,” but that, when considered tactically, he was a better choice.

Maybe someone would lose if they went to San Joaquin County waving the anti-war flag.  But Filson will definitely lose if he does not stand for anything more substantive than his slogan “Defending the American family and fighting for fairness.”  And if he doesn’t stand for anything more, he deserves to lose.  

At the end of the evening, Filson very graciously said that he appreciates this blog because I’m beginning a conversation that otherwise wouldn’t happen and because I force him to be sharp.  Although it may seem especially self-serving, I agree completely with him about this.  But meeting him and listening to him both dispelled some of my concerns and validated others.  You, dear reader, will have to decide the degree to which you share my concerns.  But the concerns that remain for me are substantial.  Miles to go before we sleep I suppose.          

Another Country Heard From

So in keeping with the Rashomon-like recounting of Steve Filson’s appearance Thursday evening before the San Ramon Valley Democratic Club, I’ll offer my version of what happened:

Filson gave a pretty typical speech – outlined his personal, professional and political background, talked a little bit about why he felt compelled to run, discussed his positions on a variety of issues, then took questions. VPO called it “generic.” Well… yeah.

It was in the question-and-answer format that I thought he stumbled badly. Like the other candidates, both declared and not, Filson is a political novice. Now, all of these fledgling candidates are going to make mistakes; we can only hope that their lapses won’t be too damaging and that their lessons will be well-learned.

But here’s the deal: when you’re in a public forum, don’t gratuitously insult the membership of a large and notoriously powerful lobbying organization which represents a significant number of the moderate and conservative voters in your district.

Taking questions from a group of wealthy Democratic supporters, Filson was comfortable and jocular –- maybe a little too comfortable. In such an insular setting it was easy to respond with a glib answer and then spice it up with a really snide little aside. Problem is, this was a public event; Filson may have believed he was among like-minded friends, but that is an incredibly naïve and dangerous assumption to make in the political realm. Just ask Trent Lott.

Now, I hate to do this because, God knows, I love to dish as much as anyone else. But I’m not going to repeat what Steve Filson said. I’m not going to repeat it because the internet has made the world incredibly small and wonderfully accessible. And the first rule of Democratic politics is (or should be) don’t give your Republican opponent a sharp stick. So you’ll just have to trust me that he said something really thoughtless and mean-spirited, a quote that could oh-so-easily be used to effectively scuttle his chances in a District 11 general election.

And this is important. When you’re running for Congress, you shouldn’t have to rely on the goodwill of strangers to keep your indiscreet comments out of public view.

Steve Filson has promoted his candidacy in the past by saying, “We need a fresh face with the credentials that can really attract voters from a wide spectrum.” Maybe. Or maybe we need to develop an experienced hand that won’t drive them away.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Filson Makes His Pitch

POSTED BY Scott Restivo,

Saw Steve Filson give his pitch at the San Ramon Valley Democratic Club
meeting last night, Oct. 27. Here are my comments:

I did not find him all that inspiring. Yes, he is a candidate, but to me, he seems very generic, nothing that will inflame the grassroots. He spoke about his "story" and what led him to run, and stated some generic positions. But he comes off, to me, as sort of, well, "generic" -- yes, he fits the product description of a candidate (family, military, etc), but does not have the pizzazz or "special sauce" that could win.

Here are some of the things he said last night:

Born in San Diego, son of Naval officer, traveled around when young, came back to Calif, joined Navy (1970 - 78), became a pilot, was stationed at a base south of Fresno for 4 years (which is the basis of his claim that he is familiar with the Central Valley). Says he spent "a lot of time" in Stockton and Tracy and "knows how to empty a swamp cooler". Says he has family in Stockton, though he did not specify who or how closely related.

Moved to Danville in 1978, been a Tri-valley resident since then, kids went to UCal Berkeley, he went to church and attended soccer games -- the whole suburban family bit.

Came out of the Navy during a recession, got laid off, used GI Bill to get MBA from St. Mary's College, had two young kids. At about that time, Reagan was busting the Air Traffic Controllers union and then the airlines followed suit to bust the pilots union. He realized the "Republicans are not my friends" and became a Democrat.

Did some campaign work in 1996 for Ellen Tauscher in her fight to unseat Bill Baker. Knocked on doors, stuffed envelopes, put up signs. Was involved in the same manner in 98 and 2000. Put up signs for Elaine Shaw in 2002 in her bid to oust Pombo. Had a house party for Elaine Shaw in 2004 when she lost (to Guy Houston) in her run for State Assembly.

Claims he has been involved for "nearly a decade" and that he has splinters in his thumb from carrying signs, so he "finally feels I've put in my time and earned my stripes". In my opinion, that is a bit of stretch, to say doing routine, volunteer campaign work around election time has earned him the right to run for Congress, with the implication that the Dems should support him for all his "hard work" on other campaigns.

He went on to call himself a "poster child of the middle-class", though his area of Danville is more like upper middle-class and the town itself is considered a wealthy suburb. The "middle-class" in Danville is quite a bit different than the middle-class in Stockton. I know many "middle-class" people in Danville, with homes over a million dollars, new Mercedes and BMWs, well paying executive jobs, and substantial assets from stock appreciation. I don't think the same applies to the Central Valley at this point.

Note there is nothing wrong with being wealthy, but why call yourself "middle-class"? It sounds disingenuous and a bit of pandering.

Anyway, Filson claims the middle-class is "under attack". College grads have to look a lower salaries, for the first time. Healthcare is expensive for companies. Then he went into the standard cliches, and this is part of the reason I call him "generic". He said company healthplans are "don't get sick", dental plans are "chew on the other side". That sounds like right out of "Soundbites for Dummies."

So Filson is going to bring "fairness" to Congress and stop the attack on the middle-class. Pombo (and the rest of the Republican majority) have been "unfair" by voting against minimum wage increases and veteran benefits, and by voting for Central American Free Trade Agreement (which will take American jobs out of the country).

He called Pombo unethical (which is actually an understatement), and said he is "detached from everyday working life" and that it is "cruel to rip up the ESA [Endangered Species Act]". Not what I would call a blistering attack on Pombo, who certainly deserves to be slammed mercilessly for his outrageous actions against the environment and total absence of ethical behavior.

According to Filson, the Republican majority are "scalawags". Then, again, Soundbites for Dummies kicked in: "Contract with America became Contract on America", "tried cutting taxes, got shrunken middle-class", etc.

He is for "what works": a tax break for middle-class (maybe he should call it "tax relief" like the Republicans do).

He took a shot at an easy, topical subject -- the government failures during Katrina, and how cronies, not government experts, were in charge. He then ended by saying the country has been "hijacked" (and noted he was a pilot using that metaphor) and that he will be "defending the American Family and fighting for fairness."

During Q&A, these things came up:

As far as war, if "we send our kids to war, make sure the reasons are true." He supports a strong military (having been in the Navy). He is not anti-war, just "anti-failure". He differs from McNerney in that he does not want to "foist a timetable" on the military. He wants to see the war to its completion (whatever that is) and not "cut and run." He was vague on what criteria or benchmarks would indicate it is time for the troops to leave Iraq and what actually constitutes "completion" of the mission.

He said he is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, for keeping the estate tax in place.

He claimed that as a "centrist-moderate" he is more electable than progressives like McNerney and Margee Ensign (who may run, see below). He is not against war in all cases: "It's about electability. If we wave the anti-war flag, we will lose. If we are too progressive, we will lose again."

He has not done much with the Latino community and did not have the stats on the demographics of the District.

As far as energy policy, he was rather vague, saying we need a comprehensive energy policy and that we need to restudy it and form a commission to get an energy policy. I find this a glaring misstep -- didn't we just have Cheney's Energy Task Force do that? And look how it came out. By contrast, Jerry McNerney has a plan to develop an alternative energy industry to create jobs in the District, not plans to "restudy" the issue.

After listening to Filson, my position for now is to stay neutral on the candidates. I personally like
Jerry McNerney and admire his grit, but I have reservations about how organized he is, his campaigning ability, and the way the Dems powers-that-be are ostracizing him. This means, in reality, he will have a tough time making it past January, in terms of raising money and holding his campaign together.

Meanwhile, Filson has met with the Dem leadership in DC and, if not actually backed, is being encouraged by them. That does not mean he has or can build grassroots support in the District. I could see him getting some of the Dem clubs behind him, just as an alternative to Pombo, but I don't see him getting strong support outside of the Dem Party faithful -- and that outside support is crucial to winning in the 11th District.

Any candidate needs street creds in the Central Valley and an organization over there. Filson does not have this. Yes, he knows what a "swamp cooler" is, as he often points out, but perhaps he should be addressing the actual issues of the Central Valley voters and how he intends to solve problems over there, not trying to pretend he is one of them, even though his address for the past 27 years has been "Danville, CA". Did he ever do any campaign work there, get involved in any community activities, make a name for himself in Stockton and Tracy? I don't think so.

Like I say, the Dem party regulars will dutifully support him, but I don't see him drawing in many swing or moderate Repubs. If he does, it will not be because of him so much as
because they are so fed up with Pombo.


The other wild card that has yet to be played is the possible entry of
Margee Ensign, Dean of the School of International Studies at the University
of the Pacific in Stockton. She is well known in the area and a player in
the Valley. She has the presence and street creds there. Also,
supposedly, she is a dynamic woman, lots of energy, and a good speaker. Whether that is
true or not, I can't personally vouch for. But truthfully, it would not be
that hard to generate more excitment than either Filson or McNerney have so far.

She is speaking at a Diablo Valley College Dem club dinner meeting on Nov.
17th. This is supposed to be a big event, and her foray into the East Bay part of
the District. If she is the powerhouse people claim and she decides to run,
that could put both Filson and McNerney at a significant disadvantage.

Personally, I am looking for more color and pizzazz in this race. Something
has to inspire people that we can overcome Pombo's advantages in the
District and win. I don't get that from Filson or McNerney. As far as Margee
Ensign, I don't know enough to say, but am very interested in hearing her on
Nov. 17th and then seeing if she decides to jump in. It would change the
whole dynamic of the race.

On Pombo's Bullshit

For a while, I have been thinking about Pombo’s use of language to defend what ought to be indefensible. I have seen, for example, the similarities between Pombo’s language and the language advocated by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. For a long time I have considered Pombo’s use of language to be very Orwellian.

However, after Pombo’s recent Sac Bee op-ed piece, I came to think of Pombo’s language using a different word: bullshit.

I use that word advisedly, but I see a lot of parallels between Pombo’s speech and Harry Frankfurt’s scholarly treatise about bullshit. A reviewer of the book (see previous link) describes Frankfurt’s use of the concept this way [emphasis mine]:

He [Frankfurt] argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.

Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true.

The two sentences I emphasizes seems suspiciously close to the Grandma Pombo “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” motto. This is relevant because it’s much harder to reveal the true depths of bullshit than it is to reveal a simple lie. It’s not that Pombo does not lie. He does, seemingly without any qualms. But more perniciously, we often find Pombo mixing truths, half-truths, and falsities—not to mention strange definitions (e.g. “science” and “sustainable”), and bizarre leaps of illogic—in order to concoct his bullshit du jour. The result of this motley mixture is any number of rhetorical defenses such as “I did not mean X in that way,” “I did not say X” (when X was instead heavily implied), “what I said was true given my definition,” etc.

For example, how do we deal with this part of Pombo’s budget reconciliation package?

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of the Interior shall make mineral deposits and the lands that contain them, including lands in which the valuable mineral deposit has been depleted, available for purchase to facilitate sustainable economic development.
I mean, this is clearly not a lie in any literal sense. One is not lying when one attempts something via a method wholly unsuitable to the purpose. For example, I am not lying if I propose to pick up girls by picking my nose in front of them. I might be an idiot, but I almost might be an earnest idiot. Now clearly, selling off land to be used in the extraction industries is paradigmatically unsustainable, and also more likely to lead to economic growth rather than economic development (although I suppose the definition of “economic development” is nebulous). But I’m not sure that any of this is per se false. Nonetheless, it reeks of bullshit.

The problem I run into is that explaining the bullshitty aspect of things like this to people who do not immediately smell the underlying bovine feces, is that the explanation usually involves a rather delicate balance of judgments, theories, and my suspicions about the world, economics, and the psychological motivations of one Richard Pombo. If someone is unwilling to grant that Pombo is being mendacious off the bat, then they are also probably unwilling to grant that Pombo does not believe what he is saying. And once you grant that he may believe what he is saying, suddenly his “beliefs” are afforded a respect that I know—just know goddamnit—they don’t deserve.

And so I find myself not being able to demonstrate why something is bullshit, but rather operating in a guilt-by-association mode. Richard Pombo gets a whole boatload of money from the energy industries, and not the clean ones. He gets a lot of money from land developers. Pretty much any type of corporation or voluntary association that would make a good villain in a Captain Planet episode gives him money. And though this works to some degree I yearn for the proof that will show, QED, the bullshit.

So I ask you my readers to help me in my quest. We can expose his lies and blatant falsities, but where oh where will we find a good Pombo bullshit demystifier? Short of a Federal Prosecutor I mean.

Meta Post #1

Last night I went to the San Ramon Democratic Club meeting to see Steve Filson give a speech.  I was able to speak with him a bit and I certainly will post a more complete account of what transpired, but before I do that I want to explain a couple of things about this blog.  Some of the following came up last night at the meeting, but Kid Oakland also broached the subject in a comment to the previous post.

So let me be clear: this is an anti-Pombo site, not an anti-Filson site.  It is not intended to be a specifically pro-McNerney site either.  I do have my beliefs, biases, judgments, and my own analysis about the Democratic primary.  I will not hide what I think.  But the one and only aim of this site, when all is said and done, is to get Richard Pombo out of office.  

I invited Babaloo and VPO to post on this site precisely because I wanted to include in this discussion those who did not necessarily share my perspective.  Both of my co-authors (who admittedly have been less prolific than I) were invited based upon their ability to write compelling and thoughtful analysis about the efforts to oust Pombo from office.  I was not closely acquainted with either of them, and had no reason to suspect that we would be unanimous in our assessment about the various aspects of this race.  More to the point, I fully expect to invite other co-authors to join the team as promising candidates present themselves.  So there ought to be a lot of divergence over points large and small as this blog develops.

Furthermore, I told Filson that I would consider posting something written by him if he would like, especially if he feels the need to respond to the substantive issues I have raised.  I have definitely asked some hard questions about him and have sometimes indulged in harsh language when describing him.  But I also want to be fair, and recognize the need to provide space for him to respond to my critiques and my concerns, as long as the response focuses on the underlying issues and not on me.

I admit, I am also deeply concerned with the issue of Democratic Party reform.  I see this race as an opportunity to help define what we (broadly speaking the Democratic Party grassroots) want to see in a candidate.  And so I will be unabashed in looking at the candidates through the prism of party reform.  But regardless of how the candidates stack up under this metric, I have every confidence that any of the Democratic candidates will serve the people of the district better, by many orders of magnitude, than Richard Pombo.

Lastly, I want to simply aver that my criticisms are largely intended to be constructive.  I try not to say anything that could actually aid Pombo.  On the contrary, I want to raise issues that the media has not raised (sometimes quite understandably) and raise the issues in a context where they can be evaluated by people who are largely sympathetic to the efforts of the Democrats working to unseat Pombo.  In this way I hope to be able to anticipate and forestall the formation of larger problems and to identify weak areas that need strengthening before Richard Pombo even enters the picture.      

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Filson's Shallow CD-11 roots

Everyone understands that the race to unseat Pombo will require a lot of money.  However, talking with people has left me with the impression that some take this undeniable fact to somehow imply that fundraising is THE best way to measure the viability of a candidate.  Whatever the merits of this principle in general, I think it is inapplicable to the situation we face in this Democratic Primary.

Specifically, though I am concerned about McNerney’s ability to raise money full stop, McNerney has been able to beat Filson when it comes to both raising money in the district and raising money from small donors (i.e. raising money is sums less than $200 per person per election).  This is true is absolute terms, even though Filson has out-fundraised McNerney by a significant amount, which suggests to me that Filson’s support in the district is even shallower than I thought.

I previously explored the issue about small-dollar donations, so I’m going to focus on the issues surrounding large contributions raised in the district.  For the purpose of this analysis, I am going to exclude the money Filson received from PACs because none of the PACs to my knowledge come from CD-11.  

Filson has raised $67,080 in itemized, individual contributions.  From this I subtracted all the money ($3580) he raised from his immediate family, which includes $2,100 from his wife.  We know that Filson has more personal wealthy than McNerney, and the fact that his son and daughters can donate around $500 dollars each really does not really add to our understanding of his viability as a candidate.  This leaves us with $63, 500 dollars in itemized contributions from individuals.

Out of this amount, an additional $8,850 came from out of state, largely from pilots.  This means that Filson has raised $54, 650 from California.

What I found was that the money raised from California came from the following areas in the following amounts:  CD-11 ($16,300), CD-10 ($17, 950), and other Other ($20,400).  

You should note right off the bat that Filson has raised more money in Ellen Tauscher’s district than in his own.  It is all well and good that he’s getting money from other areas, after all Richard Pombo will certainly get money from outside the district.  Still, I thought it was strange that someone who raised over $104,000 managed to only raised around 15% of his money in his home district.  But it’s worse than that.

Out of the $16,300 Filson raised in CD-11, fully two-thirds ($12,400) came from his own block (700-710 Endsliegh Ct. in Danville).  That means that only $3,900 came from the rest of his district.  Furthermore, $3,500 of that came from pilots, meaning that Steve Filson only raised $400 in individual contributions from people in the district who were not his neighbors or his co-workers.

More to the point, there is not a single itemized contribution from Stockton, Tracy, Lodi or anywhere else in San Joaquin County, where half the district lives!  Remember, he only raised approximately $6,000 in un-itemized contributions, so it is not likely that he has many small donors in those areas.          

Whatever his problems, McNerney has raised, by my count, $17,535 in itemized contributions in CD-11.  Furthermore, his money has come from across the district.  This means that despite raising only $60,000 to Filson’s $104,000 [SEE NOTE BELOW] McNerney has out-fundraised Filson in CD-11.  Furthermore, unless Filson can get the Democrats in Stockton, Tracy, and Lodi to support him in the primary, he doesn’t have a huge shot at winning.  

Everyone knowledgeable about the race has told me that they’re worried that the voters in San Joaquin County will view both of the Democratic challengers as outsiders.  But what’s clear is that McNerney has already formed a core of support (however small—I don’t want to overstate the implications from the FEC reports) in those areas.  It is not clear at all that Steve Filson, lives in Danville where the neighbors can give him thousands of dollars each, will be able to connect with certain demographics in his district.

What’s most interesting about these numbers to me is that despite Filson’s professed affinity for the Central Valley, he hasn’t gotten much traction there.  Certainly, we must remember that Margee Ensign may or may not run, and that her entry into the race will change the calculations that we’re now making.  But despite the fact that Filson’s biography may give him an in with Central Valley voters, I just don’t see it working at least until after the primary.  Maybe he was just taking on the low-hanging fruit as it were, and getting the easy money out of the way.  But if I were going to make a statement about being warmly received in the district, I’d make less effort raising money from Ellen Tauscher’s district, and more effort at raising money from the one I wanted to win.

Lastly, we should note that none of the Democratic clubs in the area have made endorsements yet (at least as far as I know).  These endorsements could generate quite a bit of money and volunteer time for the endorsed candidate, so the relative merits of the two candidates are still very much up in the air.  In other words, it’s still early to be making firm conclusions about things now.  I just brought this up to note what’s happening now, and to give some perspective as the race goes forward.

[NOTE:  For some reason the FEC and Political Money Line both list McNerney’s fundraising at around $53,000 even though he very clearly has it at around $60,000 on his FEC report.  I found some errors in both the FEC and Political Money Line’s calculation, including the complete absence the first donor on McNerney’s most recent FEC report, so I went with McNerney’s numbers.  I also tallied all the itemized contributions I could find for McNerney and came up a couple hundred dollars short of what he reported, but I did not carefully go through his old reports to see what I was missing].    

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Link roundup

Link roundup: What I have learned about Richard Pombo in the last couple of days.

His Grandma Pombo taught him how to tell a good story.  Too bad she didn’t teach him how to tell the truth.

He’s always looking for a way to “deflower” the virgin wilderness.

For him, “sustainable boating” is all about how to sustain your speed when you run over a manatee with your boat.  

(I also decided that Pombo kind of resembles a manatee. Or is it just me?  Must be the mustache…)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Is Filson a union man?

UPDATE (10/26):  After studying Filson’s FEC filings quite closely, I’ve come to the conclusion that he at least has received significant support from pilots, even if the question about his union activities is still up in the air.  So take Ms. Donald’s e-mail with a further grain of salt.  

One of Steve Filson’s selling points has been his involvement in the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which is an AFL-CIO-affiliated pilot’s union.  Needless to say, if you’re a Democrat and you’re running for office, being involved with unions is a definite plus.  So it’s unsurprising that on his website Filson touts his involvement with the ALPA.  He writes:    

…I have flown with United Airlines for over 25 years and currently serve as Captain of the Boeing 777.  At the airline, I became a member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and served in various union positions.

He then continues:

I also served the last 4 years as a flight operations manager for United Airlines, helping to assist the work lives of over 1600 pilots. This involved contract administration, dispute mediation, human resources compliance with employment, station operations, staff morale, public contact with group presentations, corporate training, security issues, etc. The position was very high profile and highly political in its nature, as I often had to mediate between the demands of many different parties within the airline. All this has prepared me for where I am today.

When I first read this I was a little amused by the tone of the paragraph.  To me the section reads more like a bad cover-letter for a resume than a political document.  I doubt anyone has gotten a vote for an office higher than Class President based on their experience making group presentations, so I’m skeptical of his managerial experience if he feels the need to throw that tidbit in his bio.  So when I read this, I had something of a Nelson Muntzmoment, which tickled my funny-bone but ultimately prevented me from seeing a couple of very important things about Filson’s history.

A couple days ago I realized that the key word in the second paragraph I quoted is “manager.”  From what I know, managers are generally not in the same bargaining unit as the people they oversee.  I might be wrong about this, but looking at the ALPA website, it certainly seems as if they only include pilots in their bargaining unit.  This would mean that Filson left the union when he changed jobs, and then came back to it when he became a pilot again.  So the question becomes how did Filson relate to the unionized pilots when he was the flight operations manager?  

The scuttlebutt I’ve been hearing suggests that, minimally, Filson burned a couple bridges when he worked in management.  Debra Donald, a colleague of Filson’s wrote the following in an e-mail to the DCCC (it was CCed to the McNerney Campaign, and someone involved in the campaign sent it to me) (emphasis mine):  

2.  Steve did not personally oversee 1600 pilots.  He was one of many managers in the office at the same time.  Should you desire to get a more objective idea of his work there, ask some of the pilots whose lives he "oversaw".  He was a sick leave counselor and disciplinarian, not a problem solver.

3.  Steve is one of our fellow pilots yet not a single pilot with whom I have spoken directly supports him.  Why would that be?  Better question --why do you not know that?  You hold him out to be the prized candidate, given up through the respect and adoration of his ALPA brethren.  Please, do your research.  Most pilots do not even know him, those who do know him often do not highly regard him.

4.  Which ALPA committees has Steve served on?  I was a volunteer on the scheduling committee for 18 years and I do not remember him serving nor do I remember ever seeing him in attendance at a council meeting. He is indeed a "member" of ALPA -- we are an agency shop airline, he has no choice about paying dues.

Obviously, this is the perspective of just one person.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Filson has received some financial support from fellow pilots and from the ALPA PAC, so take it with a grain of salt.

That said, if Filson upset union members based on how he dealt with them, his union affiliation might even be counterproductive for him.  McNerney’s office is rented from a union space, so he presumably has at least cordial relations with them.  I could imagine that union members would rather work with a small business owner who could not be unionized over someone they view as an apostate or at least fair weather union member.

The other big question is one of history.  Filson moved from pilot to manager back to pilot.  This seems a bit odd to me, as he was approaching retirement (he’ll be 60 in January, 2007) when he took on the managerial job, after having been a pilot since the 70’s.  Why change jobs in the last six or seven years of what will be a 30+ year career if you’re only going to switch back to the job you left four years down the line?  I have heard someone hint that he went back to flying after he was passed over for a promotion, but I have no way to verify whether this happened, or if it did, whether it was a factor in his decisions.  Still, this is a question mark that needs to be filled in.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The potential and limitations of outside organizers

The Berkeley Daily Planet just ran an article about the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club (WDRC) organizing in CD-11 to oppose Pombo and to protect Social Security. Although I'm a member of the WDRC and knew about its efforts in CD-11 when they were happening, I never saw such a detailed account of the WDRC's activities in the district. What struck me about this article, besides the level of detail, was the narrative that revealed both the potential for, and limitations of, outsiders organizing the district.

The article reads in part:

When Pombo jumped aboard Bush’s campaign to privatize Social Security last winter, the Wellstoners decided that working in the 11th Congressional District offered a political two-fer: they could mobilize around saving Social Security and in so doing, undermine Pombo’s base. About 90,000 people in Pombo’s District draw Social Security. It seemed like fertile territory for progressive action.

Starting last April, a team of six to eight WDRC members made weekend trips to Lodi, Stockton, Manteca, Oakdale, Pleasanton and Danville. They brought along the brochure that had been prepared by the club’s Social Security Committee and an anti-Pombo petition. In each place, the Wellstoners would hook up with local activists.

“We started going to farmers markets and sitting next to local Democratic club tables,” says WDRC member Matthew Hallinan.

The Wellstoners also worked with the Tri-Valley Progressive Action Network, the Gray Panthers and the California Alliance of Retired Americans (CARA). They discovered that every town and city in the Central Valley has a CARA club. In Stockton and Fresno, Hallinan says, CARA is “actually a force.”

The immediate response to their efforts was heartening. The WDRC piece on Social Security, Hallinan says, was “the only brochure I’ve passed out in a long time that wasn’t immediately thrown away.”

“We created a buzz every time we showed up,” Ginsberg says. “People would rush up. I’ve never had such an easy job tabling.”

In her view, that’s because Social Security is basically an economic issue, and with a few exceptions, like Danville, the 11th Congressional District is not an affluent area.

“Even if people are Republicans, they want Social Security,” she said.


By the end of the summer, the Wellstoners decided to pull back from the 11th District.

“All of us work,” Hallinan explains. “Driving two or three hours every weekend was too much.”

And while people flocked to the club’s petition and supplied assistance, local residents proved reluctant to take the initiative.

“We became convinced that [Social Security] is a great issue, but we couldn’t get a volunteer base,” Hallinan says.

Hallinan and Ginsberg both say that WDRC will return to CD 11. Jerry McNerny [sic] has built a grass-roots network there and wants to run against Pombo in 2006.

There’s talk of a fight in the Democratic primary; Congresswoman Tauscher may back another candidate. In any case, the Wellstoners plan to register voters, to make endorsements and to work for the candidates and issues they support.

Hallinan says, “We just got our toes in the water.”

I'm going to e-mail Matthew and see if he can further explain the inability to generate a core group of local volunteers to carry the effort forward. I suspect that the efforts were hampered by the convergence of two factors: the relatively smallness and inexperience of the local Democratic clubs and the desire on the part of the more experienced issue-based organizations to avoid entanglement in partisan politics. I'll try to get Matthew's take, but in the meantime this is certainly something to ponder.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pombo and Delay

The Public Campaign Action Fund just released a report quantifying the linkages between members of the House and Tom Delay. Explaining the reasoning behind the report, the PCAF said:
With all the scandals swirling around DeLay, many Americans are asking why so many of their elected officials have remained silent about DeLay’s continued leadership in Congress. The DeLay Rankings shows why this may be: Too many members of Congress are in DeLay’s pocket.


Tom DeLay is a walking scandal and a national embarrassment, yet his colleagues in Congress continue to protect him. Why do they do this? Because they owe him. DeLay uses his PAC, ARMPAC, to spread cash around; he uses his power to determine whether their legislation lives or dies, and so on. With all the attention focused on scandals in Washington, DeLay is the poster child for what is wrong in politics. It seems appropriate that other members are held accountable for how close they are to DeLay.

We do have a big problem of money in politics and lobbyists influencing our elected officials, and it’s not confined to one party or the other. But Tom DeLay is the best – or the worst – example of what’s wrong.

Too true, too true. Of course we're writing this blog because the ignoble corruption in the House has spread its rot all the way to California's lovely 11th Congressional District.

And not surprisingly, the report shows this to be the case. Our man Pombo came in tied for the 63rd closest member to Delay, which makes him closer to Delay than 75% of his Republican brethren.

Moreover, this report does not factor in Pombo's refusal to investigate uber-lobbyist and Delay accomplice Jack Abramoff, or how Tom Delay hand-picked Pombo to be a committee Chairman over more senior Republicans. So, if anything, the report understates the ties between Pombo and Delay.

A couple other quick points of interest.

First, the report uses the voting statistics compiled by Joshua Grossman over at Progressive Punch. Kid Oakland has been talking to me about these stats for awhile now, so it's good to know they're being put to good use.

Second, I notice that Barbara Lee, my Congresswoman, is dead last for ties to Delay in the entire House. Go Barbara go! None of the Democrats gave Delay money, so their ranking is wholly a function of how often they voted the same way as Delay. Lee managed to vote with Delay just over 4% of the time, which goes to show that even a blind chicken is going to find the corn sometimes. On the other hand, Ellen Tauscher, Steve Filson's major backer, voted with Delay over 20% of the time. It's something to think about.

Lastly, just for fun, check out this flash animation put out by the Clear the Air. It'll put a smile on your face.

Pombo's "Delay Ranking"

Screenshot from the Public Campaign Action Fund website

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pombo trips broke tax law, promoted commercial whaling

Marketplace broke this story yesterday, where Pombo accepted $23,000 in travel for him, his wife, and a staffer, from the IFCNR (International Foundation for Conservation of Natural Resources -- it is an industry front group that took on a green name to disguise its true intent). IFCNR is a private foundation, and it is against the law for anyone in Congress to accept travel to overseas destinations when paid for by private foundations.

Pombo was Chairman of one IFCNR's working groups, the SUPU (Sustainable Use Parliamentarians Union) until this July. In fact, he founded SUPU in Nov. 2000 and has been heavily involved in its activities. Also, he was a Governor of the IFCNR. Yet, he claims in the interview below with Marketplace that, "I never heard about them being a private foundation. Obviously I will have my accountant check into this."

It is hard to believe that he could not have known that status of a group he was so involved. As a Governor and as a Chairman of one of its major working groups, Pombo had to know IFCNR was a private foundation. Not only that, he must have known this when he accepted their travel. And being in Congress for so many years, he had to be at least aware of possible ethical and illegal implications of accepting their travel.

This should not be passed off as, "well, he can repay it, and everything is fine". The IFCNR is a highly anti-environmental group, funded by the right-wing and run by Stephen Boynton, a major player in the Arkansas Project. The Arkansas Project was set up by Richard Mellon Scaife to find ways to embarrass and defame Bill Clinton, and eventually led to Paula Jones and to Clinton's impeachment.

The trips that Pombo took were to New Zealand in Nov. 2000 and to Shimonoseki, Japan, in May 2002. Both were SUPU conferences that passed resolutions calling for the resumption of commerical whaling and the exploitation of animals, as well as the blocking of ocean sanctuaries. The May 2002 trip to Japan coincided with the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting in the same Japanese city and was designed to pressure the IWC into easing its ban on whalilng.

Pro-whaling groups (yes, such things exist), praised Pombo, and noted how signficant it was that a US Representative was pushing for commercial whaling, when the official US policy, as well as most of the US public, was opposed to whaling.

Pombo's presence added weight the proceedings. If a US Congressman who is on the Resources Commitee shows up at these conferences, this comes across as a serious breach in official US opinion over whaling bans. It encourages the pro-whaling forces who are usually faced with the strong US opposition.

For example:

"WCW [World Council of Whalers] Resolution Read into US Congressional Record
US Congressman Richard Pombo read the WCW General Assembly Resolution into the Congressional Record on June 11,1998. WCW believes this is very significant because the US is one of the IWC member States that continually comes to the IWC forum with a "no whaling" position. We thank Congressman Pombo for his strength and courage to introduce such a controversial resolution into the Congressional record of an anti-whaling nation. Mind you, Congressman Pombo is not new to sustainable resource issues as he represented the US Congress at the CITES Conference held in Zimbabwe in June 1997."

This is a big scandal, and Pombo could be in trouble over his illegal acceptance of gifts from the IFCNR. This goes even deeper in that Monsanto is a major funder of IFCNR and has pushed to exempt its pesticides from regulation under the ESA. Lo and behold, what is in Pombo's latest ESA bill? An exemption for pesticides and herbicides.

The people of the District need to know about these things and who their rep is working for and the kinds of unethical and possibly illegal activities he is involved in. (You can either read or listen; Pombo refused to talk to the media.)

Scott R.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why the netroots should pay attention to CA-11

UPDATED 11/05/2005: #2 has been changed to accurately reflect the votes cast in the district for Barbara Boxer.

(Cross-posted at MyDD and Needlenose)

1) Richard Pombo needs to go.

He's at the at the center of the pervasive culture of corruption in the Republican Party and he's completely beholden to business interests that want to destroy our environment.

2) Pombo is vulnerable.

His approval rating is in the mid-30's, Barbara Boxer received 60% 50.2% of the vote in CA-11 in 2004, and the DCCC is targeting the race.

3) The Democratic Primary gives us a chance to define what we believe.

The Primary is pitting a progressive, grassroots candidate (Jerry McNerney) against a self-described moderate candidate (Steve Filson) who has little grassroots support and whose strongest backer is DLC Vice Chair Ellen Tauscher. Jerry McNerney is running on a populist message that includes a firm line on the quagmire in Iraq. Steve Filson has not come out strong on the issue and is instead simply trying to claim the mantel of a candidate anointed by Washington insiders to take on Pombo (See Exhibit 1, but also Exhibit 2).

4) The Democratic Primary gives us a chance to define who we are in non-ideological terms.

Who gets to decide who should fight Pombo, big wigs in DC or the Democrats in the district? Does a candidate have to prove that he represents constituencies, or is it enough for him to show he can raise money? (See the 4th-9th paragraph of this post and point #2 here). When it comes to standing up for one's convictions, do actions speak louder than words? And do we let the DLC speak in our name or do we show everyone that there are Democrats who stand up and fight for what we believe in?

5) The netroots can have a disproportionate effect on the race.

The netroots are huge in the Bay Area, but I see little organizational momentum outside of the DFA-affiliates. I'm not going to need to fight to get Barbara Lee re-elected in Berkeley, and I have little inclination to work for Feinstein. A lot of us are in the same boat, and this race is close enough and important enough to become a focal point of local organizing. True, there will be other races for people to work on. But there seems to be an understanding among the netroots that taking back the House in 2006 is a priority. Well let us Bay Area netroots-types do what we can in our own backyard to take back our Party and our Congress.

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Exhibit 1

Jerry McNerney does not have the backing of the DCCC or DNC because he lost the race in 2004. Additionally, polls taken in late spring of this year show Jerry will lose once again against Pombo by the same proportions as last year. Jerry’s campaign momentum has essentially stalled and in fact many of his supporters have come over to our side. We want to avoid a primary race as much as possible. Jerry is a fine man and good Democrat but so am I. We need a fresh face with the credentials that can really attract voters from a wide spectrum. That’s why the DCCC is backing me. The people in the district are backing me as well in ever growing numbers. This is where the real steam for a campaign locomotive comes from and we see that grow every day now. This bodes well for the district, for the race ahead, and gives us all for the first time a solid chance to send Mr. Pombo back to his ranch.

-Excerpt from Steve Filson's e-mail to the "Vote Pombo Out" Yahoo Group

Exhibit 2

Dear Jim, Thank you for your comments regarding the 11th Congressional district in California. We fully support your desire to see Jerry McNerney win both the nomination and the seat, and hope you understand that our decision to highlight Steve Filson's candidacy on our Campaign for Change website was not meant in any way to be an exclusive endorsement. Our goal with the Candidates for Change section was to show to our supporters that we are working incredibly hard to recruit candidates to run this year, and to provide a sampling of the quality candidates who have already filed to run. This list was by no means meant to be either comprehensive or exclusive; the Democratic voters in the district will have the ultimate say in who the nominee will be to face the odorous Richard Pombo, and we will fully endorse whichever candidate wins the primary. In addition, we have not given any money to the Filson campaign, as that would obviously consitute [sic] an implicit endorsement. In the end though, I'm sure we all agree that the number one priority is unseating Pombo from his seat before he can destroy more pristine areas of natural beauty in our country and auction off our national parks to the highest corporate bidder. A spirited primary will certainly help us find the best candidate to do just that. Sincerely, DCCC Action Team

-E-mail from the DCCC to McNerney supporters

Exhibit A

In the November 2004 election Pombo defeated Pleasanton resident Jerry McNerney, who received the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, by 22 percent. Some McNerney supporters say he should have the nomination again, and not Filson. But Filson is not worried about this. "I'm the champion for the Democratic Party and my support is building rapidly," he said. "Once they are confident with me, they will come over. It's really about Richard Pombo. I don't foresee a primary."

-Danville Weekly article, published 10/14/05

Exhibit B

“We’re definitely not going to have a messy primary, no doubt about it … (but) I think a healthy competition might be beneficial,” said McNerney, who plans to announce his candidacy soon.

Tracy Press article, published 09/28/05

Exhibit C

"McNerney declares intent to unseat Pombo"
"Second candidate to challenge Pombo"
"McNerney enters race against Pombo"
"McNerney to challenge P
ombo in bid for congressional seat"

-Newspaper headlines from 10/13-10/14/2005

Monday, October 17, 2005

Money, Money, Money

I've been looking at the McNerney and Filson FEC reports for the 3rd quarter and have some preliminary observations. It looks like they're still inputting info in the databaes, but the basics are there. (I found information about Filson here and here, and information about McNerney here).

The quick summary:

1) Filson is raking in huge amounts of money, but it's almost all from large contributions. He only raised about $6,000 in contributions less than $200 each, but he raised over $100k when everything is considered. Also, approximately 12% of his money is coming from out of state, and about 20% of his total receipts came from pilots (individually and a PAC). If you include the $5k he got from the United Pilots PAC, Filson received almost 20% of his money from PACs and other political committees (not sure exactly what the other committees are, but I will investigate).

2) McNerney has raised a decent amount of money, but his large contributions aren't very large. They average about $385 for the donors in California, and slightly more (~$535) for the three out of state itemized donors he has. (This compares to Filsons averages of approximately $766 from in state and $1,080 from out of state). On the other hand, McNerney has raised almost half of his money this fiscal quarter from small donors (meaning they gave less than $200 each). This means that McNerney has raised, in absolute terms, almost four times the amount of money from small donors as Filson has.

3) I'm a bit worried about McNerney's expenses, but don't know enough to make a firm judgment about whether they're appropriate or not. McNerney has paid $3,000 for a "campaign coordinator fee," $2,000 for "fundraising services," and $1,607 for in "fundraising commission." I need to look into this further, but these raise red flags that make me a little wary.

The analysis:

I think the FEC filings very strongly supports what I said about Filson having access to funding sources without his having much traction in the grassroots. Furthermore, it's probably the case that the D-trip recruited him precisely because of these funding sources. I mean, I don't think that Filson set a goal of raising $100k out of nowhere. The D-trip is reported to like people who can fund themselves, and baring that they probably set a goal of $100k so that he could show that he was "serious." I know EMILY's List asked Francine Busby to raise $100k as a precondition of their involvement in her campaign, and it would make sense that such an amount would be seen as a threshold level to be taken seriously.

I also suspect that Margee Ensign, if she is seriously considering entering the race, is taking a hard look at these numbers too. She is the UOP dean who in August
floated the idea of running. Since she has not filed the required FEC form, we can assume that she hasn't raised more than a minimal amount of money. This means she would need to pull a Filson and raise a lot of money in short order if she decides to run. If she's able to raise enough money to get EMILY's List involved she might be able to compete with Filson in terms of dollars and compete with McNerney when it comes to the grassroots.

I say this knowing very little about her beyond what's in the article I linked to. However, I have heard a buzz about her among some of the people I work with politically. The fact that she's a women means a HUGE amount to the women in my political circles. Furthermore, the fact that she's from the San Joaquin Valley makes her attractive to those who worry that Filson and McNerney (who both live on the outskirts of the district) will be viewed as outsiders by voters in the heart of the district. Still, the DCCC apparently tried to recruit her and ended up settling on Filson. I'm not sure how they'd react to her entry into the race, but seeing as how Filson has
all but claimed the DCCC's endorsement it's not clear that Ensign would be able to take on that mantel as well.

I have no way of gauging whether she'll jump in the race or not, but my feeling is that if she does run, she'll likely prove to be a serious challenger in the primary.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Two Democratic Challengers

This blog will be dedicated to the campaigns to oust Pombo from office in 2006. It seems logical, therefore, to begin with a diagnosis of the Democrats who have declared their candidacy for CA-11 in 2006. This is my take at the moment of posting, and is therefore somewhat tentative and subject to change.

Right now there are two Democrats who will run against each other in the primary, Jerry McNerney and Steve Filson. McNerney ran against Pombo in 2004 as a write-in candidate because the Democrats weren't running anyone against Pombo. He did so largely without any support from the Democratic Party establishment. However, now that the Democratic establishment has recognized Pombo's vulnerability, they have gotten behind another candidate (Filson) whose only qualifications seem to be his connections with Ellen Tauscher (CA-10) and the fact that he used to be a Navy pilot.

The choice in the primary is between a more progressive, grassroots candidate (McNerney) and a less progressive, DLC-backed candidate (Filson). Thus, the difference between the two campaigns cut across two different spectra: ideology AND method. Filson's ideology might be more natural to the district (although I am not convinced that this is the case) but his method of campaigning (i.e. looking for lots of money and trying to co-opt, rather than engender, enough grassroots support to win) has tremendous consequences that we'd be foolish to ignore.

As far as I can tell, Filson's base of support is largely composed of elements of the Democratic Party establishment (such as the DCCC and Ellen Tauscher), pilots (who he claims have given him 25% of his funding), and (assuming a DLC model) businesses. The problems with this are two-fold.

First, Filson's base is essentially composed of funding-sources, not constituencies. This is vitally important to note because all campaigns must deal with three scare resources: time, volunteers, and money. Filson and McNerney have equal time to run their campaigns, so neither is especially "richer" in this resource. But whereas Filson is richer in monetary terms, I think he is much poorer terms of the volunteer base he can tap.

As a Democratic Party activist, I listen to the grassroots organizers who are on the ground day after day, not the elected officials or Washington insiders who ask me for money from time and time. Some elected officials, like Barbara Boxer or Barbara Lee or Loni Hancock, command enough respect that I will give what they say a thoughtful listen. (Note, this is not about ideology, it is about influence).

In terms of influence among the grassroots, I think Tauscher's support is fairly minimal. I have seen no evidence that Ellen Tauscher commands the same level of support from the party activists in her district that someone like Barbara Lee commands in hers. In fact, whereas the activist base of the party in CD-9 proudly declares "Barbara Lee speaks for me," I have met a lot of activists in CD-10 who call Tauscher a word that rhymes with "witch."
So although Tauscher can doubtless prompt some at the top of the grassroots hierarchy to get behind her golden boy, the real issue is whether they can in turn use their position to further promote Filson. I would argue that's no the case. For example, some of the people on the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee like Filson and some do not. But there is only something like 20 people on this committee. The Lamorinda Democratic Club, on the other hand, has 600+ members and their governing board, and indeed the whole club, is very progressive. Phil Angelides either announced his candidacy for governor at the Lamorinda Club or he went there within a week. This should tell you about the respect given to that club AND it's efficacy. Also, McNerney will have the support of many similar organizations that have members who actually do a lot of grassroots organizing.

Given these considerations, if you look at the neighboring districts and ask which one will have volunteers drive to CD-11 to help out, or whom those volunteers will support in CD-11, I think you will find that many, many times the people will come to aid McNerney's campaign than will come to help Filson's campaign. Furthermore, the DCCC's tacit endorsement, in terms of influence, is even less than Tauscher's. The DCCC has no organizational influence on the ground in CD-11 at this point. After the primary they might send some money and some consultants, but most Democrats hardly know what the DCCC is, let alone respect it enough to allow it to sway their vote in the primary.

The next question is what this means, not for Dems outside the district, but Dems inside CD-11. It's hard for me to know exactly how the various campaigns will activate the grassroots in the district, but nothing I've seen so far has provided any evidence that Filson is activating the grassroots where the rubber meets the road. I know that the McNerney Campaign has dozens of activists from Democratic clubs in the district and I have heard that McNerney's Campaign in 04 is what revitalized the moribund Stockton Democratic Club. Clearly, CD-11 has an under-developed Democratic Party apparatus, especially at the grassroots level. This makes it particularly sensitive to the amount of time outside, experienced organizers spend in the district. Filson's strategy basically takes for granted the Democratic Party base, whereas McNerney's strategy will (or at least ought to) grow the base. So the fact that McNerney has the support of outside organizers works to his advantage in a serious way. That is, outside support can lead to increased indigenous support and can in fact multiply the efficacy of the indigenous support that exists for McNerney.

This brings up the second reason to oppose Filson's method of campaigning, and it is a deeper issue. Namely, because Filson is not trying to grow the base he will essentially leave nothing useful behind if he looses. He is not spending time or energy making the district less red. McNerney, on the other hand, even if he loses, will leave behind a more energized, activated, and organized Democratic opposition. (McNerney, for example, announced his candidacy at the Tracy Democratic Club, the existence of which is due in large part to McNerney's 2004 campaign). This is something that a Central Valley Democratic candidate might be able to utilize in 2008, for example, if Pombo stays in power. More to the point, these types of organizations will effect a lot of local races, so that Democrats might win more city council or county supervisor type of races. This then grows the Democratic "bench" of viable candidates, which will have many long-term benefits for the party.

I understand that some approach this race from a pretty non-partisan perspective, but many Democrats see a fight brewing for the soul of the party. This is the time for Democrats to stand up and be proud of what they believe in. By supporting Filson so obviously, the DCCC and Tauscher have essentially backed McNerney into a corner. He needs to run as an insurgent-type candidate. I hope he will do this, although I'm still unsure about his perspective on this. But if McNerney does run the right type of campaign, he will tap into the same energy and enthusiasm that buoyed Dean's campaign. Unlike the conventional wisdom, I saw Dean as more of a reform Democrat who happened to oppose the war than a left-wing type. (Incidentally, this is also why many true lefties supported Kucinich). Still, however left-wing Dean was, he also had to deal with the genuinely grassroots efforts of the Clark Campaign, which was both in fact and perceived as more moderate than Dean's campaign. The equivalent of the Clark Campaign does not exist in this race, so I think the grassroots energy will redound to a genuine grassroots campaign run by a proud, fighting Democrat, over a status quo, establishment candidate like Filson.

Whoever wins the primary will be at least dutifully supported by the grassroots. Now let's think about how Republicans and moderates will react to the different candidates. I am less confident of my analysis in the following part than in the previous part, but I understand this and need to deepen my understanding of the voters in the district. That said, here's where I'd start.

There are a lot of Republicans in the district who are not wingnuts, especially when it comes to the environment. I DO NOT think that a tree-hugging, hippy-esque appeal to the animals would suffice in the district, and might drive people away from the campaign. But everyone is concerned with the health of their children and their families, and the air in the district is really, really polluted. Jerry cannot only speak credibly about clean energy, he can tie clean energy into the larger health effects of dirty air. This is important because independent women who have children with asthma and the like will listen to concerns like this. Also, the Democrats in Montana have been very successful at forging a coalition between Sierra Club types and hunters and fishermen. Pombo wants to increase off-shore oil drilling, has supported dirty air policies that end up increasing the mercury in fish, etc. I'm not sure which message will have the most resonance, but I'm sure that there is so way of talking about the environment that makes it an asset, not a liability.

Then there is the issue of corruption in the Republican Party. I'm sure others know a lot more about the specifics of Pombo's corruption. It has a bipartisan appeal, especially when everyone can see how bad Tom Delay is and how closely Pombo and Delay are tied. Also, Pombo arguably has ear-marked transportation funds to help his family profit, not deal with the traffic congestion that I'm sure pisses people off. This can be framed in a way that is not about politics, but about governance. I'm sure that people in the Central Valley looked at the levees breaking in New Orleans and thought about their own precarious situation. The Democratic candidate can make use of this unease to form an argument that Pombo cannot be trusted to do what is responsible vis. infrastructure.

Lastly, I think the war in Iraq needs to be discussed. Some Republicans have already indicated that they want to withdraw troops as the war is becoming increasingly unpopular. In fact, one of the clearest differences between McNerney and Filson is their take on the war. McNerney has called for a time-table to withdraw troops, Filson has not. In this I think McNerney has staked out the position that will only grow in popularity, whereas Filson will be stuck with a position that will lose support. Furthermore, this will undercut Filson's appeal stemming from his service in the Air Force. Nobody is going to vote for Filson over Pombo based on their support for the war in Iraq. Filson has, at least up to this point, provided no contrast that would make him more attractive to those who are sympathetic to the Bush line on Iraq. So the real question is whether the fact that he's a veteran will make Filson more appealing to those not inclined to support the status quo in Iraq. I think the answer is no as long as Filson does not forcefully challenge the status quo. Essentially, being a veteran will provide Filson some cover if he wants to challenge the Bush administration, but it provides no particular cachet if he's silent on the issue. McNerney has staked out a position that will resonate with the grassroots who vote in the primary, and will likely resonate with moderates and independents who increasingly see this war as a losing proposition.