Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Union Group Endorses Jerry McNerney

There’s a huge announcement out of the McNerney camp today.  Jerry McNerney was endorsed by the San Joaquin County Central Labor Council (no website, sorry).  For those who don’t know, the Central Labor Councils are the local AFL-CIO umbrella groups.  There’s a good chance that this endorsement will prompt a lot of other, similar endorsements by Labor, especially within San Joaquin County.

This comes at a very opportune time for McNerney.  Margee Ensign is from Stockton, and so San Joaquin County is something of her home turf.  Part of her allure has come from the idea that we won’t be able to win unless our candidate is credible in San Joaquin County, which is where more than half of the voters in CA-11 live.  By getting this endorsement, McNerney is showing that he can campaign successfully even in Ensign’s hometown.  Furthermore, Steve Filson has gotten some important endorsements himself, and from what I hear, he’s even having a big fundraiser in D.C. hosted by some Democratic Party bigwigs.  Filson’s biggest asset is his connection to some powerful members of the Democratic Party establishment.  McNerney’s biggest asset is his strong grassroots support.  Thus, both are playing to their own strengths.  We’ll have to see how this plans out, but today is certainly an important day for McNerney and his team.          

I’ll update the post when I receive a press release about it.  But I wanted to get the info out as soon as I could.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pombo is no Friend to Family Farms

How many of you have caught the TV commercial done by Ben & Jerry’s in support of family farms? Was anyone else stunned by their claim that 300 family farms in the US go under per week?

This country’s family farmers are some of the most committed environmentalists that we have. Most of them take the notion of stewardship extremely seriously and dedicate a tremendous amount of hard work to sustainable farming practices that do not harm the environment. But with the bulk of our nation’s farming being conducted by huge agri-business, family farmers have found themselves in ever more tenuous positions. Fortunately, many of these farmers have, with local and state support (but precious little federal support) embarked on new business models for farming that allow them to create niches which enable them to stay in business and provide the rest of us with specialty products that might not otherwise be available.

One group that is hard at work right in CD-11 is the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Please visit their website and get acquainted with them. Check out their pictures of 300 growers out on a chilly November day learning about the use of chipping machines as an alternative to burning so as to comply with San Joaquin County air quality regulations. Unfortunately, there are no pictures on the website showing CAFF members who went to Congressman Richard Pombo’s Stockton office on September 26 to deliver petitions protesting his legislation which decimated the Endangered Species Act.

These are the people Richard Pombo supposedly went to Washington to represent. But when they spoke out against CAFTA, saying it would hurt their businesses, Pombo went ahead and voted for it. When the Senate Agriculture Committee announced that conservation programs aimed at supporting family farmers would be targeted for one-third of the ’06 budget reconciliation cuts, Pombo didn’t take up their battle in the House.

Since the 2002 Farm Bill, conservation programs have suffered $3.8 billion in cuts. Last year alone, federal conservation programs experienced a $4.3 billion backlog due to insufficient funds, preventing three out of every four applicants from receiving needed assistance.

“Cutting these programs another $1.054 billion ultimately means dirtier water, less habitat for wildlife and less clean air to breathe,” Grossi added. “It makes no sense for these critical programs to bear the brunt of budget cuts when farmers already can’t participate in them for a lack of funds.”

The public and most farmers support stewardship-based farm policies that encourage more diverse farming systems, reduce economic and environmental risks and produce a broader array of public benefits. Public opinion surveys conducted by American Farmland Trust indicate that 85 percent of voters expect and are willing to pay farmers for those benefits, and at least 65 percent of urban-edge landowners would welcome such payments.

“In a time of record federal deficit, conservation programs prove to be a good value and a good investment for taxpayers,” said Grossi. “Furthermore, conservation programs help the United States comply with its obligations under the WTO because the programs maximize long-term environmental benefits rather than increase production.” LINK

Where has Richard Pombo been? There is a lot of work that needs to be done in Washington, DC on behalf of the residents of CD-11. Fighting for funding that helps small farmers and ranchers in the district to find both economic and environmentally-sound solutions to their problems should be one of Mr. Pombo’s top priorities. Instead, he has used his political capital pursuing an extremist property rights agenda which does almost nothing to benefit the citizens of his district. Clearly, the congressman is no friend to family farmers and ranchers.

And yet, Democrats have too easily assumed that Richard Pombo is the darling of the agricultural community. My advice to the Democratic candidates is to get involved with groups representing small farmers and ranchers; listen to their problems, their proposals, their goals. You might find out that you truly have much in common. It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Monday, November 28, 2005

When They Don't Call

Today the Tracy Press ran an article called “Political Notes: The power of the blog” that included a little bit about yours truly.  The article itself ought not to seem too revolutionary for any of my readers, whom I assume understand the potential political efficacy of the blogosphere.  But I mention it here because we have a number of campaigns all vying to beat Richard Pombo, but only a few of them seem to have any interest in reaching out to the blogosphere.  In the Democratic primary we have supposedly serious contenders whom I’ve introduced myself to and who on some level either know or ought to know who I am and what I’m up to.  And yet they’ve studiously avoided doing any sort of outreach to me or my fellow bloggers.  I think we ought to examine this a bit more.

Now before we get into this, let me just say that I’m not overly impressed with my own importance.  I know that the blogosphere’s influence on this race is rather more potential than actual at this point.  Furthermore, when I talk about doing outreach to me I don’t mean the same thing as kissing up to me.  I don’t need affirmation from the candidates, and this isn’t an entry about how their actions make me feel.  So to be clear, I think that the blogosphere has an important, albeit not all-important, strategic role in political campaigns.  Although it is just one tool, it is a tool that ought not to be overlooked.  And this is especially true for races in and near the Bay Area, where there are plenty of potential donors and volunteers, and lots and lots of tech savvy Democrats.  So the failure to do appropriate outreach to the blogosphere is a substantive strategic failure.  I’m sure there are worse sins in political campaigning, but this one is the most immediate to me.

I figure that this site has had something like 800-1,000 unique visitors (the Tracy Press article puts the number at 350, but that resulted from a miscommunication between me and the author).  I have also raised over $500 already, and if the donors who’ve scheduled monthly donations through ActBlue actually make those payments, this site will raise nearly $1,400 even if nobody else makes a donation.  Needless to say, I both hope for and expect more donations.  Furthermore, this site shows up on the first page when you Google many of the candidates’ names. Lastly, this site has allowed me to get in contact with a huge number of anti-Pombo activists, both in California and across the country.

I think many of these stats show why this site ought to merit some sort of outreach effort on the part of the candidates.  And yet, despite a personal invitation to all of the candidates, the only one who has made any sort of concerted effort is Jerry McNerney.  It is no coincidence that he is the only candidate with a blog, although to be fair I expect Margee Ensign will have a blog too whenever she gets her website up and running.  

Regardless of what people might think about my own biases in this race, a weblog lives or dies based on content.  I cannot say anything new about a candidate unless I know something new. One article a week in the Tracy Press is not sufficient to get at the meat and bones of this race.  I need information to produce content.  Even if people think I’m unfair, which I studiously try not to be, they at least have the opportunity to correct the record on anything I say through comments or through e-mail.  How different would it be if in response to my comment that I know maybe one person who supports Filson, three readers posted comments about why they supported him?  I see he has gotten some endorsements, why wouldn’t he shoot me an e-mail pointing it out to me?  Ensign could have written a guest post for this blog and introduced herself.  But she didn’t.  I just can’t understand why not.

There are a lot of people who don’t, at least in my estimation, “get” blogs.  This includes many people who read them.  I’m not sure I am as articulate as I need to be about the potential of the political blogosphere.  In some ways this blog is itself my argument for the importance of blogs—it is the concrete instantiation of my theoretical understanding of blogs.   But you do not need to fully get blogs to understand that they can be effective politically.  (Heck, even the DCCC has a blog, as much good as it does them.)  And you do not have to understand my blog theory, or even my political leanings, to know that it might benefit a candidate to keep me in the loop.  Without being egotistical I can say that when it comes to information online about the Democratic primary in the race to unseat Richard Pombo, this blog is where it’s at.  You would think the campaigns would try harder to be part of the conversation that is forming here.        

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Steve Thomas Speaks

On Saturday night I got a call from Steve Thomas, the newest contender in the race to unseat Congressman Richard Pombo. I spoke to Thomas for a little over fifteen minutes. Some of the following will simply be basic reporting, since Thomas has been beneath everyone’s radar. Importantly, much of the little we thought we know about Thomas is incorrect. I hope to correct the record on this. I will also offer some of my thoughts and impressions about what he said during our conversations.

For the sake of disclosure, I have offered Steve Thomas the opportunity to review this entry before I posted it here on the blog. I have not conducted many interviews before, and I am unsure whether this type of arrangement is unusual. But I realized that this was going to be the first time most people heard anything of substance about him, so I thought that it was important for me to give him a chance to look at the post and respond if he felt it necessary. I have, however, retained full editorial control of this post and have only promised to post his response along with this piece and to correct any clear factual errors. This seemed like a fair arrangement both for him, for me, and for you my readers.

That said, here are the most noteworthy aspects of our conversation.

First, Steve Thomas is not that Steven Thomas, either the lawyer from Danville or the owner of an expensive house in Blackhawk. I guess some of the confusion stems from the commonness of the name. No, this Steve Thomas is an electrician who is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 6. He consistently referred to himself as a working man or an average guy, which sounds both somewhat authentic and somewhat affected. It’s not that I doubt his working man credentials. But something about how he discussed this issue did not strike me as wholly authentic. Maybe he was just trying too hard or simply repeating himself too much. He did tell me that he worked in the stock market for ten years, but was an electrician for ten years before that and has been working as an electrician for ten years since then. It’s possible that I allowed the fact that he used to have a white collar job influence my perception of him as a blue collar type of guy.

Note, IBEW Local 6, the local in San Francisco, has already endorsed Thomas. So they clearly (and unsurprisingly) see Thomas as one of their own. This endorsement may or may not have any implications for Jerry McNerney, who rents office space from the IBEW in Dublin. Their arrangement does not constitute an endorsement of McNerney, but I have always thought it likely that McNerney would be endorsed by them. This development makes that assumption more questionable.

Second, Thomas’ strength is that he speaks the political language better than the other candidates in the primary. What do I mean by this? Thomas is obviously intelligent, articulate, well-informed and passionate. This, however, does not distinguish him from his competitors. But unlike some of the other candidates, Thomas was able to talk about politically important issues in a way that seemed sophisticated without sounding like an egghead.

This facility with language ties in with a third point I want to make. Thomas came across as more unabashedly progressive than either McNerney or Filson, although he demurred somewhat when asked to place himself on the left-right spectrum. He called the labels “not useful” and instead characterized himself as part of the “radical middle.” Still, he spoke about the need for single-payer healthcare and the need to retake the House with “the right type” of Democrats, which meant Democrats not beholden to corporate interests. About Iraq he said, “The war in Iraq is not making us safer and it is driving us bankrupt” and that consequently “we shouldn’t be there.”

I liked a lot of what he had to say, and at times heard shades of Kid Oakland, although (and I hope everyone understands this is no slight to Thomas) without Kid Oakland’s brilliance. Still, I generally found myself responding more to the substantive points of agreement than to his rhetorical ability (although I noted it more than once). I suppose he was singing to the choir (me) and getting me to say “Amen” in my heart. But my head really worried about how this will play in the district. He claimed to be used to persuading folks with common sense arguments. It’s not that I disbelieved him. But for me, the proof is in the pudding, and we’ll just have to see how he plays in the district.

Point four is that Thomas, despite his affability and his speaking ability, really comes to this race as an outsider. He is not part of any political organization that will rally around him, although he may be attractive to labor because he’s a union member. But he has not been a shop steward or otherwise held any official union positions. Neither is he a member of any Democratic clubs or organizations. And Thomas has never worked against Pombo in any concrete way. Put simply, unlike all the other contenders, Thomas lacks a pre-existing base of political support. If he were a rich lawyer from Danville who could self-fund his race, I’d wonder about his viability. Even Thomas himself admits that this fundraising will be vitally important in this primary.

This brings me to my fifth and final point. Without any sort of pre-existing political base there’s a big question of where Thomas will get the money to run his race, and how he’ll get the votes he needs to win. Right now he’s a complete unknown, which bodes ill for him this late in the game. When I asked him where he’d get his support he remained fairly vague. It’s fair enough if he wants to keep this close to his chest when talking to me, but it’s not me that he needs to convince. A lot of people are going to want to know what his plan is, and if he can’t articulate a plan without giving away his strategy he’s going to further marginalize himself. Furthermore, the one area that he was concrete about sounded unconvincing to me. He told me that he’d get a lot of support from his former customers. Color me unimpressed by this claim. If being a likeable, intelligent and politically aware electrician were enough to get the democratic nominations for a congressional race, there’d be a lot more electricians in Congress.

[Editor’s Note—Steve Thomas provided the following response to the above paragraph: “I was trying to make a different point here. It's not so much that I expect support from prior customers as that I connect really well with just about everybody I meet. I have to build support and I think I can do that.”]

All in all, I ended the conversation with the feeling that Thomas was a good guy who has the potential to do something in politics. But right now I’m not convinced he’s a serious contender for the democratic nomination for this race. Thomas does not have dollars in the bank or boots on the ground, and I’m not sure he can change these factors quickly enough to make a big impact. But if I am under-estimating him, the proof will, as I said earlier, be in the pudding. Come December, if he’s raised seventy thousand dollars or received the endorsement of any large labor group within the district, we’ll have to give him another look. Right now, however, the burden of proof is on Thomas to show us that he can be a serious contender. If he has magic to work, now’s the time for him to work it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Plot Thickens

There’s a new Democratic candidate in the race for the CD-11 seat currently held by Richard Pombo. His name is Steve Thomas; he lives in Danville; and you can find out every bit as much as I know about him by going to his website. The site is still under construction, but already he has a better-looking front page than any of the other candidates, and he has a strong populist/progressive stance on the issues. He claims to be a union member who can rally union support to his campaign. We’ll have to see if he’s right. Compared to Thomas, the other Democratic candidates all look like Goliaths in terms of organization and fundraising capabilities –- and, of course, we all know that they are dwarfed by Pombo’s base of powerful and moneyed special interests.

Welcome to the race, Mr. Thomas.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sportsmen Tee Off on Richard Pombo

In a recent interview aired by a local television station, Richard Pombo outlined his vision for the future ownership of our National Forests and wildernesses.

The federal government owns a vast amount of land -- 700 million acres. Some of it mountains and forest, a lot more of it high desert. Representative Richard Pombo thinks that's a mistake.

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy: "There is no reason for the federal government to own over half the state of California."

ABC7's Mark Matthews: "Are we be better off in private ownership?"

Rep. Pombo: "I believe most of it would be."

Please read that quote again. And while you’re reading it, think of the places in your life where you’ve gone fishing, hunting, camping, hiking or boating. Then take a quick look at this map. Did you find any of your special spots there? I know I did.

On November 18, the House passed its budget reconciliation bill, HR 4241, containing language inserted by Richard Pombo enabling the holders of mining claims to purchase federally-owned land for $1000 per acre.

Just the day before, the leaders of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Trout Unlimited, Orion - The Hunters’ Institute, North American Grouse Partnership, Izaak Walton League of America, and Campfire Club of America were among the ten signatories to an open letter to the members of Congress. Here is a copy of their letter:
We are writing to you on behalf of the tens of millions of hunters and anglers, wildlife professionals, and commercial interests who use and enjoy the great American outdoors.

As you know, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week on HR 4241, the House Reconciliation Bill. The Mining sections of this bill (sections 6201-6207) direct the Secretary of Interior to make public lands available for sale to private entities such as, mining companies and other development interests for $1,000 per acre. This action would open these previously public lands to development, fragmentation, habitat loss, and potential pollution. These amendments are harmful to fish, wildlife, and their habitats. Equally important, HR 4241 would reverse a 30-year congressional mandate that public lands remain in public ownership. This action to put public lands on the auction block will not be received well by American citizens.

Public lands are managed in trust for all of the people of the United States by federal agencies such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Public lands contain well more than 50 percent of the nation’s blue-ribbon trout streams and are strongholds for imperiled trout and salmon in the western United States. More than 80 percent of the most critical habitat for elk is found on lands managed by the Forest Service and the BLM, alone. Antelope, sage grouse, mule deer, salmon and steelhead, and countless other fish and wildlife species, as well as the nation’s hunters and anglers, are similarly dependent on public lands.

As more private lands are subdivided or posted, public lands provide the last access for sportsmen who wish to fish, hunt, and camp with their families and friends. That access could be compromised as a result of the Mining sections of the House Reconciliation Bill. As a result, and on behalf of America’s sportsmen and women, we ask that you insist on the removal of the Mining sections amendment from HR 4241.

The Denver Post wrote about HR 4241 recently, noting that Colorado’s Aspen and Pitkin Counties have already passed local resolutions in opposition to Pombo’s bill.
"Our membership is up in arms over this," said Chris Wood, vice president of Trout Unlimited. "We've gotten more response on this issue than any other from our general membership."

As Matt pointed out last week, Richard Pombo has made an art form of painting his opponents as a bunch of whining, liberal enviros. This latest outrage on the part of Pombo has brought with it an increasing awareness by sportsmen of their stake in the federal government’s land policies. Here’s the letter to the editor of the Tracy Press that Matt linked to. I think it deserves to be printed in full.

On a recent deer-hunting trip east of West Point, I found myself surrounded by lumber company land. We drove for hours up dirt roads passing one locked gate after another, one “no trespassing sign” after another trying to get to national forest land so we could hunt without trespassing. We had to go to nearly 6,000 feet elevation before we were out of the various lumber company lands.

Now Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, wants to sell off even more public land, land that will no doubt be closed to public use. It’s bad enough that our Delta levee system, built with public money, is largely closed to public use, preventing fishermen and others from accessing it. Now Pombo wants to bar the public from our national forests.

I voted for Pombo in all the recent elections, even though I did not support some of his issues. But this legislation I can’t support, nor will I continue to support him if it passes.

Dick Lanza, Tracy

Richard Pombo may have unwittingly awakened a sleeping giant here. The sportsmen of our country are a well-organized bunch, and they have teed off on Richard Pombo. Now, there’s something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Expert Advice

I’ve been corresponding with a reader, AC, who has managed a successful congressional campaign in a very red area. He has a vision about how to win this district. Given his expertise and, frankly, the differences between his view and mine, I think it’s important to present his vision here. I want this to be a poly-vocal blog, and his voice really deserves to be heard. Thankfully, he has graciously allowed me to post his analysis on the blog.

I will attempt to refrain from exegesis at this point, but will return to this after the holiday
I have, however, added a small number of comments in brackets. I have also made some very minor changes to the layout and have corrected spelling errors, but everything else is AC’s.

From an e-mail dated 11/16 responding to a thread on Dkos:

I was the one who posted that on DailyKoz - I am delighted to see such an online community dedicated to taking out Pombo in '06, it's been a goal of mine for over a decade.

NCEC - is the National Coalition for an Effective Congress., their data is used on top Congressional races for targeting purposes - the data is quite insightful, but NCEC doesn't necessarily deliver the data in a timely manner (my personal experience over several campaign cycles). The data are a series of statistical measurements that NCEC covers - Democratic Performance Index (DEM PERF is the column heading on the spreadsheet) is a baseline indication of a generic Democratic candidate's performance by precinct. Gerald McNerney's 04 results by precinct would give a good numerical indication of baseline DEM PERF. Note this isn't the same as turnout % by party affil.

My personal take on the race is that in order to beat Pombo, 1 - the Dem Candidate will need at least 750K minimum - realistically 1mil. 2. The state Dem Party in conjunction w/ DCCC needs to run a coordinated campaign whose primary responsibility is to register new Dems in precincts w/ high DEM PERF and to increase turnout through a dedicated absentee ballot push in low performing precincts with high DEM PERF - basically the coordinated campaign would take the field operations aspect off the candidates campaign budget allowing the candidates campaign to expend their funds on direct mail and TV.

I ran such a campaign last cycle for the DCCC in the Midwest and was hoping to do the same in the 11th this cycle if St. Sen. Machado ran, but DCCC was unable to convince him to run. I honestly think this is the only seat (maybe the CA-50) that is a legitimate spot for a win in CA in '06.

Ideally there would not be a primary so the Democratic candidate could campaign solely against Pombo thus saving precious funds. But on the flipside if there is a contested primary the media loves a horserace and the earned media that it generates would be an opportunity to air the Pombo dirty laundry for free.

I haven't seen the registration breakdowns in terms of voter distribution but my instinct tells me that this race will be won through picking off enough moderate Repubs and unaffil's in the Dublin/Pleasanton/Danville/San Ramon area. To do that the shores would need to be softened up per se through a direct mail campaign to selected households(HH's - in campaign parlance) highlighting Pombo's record in the 4 weeks leading up to E-day as most voters have no idea who he really is.

Keep up the good work.

From an e-mail dated 11/19:

There have been races where the candidate that I thought should have won didn't, but at least the other side didn't win. You and the other activists need to understand that the DCCC in wanting Filson isn't about inspiring the base, it's about winning the general election.

It's a moot point about name recognition as McNerney or Filson have absolutely no recognition among the greater voter pool - even most Dems have no clue about either one. You need to realize that just having this conversation with me indicates that you are 99.999999% more involved than practically everyone in the district and people such as yourself in the 11th are just a handful - so yeah you and a few hundred other people know McNerney - chances are they also have heard about Filson. [I do not live in CA-11. It’s a common misunderstanding, but I want to be clear about it.]

A true liberal more akin to Barbara Lee may appeal to the base, but probably would not win in this district in a general election. The key to winning is being able to pick off enough GOPers and unaffil's to get to that 50+1 promised land on E-day and in the general a candidate like a Barbara Lee type firebrand would be a disaster.

If it is indeed true that Barbara Boxer carried this district, then this tells me that a Democrat can win here (but one's enthusiasm needs to be tempered because her opponent ran a poor campaign).

That brings me back to the data - NCEC is costly. Using the returns from the '04 and '02 cycles could get you an indication of Dem Performance, but the info you should pay even more attention too(assuming you have a candidate or 527 with the resources to put it to good use) would be to look for data that NCEC calls PERSUASION INDEX.

Basically see how GWB vs. Kerry did in the district - did either one outperform their party registration % and by how much - particularly in relation to the DEM+UNAFFIL %ages - did Kerry or Boxer outperform that? Where that occurred is where you need to focus ideally with direct mail to those HH w/ voting history. There are other people you would throw into such a mail universe like new registrants etc, but I am getting way ahead of myself here.

Additionally look at McNerney in '04, since he didn't run much of a campaign that would give you baseline Dem support in the district. Then contrast that with Boxer, should be revealing.

To get all this data you would need to go to your county elections office (registrar of voters) and ask for the Statement of the Vote. They should be able to provide you with a CD-ROM of the data probably charge you $5 - $10 per cycle.

I like the Dublin/Pleasanton/SRV area as there probably are a lot of GOP moderates there who are ticket splitters, maybe even enough to attain 50+1. Again see the Boxer data to see if that proves my hunch correct.

State parties can do voter registration and abs balloting drives. [I had asked question about a congressional campaign coordinating with the state party.] From a respected colleague, "The main restriction on the coordinated campaign, besides what you mentioned (not explicitly asking people to vote for a candidate while doing a VR/AB drive) is that if you shouldn't just mention one candidate. Should be two-three, or just a generic "vote D" push in your script." Also, you can use soft dollars if you are just doing voter reg and Abs. Hard dollars if you are doing anything else." Ideally this funding would be through the Ca State Democratic Party. Start in June going until Sept in areas that the data indicated would be good for mining new Dem voters.

Then the drive would transform into an Absentee Ballot chase. Get the data from the county elections office daily (usually electronically) that indicates who has turned in their ballot vs. your in-house data that shows who had requested it - hound the people who haven't turned them in.

All of this cost $$$$. IMO what you and the other activists need to do is swallow your pride, become pragmatic and rally behind the DCCC candidate, as if Rahm Emanuel (DCCC Chair) stays true to his word - the money will be there for Filson and to keep him to that word - Filson (or whoever the frontrunner is) needs to have a easy win as Dems don't have $$$ to waste on a primary battle.

So your NUMBER ONE GOAL right now should be to organize amongst the activist community in the 11th to prevent a circular firing squad as we don't have any bullets to waste.

Democratically Yours,

From an e-mail dated 11/23:

Also after rethinking what I said about the primary, I do stand by my statement that the best candidate ideologically should be a moderate, yeah it maybe unappealing but he/she will have the best chance in the general, but aside from that I think a competitive primary will actually be beneficial, especially if it brings lots of publicity about Pombo's record as most people don't know where he really stands on the issues. Newspapers love political horseraces, so if the primary is competitive should gets lots of free press.

Christensen McDevitt [Ed. Note 11-29-05: sic--correct name is Christensen & Associates, Inc.] is a heavy hitter in the fundraising game from what I know. I guess McNerney is serious about his candidacy this time around so Filson won't be getting a free ride. Firms like Christensen McDevitt won't just take any candidate, they have to believe that you are viable and thus they will be able to raise funds for you, their cut is like 15% I think.

Even if DCCC/ Tauscher is behind Filson, whoever wins will still get the DCCC money if they think Pombo has a legitimate chance of going down (this is weighed of course in how this race looks in relation to other House contests).

Lisa Tucker as far as I know is the Campaign Manager for Filson. Filson is very much Tauscher's boy, I believe he donated money to her campaigns in the past I am not insinuating a quid pro quo though.

About the registration totals. In 04 I ran a campaign in the reddest of red areas with registration totals worse than those and won, overwhelmingly I might add. I wish the district I was in in '04 had that many Dem's %age wise.

If SJ County has the bulk of voters and the Dem/GOP breakdown is that close - I like it a lot. Thus hopefully the GOPers in the SR/Danville/Dublin area are the ones most persuadable (you need to see the returns from '04 to see if that is correct). And if that is the case in Nov '06 you just need to break even in the SJ County part (possibly pick off a few GOPers there (again use '04 data to look for fertile precincts).

If the unaffiliateds in the district mirror the polls nationwide, they will break for the Dem candidate overwhelmingly (this assumes the political climate then is similar or god forbid worse (that’s a whole other discussion) then this is a viable race and Pombo should be worried that he will actually have to spend his campaign funds instead of just giving it to his wife and brother.

The only way for this whole thing though to work is with $$$ and a lots of it. This district crosses several media markets - TV in CA is expensive, direct mail would be more effective IMO.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tracy Press: McNerney Hires Fundraisers

On Saturday I reported that Jerry McNerney had hired a fundraising consultant in Washington. In today’s Tracy Press, Nick Juliano picks up the story and runs with it. The article gives Say No to Pombo its first press mention, although in doing so it refers to us as a "liberal blog," which strikes me as somewhat inaccurate. (Maybe when some of the Republicans and Independents I've invited to post here take me up on my offer, it will be clearer that this blog is primarily an anti-Pombo site.) More importantly to all of you, the article provides a couple of interesting factoids to chew on about the status of the race to unseat Pombo.

Here’s the important section in terms of new information:

About two weeks ago, McNerney hired Ken Christensen, of the Washington firm Christensen McDevitt Inc., [Update 11-29-05: sic--correct name is Christensen & Associates, Inc] to expand his fundraising outreach to liberal political action committees, including those representing labor unions and environmental groups.

None of McNerney’s contributions have come from PACs, which were responsible for about a fourth of Filson’s campaign cash. Since September, Filson has contracted with the firm Fraioli & Associates to reach out to Washington donors, said Lisa Tucker, a campaign consultant.

At this point I’m not sure about the merits of the various firms Filson and McNerney have hired. The TP article does include a bit more background on Ken Christensen, but nothing terribly exhaustive. I’m putting this information here in the hopes that one of you may know more about these firms and enlighten the rest of us. If I don’t hear from anyone, I might have to more extensively consult the Google oracle and see what wisdom they can divine for us. Note, said oracle has brought me this information, which shows that Lisa Tucker is very closely tied to Ellen Tauscher. Ellen Tauscher, incidentally, also happens to be a client of Fraioli and Associates. It’s unclear whether Tucker spoke to the TP as a spokeswoman or as a source, but in any event it is clear that Steve Filson has only further folded himself into the warm embrace of Ellen Tauscher’s political family.

The other aspect of the article that I noted was, sad to say, a couple of errors when it came to numbers. Maybe I’m going to embarrass myself again like I did last week, but I’m fairly certain that each of the following excerpts at least give an erroneous impression:

  1. Through the end of September, McNerney, who lost his race last year against Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, had raised about a third as much as Steve Filson, a political novice from Danville who has the support of influential Washington Democrats. McNerney had about $35,000 in the bank compared to Filson’s $100,000, according to the most recently available Federal Election Committee filings.

    PoliticalMoneyLine’s analysis and my own both show that McNerney raised at least $53,000 to Filson’s $106,000. Granted, McNerney disbursed quite a bit of that money and ended up with the cash on hand that Juliano reports. Still, it would have been more accurate for Juliano to write that McNerney raised about half as much as Filson, rather than a third as much. Neither sounds (or in fact is) good. But in an article nominally about McNerney’s new fundraising efforts, these type of facts and figures matter.

  2. Whichever Democrat emerges also will have to fight against the built-in advantage for Pombo established by the district’s boundaries.

    Forty-four percent of the district’s registered voters are Republicans, compared to 37 percent who are Democrats and 15 percent who didn’t affiliate with either party, according to the most recent statistics from the Secretary of State’s office. However, San Joaquin County, which holds the bulk of the district’s voters, is more evenly split with 43 percent registered Republicans and 42 percent registered Democrats.

    I’m not sure why Juliano included the last sentence. It gives the impression that the part of San Joaquin County that lies within CA-11 is more Democratic than the district as a whole, when the opposite is true. In a grotesque example of gerrymandering, a good chunk of relatively Democratic Stockton was cut out from the district to help the re-election chances of former Rep. Gary Condit. Pombo, for his part, was probably happy to see those voters go. In any event, the Secretary of State’s office has just published updated voter registration stats which show that the part of San Joaquin County that is in CA-11 has a 37 percent Democratic/ 46 percent Republican breakdown in voter registration. (If you want to check my math, the stats show 74,909 Democrats and 92,716 Republicans, out of 198,917 registered voters).

    Incidentally, for those interested, San Joaquin County as a whole only has a slight difference in the registration of Democrats and Republicans because 35,000 Democrats but only about 21,000 Republicans live in the part of SJC cut out from CA-11. I haven’t really considered it before, but I think it’s likely, just from looking at the numbers, that a significant chunk of Margee Ensign’s potential support in Stockton comes from people who do not live in the district. Because of this, we need to be careful not to overstate her hometown appeal.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

How to Get Involved

The writers of this blog aim to do more than simply bear witness to the catastrophic policies of Congressman Richard Pombo. Rather, we hope that the information presented on this blog will lead people to take action and positively work to stop Richard Pombo. We are all learning how to do this effectively, but right now I wanted to lay out some ways of getting involved.

First, let me again encourage all of you to make a donation. I fully expect Pombo to be able to raise a couple million dollars if he feels threatened. There simply cannot be any effective opposition to him without adequate funding. So each of us who cares about stopping Pombo must find a way of donating what we can, when we can.

Second, I am going to start a Take Action mailing list. This will be a moderated list intended primarily as a one-way communication from me to those who sign up for it. I will include whatever possibilities for anti-Pombo activity I can think of. Right now it might be more focused on generating letters to the editor, but when the campaigns begin publishing their activities more, I will also publicize relevant anti-Pombo campaign activities. To sign up for this mailing list, please visit the Say No to Pombo Yahoo Group to sign up to be on this list. NOTE: when you sign up, please include your fist name, last initial and zip code in the “Comment to Owner” field. And if you have any questions about this, please e-mail me at saynotopombo at yahoogroupsdotcom.

Second, I have started a Say No to Pombo DFA-Link group. DFA-Link is a free and easy-to-use set of online tools for organizing offline action. The Say No to Pombo DFA-Link group has already become a place where all sorts of anti-Pombo activists can come together and work collaberatively. If you want to keep tabs on opportunities to work against Pombo, join the group.

Third, my co-author VPO has established both a useful Get Involved page and a Vote Pombo Out Yahoo Group. The Yahoo Group is a discussion group about all things (anti-)Pombo. It’s a great resource, and I have found it particularly useful. As readers of this blog might know, VPO does some amount of original reporting, and so his discussion group is a great place to get the inside scoop on breaking developments, often before they are noted here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Disgusting Tracy Press Editorial (Take Action)

The Tracy Press, Richard Pombo’s hometown newspaper, just published an appalling editorial that simply regurgitates Pombo’s bullshit.  Although I respect Nick Juliano, the Tracy Press’s reporter on the CA-11 beat, the editor of the TP has clearly gone off the deep end.

Look how the editorial begins:

N.Y Times editorial misrepresents Pombo

A New York Times editorial on Halloween eve took issue with House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, a conservative Republican who has represented Tracy for 13 years in Congress. In “Pombo Time,” the editorial board of what in many circles is regarded as the nation’s newspaper of record, concludes, “Mr. Pombo’s only idea, and it is a terrible one, is to treat this nation the way he treats his Congressional [sic] district, as if it were ripe for exploitation.”

As his hometown paper, we are obligated to respond to this and other inaccuracies in the editorial.

First of all, it’s deeply disingenuous to treat the Times quote as an inaccuracy. It’s not as if the Times said Pombo represented Modesto or something else that is patently a matter of fact.  Rather, the editor of the TP is taking issue with the opinions of the Times editors.  If the TP wants to have a pissing match with the Times, so be it.  But the editor should not present this as a simple disagreement over matters of fact, especially since the TP editor does not even have his facts straight.

The editorial continues:

The Times opines that Pombo has had a hard time staying out of the news lately. What the editorial doesn’t say is that the accusations about Pombo’s career in Washington are by biased political and special interest groups that in a concerted effort want to damage his re-election chances.

Now let’s look at what the Times actually wrote:

Richard Pombo has had a hard time keeping himself out of the news lately. In late September, a watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Mr. Pombo, a seven-term House member from California, one of the 13 most corrupt politicians in Congress. Three weeks later the Center for Public Integrity accused him of taking junkets paid for by the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources - the kind of organization, heavy with corporate donors, in which the word "conservation" is a wink to the wise. And last week the League of Conservation Voters accused him of selling out to a long list of corporate interests.

What’s important to note is that both of the first two groups listed by the Times have faulted Democrats as well as Republicans.  I’m sure the LCV has as well, but we see that the TP editor has summarily dismissed the accusation of any environmental group in a way that parrots Pombo’s talking points almost verbatim (emphasis mine):  

Upsetting to the Times is that after many attempts, Pombo has been able to move reforms to the 32-year-old Endangered Species Act through the House with bipartisan support. Just the idea that the Holy Grail of the environmental movement might be tweaked to protect our nation’s wildlife has infuriated environmental organizations that are filled with lawyers seeking to profit by taking our government to court. They cannot acknowledge that the ratio of failures to successes of the Endangered Species Act is 100 to 1. And neither does the Times.

Left un-discussed by the TP is the Times’ discussion of Pombo’s effort to sell off National Parks and privatize all sorts of federal land.  Of course, when you’re cherry-picking quotes to provide a slanted, ideological defense, you should only focus on the issues that allow you to fully smear the opposition.        

But it gets even better.  Not only do we get a despicable repetition of Pombo’s smear of environmental groups, we are also treated to one of the oldest Pombo canards in the book.  Here’s the TP (emphasis mine):

For the record, Pombo, then a first-term Tracy City Council member, was a victim of a government taking of property, and he was elected to Congress on local issues, not because of gerrymandering. His 11th District was drawn in 1991 by three special masters appointed by the state Supreme Court because the politicians in Sacramento could not reach an agreement on reapportionment.

It’s hard to know which lie the TP editor is swallowing here (there are two possibilities), but it’s clear that they are both lies.  The East Bay Express laid them both to rest in an article about Pombo.  From the Express (emphasis mine):

During his early years on Capitol Hill, Pombo added to his Western persona by developing a reputation for telling tall tales. In his 1996 book with conservative writer Joseph Farah, This Land Is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property, Pombo told an apparently fanciful tale about how he got into politics, implying that a family run-in with the East Bay Regional Park District in the 1980s first prompted him to run for office. Agency spokesmen later said Pombo wasn't telling the truth. He had alleged that the park district sought "an abandoned railroad right-of-way as a recreational trail through the property of two dozen local ranchers and that of my family." He also complained that the park district had sought to block construction of homes to protect the "viewshed" of the trails "without any compensation whatsoever." Park district spokesmen later pointed out that the district had no interest in the Pombos' Altamont property because it was beyond the district's boundaries at the time, and that it was actually seeking railroad right-of-ways in Niles Canyon, at least twenty miles away.

Protecting the value of his family's property has been a recurrent theme for Pombo. In 1994, he told a Senate committee that his family ranch had been devalued after it was declared a critical habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox. When questioned, he and his staff later acknowledged that the claim was untrue, but said the problem still applied to other Central Valley ranchers. But that wasn't true either. At the time, the federal government had yet to declare any critical habitat for the fox.

Not content to have shilled enough for Pombo, the TP then goes out of its way to heap praise upon Pombo, who becomes some sort of heroic warrior for Conservatism:

The Times is correct that Pombo is pure in his ideology and tough in combat. Conservatism is his strength, and his colleagues praise his work ethic. The Conference Steering Committee of 10 Republicans that appointed him Resources Committee chairman in 2003 recognized this, not just House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

So we’re supposed to think Pombo is great because ethically-challenged Tom Delay and his hand-picked group of cronies love Pombo to pieces?  Forgive me for not buying this bill of goods.

The TP then finishes in a shameful display of ridiculousness:

The Times should be honest. It doesn’t like Pombo because of his positions on energy exploration, sale of public lands for mineral rights and, of course, the Endangered Species Act. It’s easy to see why the editorial was published just days before an expected vote on oil drilling on a sliver of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It gave political cover for naysayers who have exploited The New York Times.

What this misses is that it’s entirely reasonable to dislike Pombo’s positions on “energy exploration” (i.e. drilling, the environment be damned), the “sale of public lands for mineral rights” (i.e. privatizing public lands, including land in and close to National Parks), and “the Endangered Species Act” (i.e. removing the critical habitat species need to survive).  In fact, not only the New York Times, but also the Stockton Record, the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle have all taken positions against Pombo for similar reasons.  

This whole editorial is a disgusting display of blatant, partisan favoritism.  I guess I should get used to the editorial page of the TP functioning as a quasi-official propaganda mill for Pombo.  If this is how they’ve operated during the last decade and a half, it’s no wonder that Pombo has so thoroughly bamboozled his voters.

I am left appalled and nauseous.  Please write a letter to the Tracy Press about this outrage:

Tracy PressLetters to EditorTracy PressP.O. Box 419Tracy, CA 95378-0419Phone: (209) 835-3030Fax: (209) 835-0655Email:


Campaign Updates

There have been a couple of different developments in the various campaigns that I thought I’d post. Forgive the detour through bullet-point land, but this will just be a collection of otherwise disconnected facts and factoids. Feel free to use the comment section as an open thread.

  • Pombo’s destructive mining provision was passed in the budget reconciliation bill passed Friday. I’m not sure what will happen to it during the conference committee, but I’m not hopeful.

    One of the interesting aspects of the provision that has gone largely unnoticed in the press is how the giveaway of federal land might have the effect of privatizing land that Native Americans claim as their ancestral land. (Update 8:10 PM-To be clear, some of this land is held in trust by the federal government for Native American tribes. So this would be a direct transfer of land from Native Americans to other private entities). These types of land claims by Native Americans have come up in hearings Pombo has held about Indian gambling, so he is certainly aware of the problem.

    But then again, I would not expect Richard Pombo to prioritize the equitable treatment of Native Americans over the chance to privatize federal land in the service of his campaign contributors. Ideologically and financially, Richard Pombo always stands with those who view the land as an exploitable resource.

  • I was informed yesterday that while Margee Ensign was speaking to the DVC Young Dems, Steve Filson and Jerry McNerney were meeting and greeting folks at a Phil Angelides event in San Francisco. Apparently Ensign was aware of this event, although I’m not sure when she found out. Still, if there was a way to announce her candidacy on a night that was sure to be overshadowed by other Democrats, this was it.

  • Steve Filson sent out the following update to my co-author VPO:

    [VPO], we are continuing to build our momentum and as you know this comes in the form of funding and leadership support, both from civic and elected officials, and of course through meeting as many people we can one on one and through all the associations. We are doing well in all these areas. We are currently marking up and finalizing a couple of appearances before the end of the year.

    All of Filson’s activity occurs somewhat off my radar. I only personally know of one person who has was impressed with him, but the last time we had a conversation she spoke very highly of Ensign.

  • There are two news items about Jerry McNerney’s campaign.

    First, McNerney has hired consultants in Washington to help with his fundraising. We’ll see how that turns out. McNerney needs to seriously begin raising PAC money, and he might find some labor or environmental groups that are willing to donate something to him. I’m not an expert, but I have been told that PACs will sometimes give money to more than one candidate in a race. If McNerney can get even half the money Filson has raised from PAC, it will push McNerney over the $100,000 threshold he definitely needs to reach (and surpass) by the next FEC reporting date.

    Second, McNerney has successfully recruited some people to help him shore up a couple aspects of his campaign that were a bit weak. The WDRC has a strategic planning retreat today, and at least three members who attended the retreat were volunteering for his campaign, including the two immediate past co-chairs. The club may or may not make an endorsement in the primary, but it’s significant that there was a break out session at this retreat about fighting Pombo. None of the active members, to my knowledge, are involved with either of the other two Democratic campaigns, so I could see the WDRC moving into the McNerney camp in the future. Also, although some WDRC members have been working with McNerney for awhile, some of them have only recently been given (or maybe, accepted) more centralized roles that are commensurate with their significant skill and experience. (Full disclosure, I’m a member of the club and some of the McNerney Campaign volunteers are close friends of mine). Still, both my personal and political instincts tell me that his campaign is headed towards where he needs it to go.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Professor Margee Ensign

As you probably know if you read this blog, Margee Ensign spoke at the Diablo Valley College Young Democrats meeting last night. Both of my co-authors and I were able to attend. At the end of this entry, I will discuss some information I picked up at the event that is more about the state of the race than Ensign herself. But first, let me detail my impressions of Margee Ensign and what she said.

To begin, let me simply say that I was more impressed with Ensign the person than with Ensign the politician. Listening to her speak felt more like attending an academic lecture (albeit one conducted by an engaging professor) than a political speech. This impression was heightened by the fact that her speech was accompanied by a fact-filled Power Point presentation.

I think the stylistic point is important because there’s an important difference between presenting an intellectual argument and an evocative emotional argument. For me, the entire substance of what she said was presented on an overly intellectual level. And this has the effect of making her argument seem much more abstract than it should have been.

In terms of content, she spent the majority of her time speaking about Iraq, economics, education, healthcare, and the environment. She said the things that I think most people would expect her to say. I took notes, but my notes mostly contain a laundry list of facts and figures, without many things that jump out at me. I think that she spoke most eloquently about education, which is unsurprising given her profession as an educator. Still, I found little new in the thematic points that she hit during the speech itself.

In the question and answer session after the speech, however, she did surprise me by disclaiming any strong view on troop withdrawal from Iraq. She said that she had opposed going into Iraq but is unsure what the best strategy is now that we’re there. So rather than wrapping herself in the anti-war flag as Filson suggested she might, Ensign seemed to take a rather moderate and cautious approach to the situation there.

Also, there was one big thematic problem I saw with Ensign’s speech, which was that she consistently chose San Joaquin County, Stockton, and the Central Valley as adequate descriptors of her community. This was tremendously problematic for me because it left out half of the district. Remember, the district is ridiculously gerrymandered. The majority of people at the dinner (at least as far as I could tell) came from Alameda and Contra Costa counties. For example, the San Ramon Democratic Club, the same club I attended to hear Steve Filson’s speech, had a significant number of members at last night’s speech. Yet you wouldn’t know they lived in the district if you just listened to Ensign. I made a comment about this in the question and answer session and she professed to be just now learning about the district, which I found somewhat inadequate as a response.

This dovetails with another interesting aspect about Ensign’s candidacy. She seems to be tippy-toeing into the race. She did not announce her candidacy last night, but rather the formation of an exploratory committee. In a Tracy Press article about last night’s speech, Nick Juliano provides a bit of relevant background when writes, “If she decides to jump in, Ensign would have to relinquish her position as a dean at Pacific and become a regular faculty member. Forming an exploratory committee allows Ensign to campaign and raise money while keeping her position at the school. She wouldn’t have to formally declare her candidacy until March.” Still, for all of her poise in her speech and in her responses to questions, Ensign came across as rather self-effacing and unsure of herself. She set a goal of raising $100,000 by the end of the year but seemed to leave open whether she thought she could meet that goal or not.

All of this would be fine if it was happening two or three months ago. But it struck me as odd that at this stage in the game she would come to Contra Costa County and have nothing to say about what she can do for the voters there. I thought it weird that she would seem so skeptical about her own chances. She even said she was still investigating whether there was any merit to the charges about Pombo’s ethical lapses.

At the end of the night I felt like I was not left with an argument for why someone should vote for her. I had a more detailed understanding of the problems in the district and I had an appreciation for her base level of policy competence. But I did not feel like she really connected the dots between why someone who doesn’t like Pombo should vote for her over her opponents. She was more dynamic than McNerney and more substantive than Filson, but at the same time she failed to convey Filson’s self-assurance or McNerney’s backbone. She was certainly more policy-oriented than either, and probably has more managerial competence than both put together. Still, I left wishing that we could have a Margee McFilson running in this race.

The one doubtlessly bright spot for Ensign is that she clearly has a lot of grassroots support and energy, at least from certain quarters. I doubt that her grassroots support currently rivals McNerney’s, but she certainly has some potential there. Owing more to this potential than anything I saw last night, I still think she presents a strong, credible challenge to the other two candidates.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, last night I also found out some interesting tidbits about the race itself. I’m posting them here for you to chew on.

  • A woman from the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee told me that she had heard that someone else, a hitherto unknown man from Danville, has just pulled papers for this race. She gave me a name but I need to check out the information anyway, so let’s leave it now as unsubstantiated rumor. The more interesting tidbit is that she has the impression that we might see a couple more challengers in the Democratic primary because “people are smelling blood in the water.” That said, unless a new challenger either is wealthy enough to fund a potentially million dollar race or has some sort of prominent community standing (ahem Machado), I cannot see him or her doing well.

  • It came out in Ensign’s speech that Scott Chacon has been helping her with her website, which will be launched soon. I assume this means that Chacon has given up his somewhat quixotic attempt to run against Pombo, but I was unable to speak with him about this at the event last night. Still, I have always thought that Chacon’s understanding of technology would be an invaluable asset to a more credible challenger. If Ensign has Chacon’s full backing, it represents an auspicious start to her campaign.
  • Ensign also mentioned that she has spoken with the leaders of MoveOn who have told her that MoveOn will help register voters in the district if she proves that she’s a viable candidate. First, I’m unclear why she associated herself with MoveOn, which probably does not have the best reputation among the moderates she needs to court, when they have not committed to do anything. It’s just a gimme to Pombo and his ilk. But more than anything, what she said made me irritated by MoveOn. MoveOn has seventy zillion reasons to register voters in CA-11, and they ought to be committed to doing so regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination. I hope Ensign somehow made a mistake when she implied otherwise.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

House Democrats Defeated the Republican Budget Bill

Update (4:15 PM): It looks like I got ahead of myself with this post. I confused the budget reconciliation bill scheduled for a vote today and the budget appropriations bill, which was the one discussed in the WaPo article. My apologies for the error. Thanks to Praxxus and Tom Hilton for pointing out the mistake.

As frequent readers know, I have been tracking how Congressman Richard Pombo has been attempting to stick a number of extraneous, contentious, and frankly environmentally rapacious provisions in the House budget reconciliation bill. If his provisions passed, they would have radically changed American environmental policy without any debate on the merits of the changes in the House. This stealth attack on the environment was on top of the blatant and inexcusably draconian cuts to food stamps that Richard Pombo voted to include in the budget bill.

Well today, thanks in large part to a united Democratic caucus, the House reconciliation bill was voted down 224-209. Although we cannot rest on our laurels, we must understand that today the Democrats in Congress, aided by a small number of Republican moderates, protected all Americans from Pombo’s multi-pronged attack. Today we slew the Republican hydra and thereby protected much of what we love about this country.

To all of those who claim that the Congressional Democrats aren’t worth a damn, I offer this victory as refutation.

Anticipating Margee Ensign’s Speech

This is just a reminder that Margee Ensign is going to speak tonight at a fundraising dinner for the Diablo Valley Young Democrats. A number of anti-Pombo folks (including all of the co-authors of this blog) are going to attend in order to suss Ensign out a bit.

Tonight’s announcement also prompted a brief article in the Stockton Record, in which Ensign re-affirms the plans she discussed earlier with VPO. Here are the first two paragraphs from the article:

A University of the Pacific dean said Wednesday she will raise money and stump while mulling a campaign to oust Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, in next year's election.

Margee Ensign, dean of Pacific's School of International Studies, said she would form an exploratory committee, gauging support for her candidacy before deciding to officially enter the race. She plans to formally announce the committee at a lecture today before a class at Diablo Valley College in the East Bay.

I assume the author made a mistake when he placed the announcement at a lecture, rather than the dinner. But that aside, I’m a bit mystified by the implicit time table this sets up for an Ensign candidacy. I did not consider it earlier, but the following questions now occur to me: Why would Ensign simply announce an exploratory committee at this time? Why not declare now, work hard, and pull the plug if she gets no traction?

Time is of the essence in this race. Ensign will need to raise a huge sum of money to be competitive, and she’s already behind her competition. So I just don’t understand the strategic payoff of waiting to declare.
Furthermore, if she dallies too long before announcing, she’ll give the impression that she does not really want to fight to oust Pombo. We need someone who is committed to defeating the guy. I gave Ensign points for waiting until after the special election on the charitable assumption that she was too busy fighting Arnold to simultaneously campaign against Pombo. But unless she gets her act in gear soon, she may find herself something of a Janie-come-lately to this race.

That said, I suppose it’s not fair to form strong conclusions based on what might be simply semantics. Hopefully, after hearing her tonight we’ll be able to apply the walk-like-a-duck-talks-like-a-duck analysis to whether she’s in the race or not. So check back tomorrow for a full round of analysis courtesy of Say No to Pombo’s crack reporting team.

Pombo's Mining Provision Unspun

Over the past week, the national media finally seemed to discover mining provision, written by Nevada Representative Jim Gibbons, that Richard Pombo slipped into the budget reconciliation bill. The Los Angeles Times wrote a wonderful piece by Bettina Boxall, which provided an incredible breath of sources who confirmed what we already know: that the Richard Pombo mining provision is a horrible idea. It’s a giveaway to mining companies and to real estate developers like Pombo. But the Times piece really takes the cake in the straightforward and powerful manner in which it demolishes Pombo’s bullshit defense of the mining provision.

The piece begins with a general introduction to the provision under the headline “Some Fear a Vast Sell-Off of U.S. Land.” Fairly quickly we get the first attributed quote, which reads:
"When I first saw it, it took my breath away. It's really quite stunning," said Mat Millenbach, who was deputy director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management during President Bush's first term. "This could have the impact of making public lands harder to get to and use. There will be huge issues of incompatible uses."

This is a great bullshit defense mechanism. We know Pombo’s M.O. is to claim that the opposition to his policies comes from liberal environmental groups who use hyperbole and fear-mongering to raise money for their causes. The fact that the author leads with a quote from a former Bush administration official effectively takes away this type of response.

Furthermore, the quote is not couched in any sort of tree-hugger-esque language. No, this is about our land that we want to use. This isn’t about the kit fox or the spotted owl. This is about hunters who will lose access to their favorite hunting grounds, fishermen who would no longer be able to fish from the streams they fished with their fathers, and all the other Americans who will lose the ability to use and enjoy our natural wild places.

The author returns to the theme of National Parks later in the article and then ties it to the only explanation we get for this crazy provision. The article reads (emphasis mine):

Park officials are worried that other parts of the proposal could overturn Mojave National Preserve protections that restrict patent claims to minerals and prohibit private acquisition of the land in which the minerals are found. "We are concerned that it's going to open up the Mojave," said David Shaver, chief of geological resources for the National Park Service.The mining provisions were drafted by Republican Jim Gibbons of Nevada. He and Pombo have complained that the federal government owns too much land in the West, and Pombo is spearheading efforts to rescind habitat protections for imperiled wildlife on 150 million acres.

It’s nice to know that Pombo is embarking on this cockamamie scheme because he thinks that we (that is, you and I) as Americans through our federal government, own too much land in the West. You know, a developer like Pombo probably does not understand the value of National Parks to people who do not personally own property. He’s like the rich kid in the playground who not only won’t share his toys, but wants to break the few toys the poor kids have. And he clearly has no intention of trying to figure out why the National Parks mean so much, to so many people.

Of course, the article quotes Brian Kennedy, Pombo’s mouthpiece on these types of issues, who demonstrates that he likes to do to the English language that which his boss likes to do the environment.

Resources Committee spokesman Brian Kennedy pointed to the committee's bill report, which said the public purchase provision would allow for the "sale of slivers and small parcels of federal land" next to mine operations. "You or I as private citizens cannot go to the federal government and say I want a mining claim," Kennedy said. "There has to be a legitimate application from a legitimate party."But the article follows the Kennedy quote with a mountain of evidence that in an understated way exposes Kennedy’s (and through him Pombo’s) galling mendaciousness. The article concludes (emphasis mine):

But the BLM, which administers the federal mineral estate, says anyone can stake a mining claim on federal land. They simply have to file an application with the government, physically stake out the boundaries and pay a $125 annual fee to hold it.

Indeed, claims have been sold on EBay. John Leshy, the Interior Department's top lawyer during the Clinton administration, said there is a problem in the Sierra Nevada with people staking mining claims to hold their favorite fishing or camping spot.

Moreover, the section of the pending bill that deals with land purchases by the public does not require a valuable mineral discovery on the new claim. And it orders the Interior secretary to make the land "available for purchase to facilitate sustainable economic development.""

The way I read this, you simply go out onto the public lands still open for [claims], you find some past mineral development activities, and you stake claims contiguous to those and you claim the right to purchase," said Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado School of Law.

Aside from holding a claim, the only requirement for the buyer is to do $7,500 of "mineral development work," which can consist of surveying or road building. The land would be sold for $1,000 an acre or fair market value, minus the worth of any mineral deposits.

"It looks to me like the whole purpose of it is to take public land and to put it in the hands of private people with the full intention of having them develop the land for whatever purposes they see fit," said Sean Hecht, executive director of the UCLA Environmental Law Center. "The more I look at this, the more shocking it really is."

The bill gives no time limits for the claims around which land will be sold, opening up a potentially huge universe. Since 1976, slightly more than 3.2 million claims, averaging 20 acres, have been filed on federal lands, the BLM said. Roughly 282,000 of them were in California.

Millions more were filed going back to Gold Rush days. "At one time or another over the last 130 years, much of the land in the West has had an unpatented mining claim on it," Leshy said. "So it's very hard to say how many acres are involved in that. But it's potentially a very big number."

I mentioned the “to facilitate sustainable economic development” clause in my earlier post about Pombo’s use of bullshit. As I hope I’ve made clear, I think that this article effectively disposes of the most bullshit aspects of Pombo’s claim about this provision.

But I want to end by noting the second sentence I highlighted: “The land would be sold for $1,000 an acre or fair market value, minus the worth of any mineral deposits.” This is not simply a run-of-the-mill use of bullshit. Here the operative word in the sentence is “fair.” I’ve seen in all the articles about this the phrase “fair market value,” and I am fairly confident that the phrase “fair market value” appears in the legislation. “Fair” is a value-laden word, it has more power and meaning than just any word. And we should latch on to this clear and obvious misuse of a word to show how it demonstrates Pombo’s deeper character flaws.

We need to point out that Richard Pombo thinks that the fair value of land does not include the valuable minerals it contains. We need to ask: What the hell is fair about that? What the hell is fair about giving away gold on federal land to mining companies? What the hell is fair about taking our valuable land, yours and mine, and practically giving it away to large (often foreign) companies or big real estate developers?

I submit that there is nothing fair about this at all, and that nobody in their right mind would defend this provision as fair. And so the most charitable conclusions we can draw about Richard Pombo when he calls this provision fair, is that he is either manifestly incompetent, immoral, or dishonest.

Just reason number 56,786 to kick him out of office I guess.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

One Less Month of Richard Pombo

It’s been one month since I started this blog. Since then we’ve gotten almost 1,500 visits and 3,000 page views. But perhaps most gratifying is the sheer diversity of the visitors we’ve had at this site. I consistently get hits from the House of Representatives and from other governmental bodies. I even got a hit from someone at the EPA who found this site after googling “Pombo hate club.” Also, simply having this blog has put me in contact with a diverse array of anti-Pombo activists who are all committed to kicking Pombo out of office in 2006.

I have a lot of goals for this site. Becoming an internet hub for anti-Pombo activism is one of the main goals I have. But one of the goals, something that has been somewhat lacking, has been getting donations through the ActBlue link on the right side of the page. Despite the widespread and vocal animosity towards Pombo, many readers have not taken the simply step of giving money to help kick him out of office.

I think everyone who really wants to see Pombo out of office needs to step up to the plate and donate what they can to make it happen. We know Pombo is going to be extremely well-funded and we know that money means a lot in races like these. Although we individually might not be wealthy, we at least have strength in numbers. Donating via ActBlue is a way of showing and magnifying that strength.

To understand this, first you need to understand what ActBlue is and why I chose it. ActBlue is a PAC that bundles internet contributions for Democratic candidates. In this way, ActBlue allows you to make a donation over the internet to a specific candidate. There are three reasons why donating this way is better than donating through a candidate’s website.

  1. ActBlue has established “general election funds” that go to whoever wins the Democratic primary for a particular race. A lot of people do not want to worry about supporting one Democrat over another in the primary. If you donate to the CA-11 General Election Fund, you can donate now without worrying about picking sides. As soon as the primary is over, the Democratic nominee will receive all the money in the fund. Donating to the CA-11 General Election Fund is a great way to say “No!” to Pombo.

  2. Unlike many campaigns, ActBlue allows automatic monthly donations. A lot of people cannot afford a large lump sum donation. By setting up monthly donations, you can spread out your giving over time. It’s automatic so you don’t have to remember to send in a check and the campaigns don’t have to waste volunteer time reminding you to donate. The general election is just under one year away. Everyone who is serious about ousting Pombo ought to donate at least fifteen to fifty dollars per month.

  3. If you donate through the Say No to Pombo ActBlue page, we can track the amount and type of donations this blog has generated. Right now we have generated $200 in donation (plus an additional $50 from me). I am hoping that we generate at least $4,200 by the end of the race. That amount equals the maximum donation allowable by law from an individual to a candidate running for the House ($2,100 is the maximum for the primary, and an additional $2,100 is allowed during the general election). We might not individually be high-dollar donors, but collectively we can be just as important as the richest person in this country.

So please visit the Say No to Pombo ActBlue page and make a donation.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pombo's Bogeyman: Liberal Republicans

In an e-mail to me, VPO alerted me that Pombo has been trying to blame, incredibly, “liberal Republicans” for his problems with the budget.  This raises the two separate issues. First, we need to notice Pombo’s use of language to paint moderate Republicans as liberals when they oppose his extremist agenda.  Secondly, we need to ask whether it is true that the opposition came from moderate Republicans.

Here’s the relevant quote, which come from this article in the Washington Post:

“The question for the House leadership is: How far do you go in order to get the liberal Republican vote? Obviously, they pushed it too far," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.), who estimated that he and more than 25 other Republicans considered rejecting the budget once the leadership removed provisions to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and offshore. "When they pulled it out, [moderates] still didn't support it. And a bunch of guys elsewhere in the country said, 'Wait a minute. What happened to the energy?' "

We need to remember that “liberal” is a four-letter word for a lot of Republicans.  So this label is hardly neutral.  Furthermore, by labeling his Republican opponents “liberal,” Pombo tacitly sets himself up as conservative.  If he had instead labeled his opponents as “moderate,” which seems to be both more natural and more neutral, he would have tacitly identified himself as a non-moderate, and thereby acknowledged on some level his ideological extremism.  

Let’s not forget that only about twenty-five Republicans opposed the budget bill when it included the drilling provisions.  This is roughly comparable to the approximately twenty-five Republicans who, according to Pombo himself, will oppose the budget unless it contains the initial drilling provisions.  So if this fight is understood as between ideological wings of the House Republican caucus, Pombo would be placing himself in the ninetieth percentile of Republicans in terms of conservatism.  Or to put it another way, if this is simply a battle between ideological strains of Republicans, then Pombo is donning the uber-wingnut mantel in a caucus chalk full of wingnuts.  

Certainly, the next time Pombo or his puppet Brian Kennedy tries to deride environmental groups as “liberal special interest groups” we might remind the media that Pombo even regards people who vote with Tom Delay ninety percent of the time as liberal.

Of course, all of this makes sense only if we take Pombo at his word.  The bigger picture is that Pombo is only partially accurate when he implies that the Republicans who opposed the budget did so out of ideological reasons.  It is true, for example, that the moderate Republican faction known as the House Tuesday Group (also known by the name of the organization it spawned called Republican Main Street Partnership) has played a key role in organizing opposition to the budget bill when it included the ANWR and offshore drilling provisions.  

What has not gotten much notice, however, is how varied the opposition to this budget has been.  For example, the offshore drilling provisions were opposed by five Republicans members of Congress from Florida.  They include the illustrious  notorious Katherine Harris, who is not by any stretch of the imagination a moderate Republican.  Furthermore, according to this post at, the budget was even opposed by James “Lights Out” Sensenbrenner, the guy who voted against the Katrina relief package.  

Admittedly, I am having difficulty nailing down who exactly opposed the budget bill, when, and for what reasons.  (Besides the list on, I have come across this article from The Hill).  But everything I have seen indicates that the opposition did not come simply from moderate Republicans unhappy with the energy provisions.  Rather, it looks like Pombo is framing the debate as ideological in order to gloss over the substantive reasons that even his erstwhile ideological allies could have for opposing the provisions that Pombo is championing.  

Furthermore, by focusing on energy policy, Pombo implicitly groups the moderate Republicans along with the Democrats in opposition.  Although it is true that many Democrats opposed the environmentally ruinous drilling provisions Pombo had in the budget, the real Democratic opposition doubtlessly stems from the cuts to social services, education, and the like.  

Not a single Democrat was going to vote for the budget bill.  That’s an important fact not to let slip away.  The united Democratic opposition set the groundwork for the Republican defection on these bills.  By focusing only on energy policy, Pombo and the Republicans are allowed to ignore that entire aspect of the story.  We should not follow Pombo’s lead in this.  We should keep this fact before our eyes.                        

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pombo Votes to Cut Food Stamps

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. (Luke 6:21)

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

Each of us is full of metaphoric hungers. But I would wager that few among us have ever actually hungered for food day after day after day. I look at Richard Pombo and his flaccid, fleshy cheeks tell me that he has never missed a meal in his life. And yet, it’s still hard to believe that he would act like this (emphasis mine):

Facing the bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the damage from Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that exposed the deep pockets of poverty in this country, Republicans are poised to cut one of the nation's most important and basic safety net programs — food stamps.

The proposed cuts come despite promises not to reopen the 2002 farm bill (which is negotiated every five years) and not to make policy changes to meet budget goals. The food stamp cuts make huge policy changes to the program. The proposed cuts wouldn't simply reduce food stamp benefits; they would throw large numbers of people off the food stamp program altogether — without any debate over this policy change.

One policy change would impact food stamp eligibility primarily for low-wage working families, mostly with children.

A second cut would have harsh impacts for states with immigrant populations, including California. Nationally, 70,000 legal immigrants (illegal immigrants, of course, are not eligible for food stamps), would lose access to food stamps, including families with children and elderly parents. It would make legal immigrants ineligible for food stamps for seven years after entering the United States, no matter how poor they are.


Of four Californians on the House Agriculture committee, only Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, voted for the food stamp cuts. Reps. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino; Jim Costa, D-Fresno; and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced; voted against them.

Pombo and other Republicans on the committee voted for these cuts on the same day that the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report showing that the number of households who don't have enough food has risen to 13.5 million in 2004. In California, 12.4% of households don't have enough food some time during the year. Yet to balance the budget, they're not even considering a rollback in President Bush's record-high three rounds of tax cuts — which have gone to the highest-income households.

The average food stamp benefit is not a lot — $86 per person per month. You'd think that during wartime and natural disaster, the president and Congress would call for broad-based, shared sacrifice among Americans.

Instead, they're calling for cuts to programs that aid the nation's most vulnerable people — the poor, the elderly and children. That shows their sense of priorities. The food stamp cuts now go to the House Budget Committee, which should turn back the mean-spirited attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

I cannot think of a single scenario that would make his action here correct. I fully expect to disagree with Pombo on matters of politics and policy, but this seems to me an unambiguous question of basic morality: You do not deny a fellow human beings food when they are hungry and when you have plenty.

In the midst of the breadbasket of California we have a representative of the people who will let some go hungry. And in doing so, he will deny the demands of basic human decency so that he can finance the further enrichment of the already wealthy.

This is a disgrace. He is a disgrace. And it makes me so mad I could spit.

John Edwards has been saying that poverty in America is the great moral issue of our day. He is right. But things like this do not only test our morality, they also test our humanity. Richard Pombo is failing on both accounts.

A Perfect Storm?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Richard Pombo has been very busy over the last several years trying to find newer and ever more awful ways to savage both our laws and our environment. But in the last couple of months, Pombo has been engaged in a veritable frenzy of environmental depredation.

Pombo bundled several of his more noxious attacks into the pending House budget reconciliation bill under the guise of deficit reduction. To raise revenues, Pombo proposed opening both the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and protected coastlines to oil and natural gas drilling, along with selling off federal land at fire-sale prices to companies that hold mining permits. At the same time he has supported spending cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, agriculture subsidies, student loans, and several other programs.

But something happened this week. With the Bush administration under siege on almost every front, moderate Republicans have suddenly found their voice. The Washington Post put it this way:

After five years of remarkable unity under Bush's gaze, divisions between Republican moderates and conservatives are threatening to paralyze the party.

"The fractures were always there. The difference was the White House was always able to hold them in line because of perceived power," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. "After Tuesday's election, it's 'Why are we following these guys? They're taking us off the cliff.' "

Late yesterday, the House Republican leadership was forced to pull the budget reconciliation bill off the House floor when it became apparent that they did not have a sufficient number of votes to pass it. The House Republicans are caught in a game of push me/pull you. Moderates are refusing to pass the bill if it contains Pombo’s revenue-raising schemes along with spending cuts to social programs; meanwhile, Pombo is leading a group that threatens to vote against the bill if doesn’t contain those elements. And so they’re at an impasse.

But the fractures that Tony Fabrizio talks about didn’t just open this week.

With less fanfare, another group of Republicans has become active over the past year. Former Congressman Pete McCloskey, who was a Republican member of the House from 1967 to 1983, has been watching the antics of the current Republican-led House with mounting concern. In a Tracy Press op-ed, McCloskey explains his involvement with the Revolt of the Elders Coalition, an organization that is dedicated to removing ultra-conservative Republicans from office.

The Revolt of the Elders Coalition is an initiative organized by older Republicans who have served in Congress or in the executive branch and are deeply concerned about the present Republican leadership in the House. Our purpose is to educate the public about the DeLay Republicans, whom we believe have not only abandoned traditional Republican values, but also have dishonored and disgraced the party with their unethical conduct.


We have formed a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit corporation to examine and publish the actions and views of the DeLay Republicans for the edification of the voting public. We believe that a respected and balanced Republican leadership in the House will be beneficial to the nation and we would like to see a return of the kind of bi-partisan cooperation and courtesy on critical issues, which brought this nation world leadership and respect after World War II. These are not matters of Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. liberal; we see them as issues that transcend party loyalty and political philosophy.

There can be no greater goal today than restoration of faith of our people in our own government and those whom we elect to lead us.

And make no mistake, Pete McCloskey views Richard Pombo as one of the most dangerous of the DeLay Republicans. Since the founding of the Revolt of the Elders Coalition, McCloskey has been working to find a “reasonable Republican to take Pombo on” in 2006. So far, he has not found another Republican willing to run, and it is looking increasingly likely that McCloskey himself will come out of retirement to run against Pombo in next June’s primary. As a committed environmentalist, McCloskey, who co-chaired the first Earth Day in 1970 and co-wrote the Endangered Species Act in 1974, has good reason to dislike Richard Pombo. In an interview with the Contra Costa Times, the 78-year-old McCloskey, a former Marine, “who led six bayonet charges in Korea, says he can’t drink coffee on his deck and gripe about how many trees he has lost to the gophers while ‘religious zealots, big business, lobbyists and war-mongers take over the party.’”

I don’t know about you, but to me, this looks more like a chasm than a fracture. We’ll have to see how it all plays out, but 2006 looks like it’s going to be mighty interesting.