Saturday, December 31, 2005

Did Filson Freep Daily Kos?

For the last post of the year, I think it’s important to look at a recent development that caught my eye and has the potential to shape the race in the coming year. On December 21, Steve Filson posted a diary without much fanfare on Daily Kos. The diary itself was solid if not exceptional, but I don’t really want to talk about it. What really interests me more is the process of Filson posting on Daily Kos, especially in terms of what happened in the comment section.

You can read the diary here. Regardless of the content of the post, there are a couple of things about how Filson posted the diary that virtually doomed it to obscurity. First, Filson posted using the user name Fido Dem, which does not obviously label him a congressional candidate. Second, Filson titled his diary “Steve Filson for Congress,” which leaves out the state (California), the district (CA-11), and the opponent (Richard Pombo). If he had created a user name like FilsonforCongress and titled the diary “Why I’m Taking on Richard Pombo (CA-11),” I’m sure more people would have read it. Lastly, Filson tagged the diary poorly (something I have since tried to correct). For example, instead of tagging the diary with CA-11, which is the usual way on Daily Kos to abbreviate the district, Filson tagged the diary “CA-06” presumably meaning California 2006 election. I suspect that this tag will result in a number of people coming to the diary expecting to see Filson announcing his entry into the contested primary between Lynn Woolsey and Joe Nation. Still, more than anything, Filson’s missteps suggest to me that Filson is incredibly unfamiliar with the cultural norms of Daily Kos, which makes sense give his recent User ID (73385).

In some ways, it’s almost a good thing that his diary did not get noticed because Filson failed to do the one cardinal thing politicians must do on blogs like Daily Kos: respond to comments. Blogs allow for two-way communication, so it’s considered rude for politicians come to blogs, post something, and disappear without engaging in any sort of conversation. On the other hand, I suspect that Filson encouraged at least a couple of his supporters to comment on the diary after a couple of McNerney supporters left pro-McNerney comments. Although I do not have conclusive proof, it very much looked like Filson had some of his supporters freep the diary. And seeing this kind of irritated me.

If you look at the comments to Filson's diary, you see two pro-Filson comments left long after the diary was posted. First, at approximately 12:20 AM on 12/23, Buffyfan (User ID 74466) said:
I am not from California but any American who cares about the environment or ethics should be watching this race. I am looking forward to seeing you unseat Pombo.
Next, at approximately 4:30 PM on 12/23, Jbmendel (User ID 74461) posted the following comment (responding to what Filson wrote in his diary about trust):

I'll trust you, Mr. Filson. We need more strong candidates like yourself in California and across the country. I'm very excited about your candidacy.

All respect for Mr. McNerney, the "but we were here first!" mentality evinced by his supporters is frankly very unbecoming. In a hard district like yours, there's only one relevant question: "Can you win?"

I trust that you can.

Color me skeptical, but it seems incredibly unlikely that two new users (with User IDs five numbers apart no less) would find this one diary, and only this one diary, to comment on. The sheer number of intervening diaries (approximately three and five hundred respectively) between when the diary was posted and when they commented on it virtually ensures that they did not just happen upon the diary. Furthermore, it seems odd to me that these two users commented only on the one diary “Steve Filson for Congress” and no other. Even now there has been no other activity from Buffyfan or Jbmendel outside of the this diary. And look at how Jbmendel responded to me when I replied to his initial comment:


Your half right (none / 0)
You're right that "we were here first" is not a good argument. What you miss is that "we were here first" is not what McNerney supporters are saying.

Every single McNerney supporter I have spoken to believes that Jerry McNerney demonstrated significant moral courage by running against Pombo in 2004. He ran without any significant support from the Democratic Party establishment. He paid $10,000 out of his own pocket (a significant sum for a man of his means) for a recount just to get on the ballot. And he did so because he took a principled stand against giving Richard Pombo a free pass.

Moreover, Jerry McNerney did this in a district that had been thirsting for a committed, passionate Democrat who wasn't afraid to stand up and fight for Democratic beliefs.

Regardless of whether you find this motivating or not, you need to understand that the loyal cadre of McNerney supporters back McNerney so strongly because they absolutely believe in his character. He championed them when nobody else would. This is much different than "we were here first."


Where Democrats Agree (none / 0)
We agree on more than we disagree. My remark was in response to the previous comments and some of the other blogs out there which have pre-emptively begun disparaging Mr. Filson. That's not the way Democrats should do things.

I've read all about Mr. McNerney's run in 2004, and really do have great respect for the man. The numbers don't lie, though. He has a small group of very dedicated supporters, and none of the widespread support needed to win in a hard district.

I'm also familiar with Mr. Filson. He's an Eagle Scout, a former Naval pilot, and an inspiring Democrat. In just a few months he has won incredible amounts of support from both inside and outside the district. He has the people, he has the funding, and he has the saavy he needs to win in November.

We can all agree on the need for a lively primary. We can agree that beating Pombo is going to take everything we've got. And we can agree that come election day, taking back the House is the only yardstick for success.

I'm proud to support Steve Filson.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a bit dubious that Filson just happened to have such an articulate supporter who just stumbled onto his diary and left a bunch of brute assertions about Filson and the race without bothering to back any of them up with--you know--facts, hyperlinks, quotes, or other things of the sort. I’m also particularly skeptical about Jbmendel describing Filson as “inspiring,” especially since Filson’s message up to this point has basically been “Vote for me because I can raise more money and am more electable than the other guy.” Maybe I’m just too dyspeptic to be easily inspired by such talk.

In any event, not content to stop at this diary, Jbmendel then went over to to write another (and I would say, somewhat disingenuous) pro-Filson piece. Incidentally, a user named CAL11 Voter (User ID 72950) also posted pro-Filson comments in the same places as Jbmendel, although it’s possible that CAL11 Voter simply googled “jbmendel” after reading the comments on dkos and found the Our Congress entry that way.

On one level, I think it’s smart for Filson to get his supporters to provide him some cover when he posted on Daily Kos. But on another level, I’m disappointed that it looks like he got people to sign up on Daily Kos specifically to provide him that cover. These are not genuine members of the community. And the fact that it looks so transparently like he did this makes me feel like he’s being overly manipulative, which is ironic since Filson’s diary includes a bit about how we ought to trust him. Furthermore, almost everything of substance that was said about Filson could have been said more credibly by Filson himself.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive to this (or maybe too paranoid). What do you guys think?

Friday, December 30, 2005

2 + 2 = 4? Well, Kind Of

I don’t think it’s just me; I think it’s a facet of human nature. But when I’m introduced to new information, I try to assimilate it into a narrative that makes sense to me. When I meet people for the first time, I subconsciously take the things they tell me about themselves and combine that with my impressions to form images of these people and the lives they lead. Now, are these images always correct? Probably not. Can people give me misleading information that leads me to form false conclusions? Inevitably. But nevertheless, that’s the way my brain functions, and I suspect that I’m not alone.

That’s why I was so surprised to recently hear a friend talking about Steve Filson’s divorce. You see, I’d read the “Biography” section of his website, the one where he says, “My wife Mary and I have four children and recently our first grandchild has joined the family.” And I attended the meeting of the San Ramon Valley Democratic Club back in October, when Filson spent quite a bit of time talking about his background; I heard him describe his family life. In his account of the evening, VPO gave us this description: “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.”

Now, maybe I’m making something out of nothing here; it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ever done that. But it just seems strange to me that, in this day and age, Filson wouldn’t just be straightforward and say something in his “Biography” like, “My wife Mary and I each have two children from previous marriages, and recently my/her first grandchild has joined the family.” That, at least to me, would have been a lot more acceptable than the careful parsing of “My wife Mary and I have four children and recently our first grandchild has joined the family.” Because, you see, I’m left feeling like I was manipulated, like Mr. Filson purposely tried to create a false image of a happy nuclear family that he thought would be somehow more palatable than the reality of a blended family.

The notion of honesty is going to play a big role in this election. And engaging in subterfuge, however irrelevant it may be, is not a really great way to establish yourself as a man of integrity.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

If You Don't Build It, They Can't Come

There’s a number that I just can’t get out of my head. $22 million. You see, that’s the amount of federal transportation funds that Richard Pombo earmarked for his two pet projects, brand-spanking-new freeways that connect Tracy to Brentwood in the north and to San Jose in the south. Coincidentally, Pombo and his family own agricultural land along both proposed routes that has significantly increased in value because of its potential to turn into valuable commercial freeway frontage. Now, of course, the $22 million only covers the costs of “feasibility studies”; the actual price tag for constructing these freeways would be well over $1 billion, which is why many in the area refer to them as “Pombo’s Folly.”

In the meantime, there’s Manteca. If you look at a map, you’ll see that Manteca is a natural hub, with its prime location immediately east of the Interstate 5/205/580 confluence. Interstate 5 runs north/south along the western edge of town; Highway 99 runs north/south on the eastern edge of town; Highway 120 runs directly through town on an east/west axis.

Not unsurprisingly, Manteca has experienced the same exponential growth as many other of the San Joaquin Valley cities in CD-11. Like those other cities, Manteca struggles with the fact that there are nowhere near enough local jobs to employ its residents. The upshots of that reality are high unemployment and a killer commute across the Altamont Pass. Now, clearly the widening of I-205 will ease the congestion somewhat, but it is only a palliative, not a long-term solution to the problem. The answer is creating jobs in the San Joaquin Valley.

And that’s exactly what the locals in Manteca are trying to do. Plans are on the boards for a host of business parks. Most of these centers will capitalize on Manteca’s location by focusing on the transport of goods: they will be light industrial facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers. But also underway is a development that is modeled after the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton. The Tara Business Park project would cover 485 acres with a facility that would ultimately provide an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 white collar jobs in Manteca. The adjacent Austin Road Business Park would provide distribution and light industrial operations. If you look at this map, you will see a crazy starburst shape that represents the outer parameters of a 15-minute drive time to these proposed employment centers; you’ll notice that residents of Stockton, Ripon, Tracy, Escalon and (obviously) Manteca are all located within its confines, as well as Lathrop and Modesto from outside CD-11.

Sounds terrific, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem? Freeway interchanges. You see, the facilities to house the businesses can’t be built until there’s a way to get to them. And what’s preventing Manteca from getting its interchanges? No money to pay for them.

Now, here’s where the story gets a little weird. I’ve been following this issue in the Manteca Bulletin, a newspaper that has a serious crush on Congressman Richard Pombo. They’re still gushing over the fact that six years ago, Pombo obtained $6 million of the $13 million required to improve one interchange; and in the most recent $286 billion transportation bill, Pombo (who sits on the powerful House Transportation Committee) earmarked $4 million for the new interchange that would serve the Tara Business Park and Austin Road Business Park. Apparently, Pombo’s largess in providing this funding took the locals in Manteca by surprise. “Manteca leaders never officially requested the money for the project. They believed Pombo’s stance against pork barrel projects was all inclusive.”

But $4 million is just a fraction of the overall cost of building the new interchange. The total cost? $22 million. According to the Manteca Bulletin, “The city has yet to determine how to finance the $22 million construction tab.”

Gee, I know somebody who could have provided them with $22 million. Too bad for them he doesn’t own land in Manteca.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Pombo coming home to work the farm?

Sunday's Stockton Record had a nicely crafted article by Reed Fujii about the coming prostpects for farm labor in the San Joaquin Valley. The local quotes get right to the point. There is a great deal of concern about possible future shortages and the effect that the Sensenbrenner Immigration bill will have.
Mark Bacchetti, a Tracy grower and vegetable packer, said currently he's having no problem finding workers to pack sweet corn coming from southern growing regions.

"This season was fine," he said, but predicted, "I think it's going to be (a problem) in the next few years unless they do something."

Lodi grape grower Bob Lauchland said he saw signs of a tight labor market during the fall harvest.

"Some workers left the area for other crops and the potential for higher wages," he said in an e-mail. "I understand many came back to harvest grapes when prospects for other crops declined."

Lauchland, president of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association, also expressed concern about the future labor supply, referring in particular to the border security bill approved Dec. 16 by the U.S. House of Representatives that would increase penalties for employing illegal immigrantsand make illegal immigration a federal crime, threatening an important source of farm workers.

"A perfect example is the proposed immigration reform bill, which seems to place the burden of policing our borders upon employers," he said. "With thin margins, the threat of a severe fine for employing a person who provides phony documentation can be the final straw that takes a labor contractor out of business and takes labor resources away from growers."

At this point, you would think that a Congressman who makes his family ranch part of his campaign image and who has strong support from Big Agriculture would be looking to find the proper fix to this problem. After all, his party's president is asking for both stronger border enforcement AND a guest worker program. But not Mr. Pombo. He came straight out in support of the Sensenbrenner bill and made no strong move for any guest worker provisions. Even the Record noted this, though they allow Pombo an out.

After voting to send the bill, HR 1147, onto the U.S. Senate, Pombo said, "Today we strengthened our commitment to our citizens. We've taken the necessary steps to ensure protection from the daily threats of terrorists."

In an e-mail last week, Pombo said he expected additional legislation to address the labor issue:

"This is a first step in the right direction, and I expect more proposals, including temporary worker provisions, will come up next year."
Below is a partial list of Pombo's Agricultural Supporters. Did they really expect him to vote this way? As it stands, there is no out and were the Sensenbrenner bill to pass the Senate, farm labor will be scarce and a lot more expensive. Even if you are not a farmer, you care, because that expense will show up in the grocery store for us all.

American Meat Institute PAC
Blue Diamond Growers PAC
California Association of Winegrape Growers PAC
California Canning Peach Association PAC
California Dairies Federal PAC
Great Lakes Sugarbeet Growers PAC
Ice Cream, Milk and Cheese PAC
Land'o'Lakes Inc. PAC
Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative PAC
National Council of Farmers Cooperatives/COOP PAC
Sun-maid Growers of California PAC
Sunkist Growers Inc. PAC
United Egg Association EGGPAC
Western Peanut Growers PAC
Western United Dairymen PAC
Wine Institute PAC
Wine America PAC

McCloskey Closer to Entering Race

This is just a quick update on the possible Republican challenge to Richard Pombo. Former Congressman Pete McCloskey has been actively recruiting Mark Connolly, a Republican lawyer from Tracy, to run against Pombo in the June primary. But yesterday,Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times broke the story that Connolly, who has seemed reluctant to enter the fray, finally made the decision that he will not run because he feels that his pet project, Measure A to limit growth in Tracy, will be coming under fire in the near future and he wants to be able to devote his full time and energy to defending the initiative.

This leaves McCloskey without a Republican candidate willing to face Pombo. McCloskey has repeatedly said that if he can’t find a satisfactory candidate, he will run himself. With Connolly bowing out, McCloskey has extended his search window to the end of January. But the fact that he is now house-shopping in Lodi suggests that McCloskey is seriously preparing to make the run himself.

Nick Juliano has a follow-up piece posted in today's Tracy Press.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

FBI Probing Pombo-Abramoff Connection

I’m running off to the airport right now, but before I left I wanted to direct your attention to a very promising development.  It looks like the FBI has opened a probe into Richard Pombo’s efforts on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, who are former clients of uber-corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  The L.A. Times has the story (hat tip: JaninSanFran):  

The Mashpee Wampanoags, famed for greeting the Pilgrims at Plymouth, will be named a nationally recognized tribe — a designation they sought for 30 years so that they could benefit from federal aid programs.

Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist embroiled in a Washington corruption scandal, and his firm championed the Indians' cause and pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in tribal money.

And Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), chairman of the influential House Resources Committee, landed a lucrative source of political donations: the small group of Native Americans whose ancestral lands are about as far from his Northern California district as one can get in the United States.

The trifecta of money, politics and power that quietly came together over the last several years has attracted the attention of a federal law enforcement task force investigating the burgeoning Abramoff scandal.

FBI officials have visited the tribal offices here to obtain financial documents, and other task force investigators in Washington are reviewing what role political leaders and others played in the Mashpee's success.

Where the investigation will lead is unknown. But several people close to Abramoff have pleaded guilty in other aspects of the wide-ranging scandal. And in recent days, several Capitol Hill lawmakers, including Pombo, have returned donations from Abramoff or turned the money over to charity.

Officials do know that the flow of cash from the Mashpee to Abramoff and Pombo is a textbook example of the kind of cases of alleged influence-buying that the task force is assembling.

But what investigators want to determine is whether the Mashpee episode crossed the line into criminal behavior, as other Abramoff ventures allegedly did.

Read the rest of the article.

[Ed note: Those of us at Say No to Pombo are busy fighting the War on Christmas.  I think I’ve already lost the Battle of the Bulge this year, but I’m still hoping that I’ll be more able to fend off a post-New Year hangover.  In any event, the posting volume is going to be low through the end of the year.  And the posts that I put up are probably going to be much less analytical than typical.  ]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pombo Deemed "Most Anti-Conservation" Member of Congress

From time to time I’ve called Richard Pombo “the Black Knight of American Environmental Policy.” It’s not just Pombo’s abysmal record on environmental and conservation issues that gives me cause to fault him. Pombo does not simply fail to appreciate the importance of conservation, he seems ideologically opposed to it. That is, he is not simply a contingent anti-conservationist, he’s a dedicated and self-conscious one. Richard Pombo’s Holy Grail is the complete evisceration of all of the important environmental laws that have preserved America’s natural patrimony for generations, and he works towards that goal with a single-mindedness that is as stunning as it is saddening.

Today, BushGreenwatch, a project of Environmental Media Services and, put out an article, copied in full below, labeling Pombo the “most anti-conservation member of Congress.” It’s good to see other important groups come to the same conclusion about Pombo. Now let’s hope that they will back up the rhetoric with time and money.

(Speaking of money, remember that the end year is coming, which means FEC reports will be filed very soon. Most political analysts look at the FEC reports to judge candidate viability, so be sure to give whatever money you can to your favorite candidates before the end of the year. There will not be another filing deadline until the end of March, which means that the next three months of news stories will refer to the fundraising numbers of candidates as of the end of the year. So if you want to ensure your candidate (for almost any race whatsoever) looks strong, it’s important to give something before the filing deadline.)

Here’s the article from BushGreenwatch. Thanks to readers ABea and Nathan Rudy for sending me the link.

Pombo Deemed "Most Anti-Conservation" Member of Congress

When it comes to environmental matters, one of the busiestmembers of Congress this year has been Representative RichardPombo (R-CA), chair of the House Resources Committee.

Unfortunately, say environmentalists, Rep. Pombo's busy-ness hasall been aimed, once again, at undermining or actuallyeviscerating long-established laws that protect America'snatural resources. As Defenders of Wildlife President RodgerSchlickeisen put it last month in an interview with the OaklandTribune, Rep. Pombo is "the most anti-conservation congressmanof the 535 in Congress." [1]

And while Mr. Pombo's wide-ranging agenda achieved only partialsuccess this year (one key initiative fell apart in the face ofpublic outrage), he has made it clear that he will be right backat it when Congress reconvenes in 2006.

That means, among other things, that the Endangered Species Act(ESA), a bedrock of the entire structure of environmentalprotection, is itself endangered once more --the result of 12successive attacks on the law since Pombo was first elected 13years ago. Indeed, this year Pombo finally achieved hiscareer-long goal of passing a revised ESA in the House. The votewas 229-193.

Pombo's re-write would require the government (i.e. taxpayers)to compensate property owners who claim their plans fordeveloping their property are being blocked by requirements ofthe ESA. "What Pombo really wants to protect," said the San JoseMercury News, "is his excessive notion of property-ownerrights." Pombo's ESA, said the editorial, is "an open invitationto dream up developments and get bought out of them atexorbitant prices by taxpayers." [2]

The next round in the battle over the ESA will take place in theSenate, where Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), has introduced a clone ofthe Pombo bill (S. 2110). The Crapo version would waivefundamental habitat protections, indefinitely delay listing ofendangered species, give industry interests control over therecovery planning process, undermine ESA enforcement, and--as inPombo--compel taxpayers to pay landowners for alleged losses.

The ESA, however, has by no means been Pombo's only priority.This year Pombo also proposed selling federal lands, includinglands in and around national parks--along with the underlyingmineral rights--to mining and timber companies. It would haveallowed anyone to stake a claim and purchase the land, evenwithout proving it contained minerals, and develop into anythingthey wanted, from condos to ski chalets or a mall. A study bythe Environmental Working Group found that this couldpotentially add up to 6 million acres of publicly owned land.

Outrage at the giveaway was so great that Pombo and hiscolleague, Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), withdrew the plan. But,warned Gibbons, he will revisit the issue next year.

Not stopping there, Rep. Pombo has also proposed building asix-lane, cars-only, 23-mile freeway in California's CentralValley which would ignore a natural mountain pass and insteadrun straight up Mount Diablo and down the other side--at a costof $10 billion. Despite a storm of regional opposition, Pomboobtained a $7.6 million earmark in last August's transportationbill to study his project.

Critics point out that the new freeway would be just miles froma 205-acre ranch owned by Pombo and his family. Pombo lists thevalue of his share of the ranch at between $250,001 and$500,000. Land speculation near the proposed highway hasalready begun.

It is these and other actions, to be reported in a futurearticle, that earned Rep. Pombo the designation of being chosenby the watchdog group , as one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress.[3]


[1] "Some Say Pombo is 'Out of Step With Americans'," OaklandTribune, Nov. 8, 2005.

[2] "Earth Needs Protection From Pombo," San Jose Mercury News,Nov. 2, 2005.

[3] Beyond Delay, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics inWashington.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Richard Pombo Once Again Leaves His District Stranded

Recently, I was talking to someone with close ties to one of Richard Pombo’s Democratic challengers. When I started railing on Pombo’s approach to San Joaquin County’s transportation problems, my acquaintance said, “Oh, no, we can’t go after Pombo on widening Interstate 205 any more – that project is happening.” Well, not so fast there, Skippy.

First, there’s something you need to understand about Richard Pombo. When he initially ran for Congress in 1992, one of the issues he ran on was cutting pork-barrel spending in Washington. True to his mission, throughout his Congressional career Pombo has assiduously avoided seeking federal funding for projects in his district. According to a report issued this year by the Great Valley Center, in 2003 the national average of per capita federal spending was $6,923. In California, per capita federal spending was 89.6% of the national average at $6,196. In the Northern San Joaquin Valley, per capita spending topped out at 61.2% of the national average, a paltry $4,228. So it’s important to realize that in the person of Richard Pombo, CD-11 has a representative who is not just lazy or incompetent; he’s ideologically opposed to federal government funding of local projects.

Now, you won’t find too many people in America who approve of pork-barrel spending. But the definition of “pork-barrel spending” has always been pretty subjective. Like the Supreme Court with pornography, however, most of us know it when we see it. For instance, Ted Stevens’s $442 million Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” – definitely pork. On the other hand, $92 million to widen a freeway that is the most congested in the state and second-most congested in the nation, which has, for the last decade, carried twice as many cars as it was designed to accommodate, leaving tens of thousands of commuters in hours-long traffic jams –- um, not so much pork. [Correction: It was actually a tag-team of Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young who obtained the Alaskan funding, and, in all fairness, the $442 million covered one "bridge to nowhere" and the down payment for a second, even more expensive, "bridge to nowhere."]

Pombo, though, has stubbornly refused to address the subject of widening I-205, the main thoroughfare connecting the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area. He has instead promoted construction of a brand new route connecting Tracy to Santa Clara County and, secondarily, another brand new route to the north, connecting Tracy to Brentwood. Of course, it will come as no surprise to veteran Pombo-watchers that his family owns large tracts of agricultural land along these proposed freeways that would suddenly become prime commercial property if these routes were developed. Remember how I said that the definition of pork was subjective? Apparently, Richard Pombo sees nothing wrong with spending $21.6 million on feasibility studies for ill-conceived transportation projects that enhance the value of his family’s real estate holdings. But a transportation project that actually serves the needs of his constituents and improves their daily lives? Bah!

So, then, how is it that the I-205 project is proceeding? Well, chalk it up to the power of the grass-roots. A gentleman by the name of Ort Lofthus, an 80-year-old retired radio station owner who has a long history as an ombudsman for transportation improvements in Stockton, started working with local volunteers, chambers of commerce representing virtually every town in San Joaquin County, and a team of current and retired State legislators. Under the auspices of Lofthus’s organization 205 Now, this group of concerned citizens posted billboards along San Joaquin County highways, gathered petitions, and supplied busloads of supporters at key meetings; meanwhile, their more politically connected members formed alliances with local commissions and agencies. The 205 Now plan, which received its formal approval by the California Transportation Commission on September 29th, has patched together an ingenious and complicated funding strategy that is financing the I-205 widening project in the complete absence of federal money:

San Joaquin County's local transportation planning agency would use $66.3 million of its own funds to complete the project and be reimbursed by the state in equal payments of $22.1 million in fiscal years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The state would pay the $25 million difference in the $92 million construction cost. State law allows agencies to lend the state money, interest-free, provided the loan is accompanied by an agreement calling for reimbursement in cash, or other transportation projects, in later years.

Local funds for the construction project would come from proceeds of the sale of bonds backed by San Joaquin's Measure K sales tax. The bonds must be repaid because those tax dollars are needed for other projects.

Under the proposal, if Measure K is renewed in 2006, the [San Joaquin] Council of Governments would agree to be reimbursed mostly in cash and up to $16.5 million in projects.
Wow! Do you, like me, find it totally shocking that the citizens of San Joaquin County have been forced to promote this transportation project, shepherd it through the various commissions and agencies for approval, and then line up the financing structure to lend funds to the State of California, all with absolutely no help from their US Congressman (who, incidentally, sits on the House Transportation Committee)?

I can only hope that Richard Pombo doesn’t get a free ride on I-205 from either his constituents or his Democratic challengers.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Down on the farm

The 11th Congressional District has many communities that are struggling with their identity. From Morgan Hill to Livermore to Tracy to Lodi or Escalon, small cities are becoming suburban bedroom communities without the local jobs to support their citizens. At the same time, they try to hold on to their agricultural past. You see it in the nature of the various festivals that they hold each year.

Still, San Joaquin County remains a great agricultural center. According to a report from UC Davis, San Joaquin County's agricultural sales rank it 6th in the state. There are over 4000 farms with an average size of just over 209 acres.

The San Joaquin County Chapter of the California Farm Bureau Federation reports that in 2004 San Joaquin County produced $1.6 billion in sales.

Top five crops, by value, 2004:
Milk $324.6 million
Grapes $188.8 million
Almonds $172 million
Tomatoes $107 million
Cherries $97.9 million

At the same time, San Joaquin County's ~20000 agricultural workers are having a very rough time. UC Davis reports that "The San Joaquin Valley is one of the few US regions in which inflation-adjusted per capita incomes fell from $21,100 in 1979 to $20,100 in 2001 (p19)." They also enumerate the role that immigration and education (or the lack of it) play in determining the economic nature of San Joaquin County.

I mention all of this background because I think that agricultural issues can have a major influence on the coming election and that the Democratic challengers to Pombo have not yet demonstrated any real understanding of what those connections are or how to exploit them. I sometimes wonder if they know where the Farm Bureau offices are or have ever even had lunch with Farm Bureau leaders.

One key issue here is employment, job and the maintenance of an agricultural workforce. It has been a long term policy of the California Farm Bureau Federation to have some sort of official guest worker program so that they would not be hiring illegal immigrants just to get their crops picked. In 2003, the then head of the California Farm Bureau Federation, Bill Pauli, testified in front of a Pombo-led Agricultural Sub-Committee.
This spring, Imperial Valley asparagus growers have abandoned part of their crops in an effort to keep up with the harvest. Last year was a below-normal production year in California. If we experience normal or above normal harvests, the situation will get worse. We can't wait for a crisis to develop before we act. We urge this committee to lead the way in working for an H-2A program that is workable.

Back in February, the Fresno Bee reported on the effort to pass an Ag Job bill, one that would provide for legal guest workers for the agricultural industry.

Half a million illegal aliens now picking America's crops could become legal residents and, eventually, U.S. citizens under sweeping legislation reintroduced Thursday.

Backed by hundreds of farm, labor and church groups, the so-called AgJobs bill still faces serious political hurdles. But though similar legislation withered in the last Congress, supporters insist this year's effort will be less encumbered by election-year politics.

"If the farmworkers and agribusiness can put aside decades of often bitter differences, surely Congress and the White House can do the same," United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

As recently as this week, Pombo, supposedly the friend of Agricuolture, the good old down home cowboy, voted FOR an immigration control bill that makes it a felony to be an illegal immigrant in the United States; that increases the penalties on employers for hiring illegal immigrants and that has absolutely NO consideration for a guest worker program. This bill has none of the imigration policy provisions sought by President Bush when he toured the border a week or so ago.

I know that if I were a candidate planning to run against Pombo, I would pick up the phone, call Mike Robinson (San Joaquin Farm Bureau President) and say "let's talk about this." The San Joaquin County Farm Bureau says that it is about

Working With Labor: Farm Bureau actively supports federal legislation to ensure availability of adequate labor supply, to promote worker safety and to provide safe, affordable housing. Bilingual safety training and employer relations programs are also an important part of Farm Bureau's work.

It sounds more like Pombo is angling for American Independent Party votes than acting in the best interests of San Joaquin County farmers.

The California Democratic Party platform talks to their support of Agriculture.

Agriculture. Support agriculture that conserves land and water, provides decent jobs and work environment for farm workers, sustains a healthy food supply for the nation and provides an economically viable way to preserve open space.

Now would be a great time to prove it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Posts By Categories

I’m putting this up in the hopes of aiding site navigation. I have gone through all of the posts and have loosely categorized them by topic. This is just the rough version, which I’m putting out because I heard I might get some traffic from a pretty substantial referral today. Enjoy. And remember, reading about Richard Pombo is not enough. We need everyone to get involved and make a donation.

The District

Richard Pombo

The Candidates

Campaign Updates


Friday, December 16, 2005

Giving Pombo the Hook

After some discussion, Matt has invited me to join this list as a contributing writer. I think that I represent a different viewpoint on this election and that having more ways to understand what is happening is goodness. You can click on my name to see a bit of my real background.

Yesterday, I responded to Matt's post: Things I Heard Last Night with a comment on the fact that you can not equate union support with Democratic support. There are some unions, such as the SEIU, for which this is probably true. There are others, in particular the building trade unions, where this is definitely not true. Building trade unions back many of Pombo's actions in Congress and some of them (Carpenters and Joiners for example) contribute directly to his campaign. In fact, there may even be a disconnect between the actions taken by union political committees and the way that their membership votes.

I think that defeating Pombo will take concerted action by a number of disparate groups that are not normally associated with each other. There must be some focus on those issues which will cause an otherwise conservative, normally Republican voter to feel that Pombo has broken faith with them so badly that they will be willing to seek different representation, whether by holding their nose and voting for a Democrat, or by actively supporting an alternative candidate in the Republican Primary.

I think that there are a number of issues on which this will come in to play and plan to post a series of entries here that define those issues and talk about how they might be exploited. I would like to start this off by giving recognition to the role that hunting and fishing groups had in the defeat of the Gibbons / Pombo mining law changes.

You find mining stories in unlikely publications, such as Trout Unlimited. Major newspapers in the West focused on the opposition that this bill got from the "hook and bullet crowd". According to the December 14, 2005 LA Times:

On Tuesday, a coalition of more than two dozen hunting and fishing groups claiming to represent 55 million hunters and fishermen sent a letter to Rep. Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, and Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., a South Carolina Democrat and the committee's ranking minority member, expressing "serious concerns."

"America's hunters and anglers depend upon public lands and waters … to pursue their tradition of hunting and fishing," the groups wrote. "This proposal to sell public land is being universally poorly received throughout the hunting and angling community."

A recent comment by Mike at PomboWatch defines this in plain terms. "I believe if the national hook and bullet organizations feel Pombo and Gibbons are going to attempt another stealth move like the mining bill they will attack him first."

We know that Pombo and Gibbons plan to bring this back next year. It fits the way that they have always operated. Pombo is a true ideologue and he does not accept defeat. Once something becomes a part of his "program" it is brought back at every single opportunity. You can never say that you beat him on one thing and turn your attention elsewhere, because as soon as you do, like the Terminator, he will be back. In fact, the Resources Committee press releases on the mining bill state that they will bring it back again.

This really means that someone will have to track exactly what is going on. They will have to make sure that the editors of publications such as Trout Unlimited, Field and Stream and all of those outdoor magazines that seem to lay around in barber shops are kept aware of what is going on.

The Delta is an area that sees a lot of fishing. The Central Valley has always been an area where bird hunters congregate. The size and power of this constituency should not be overlooked. It is a niche and not one where the progressive crowd has much influence. If the objective is to separate some groups of Republicans from the Pombo Camp, this is one group that should be at the top of the list.

The Machado Factor


The big question looming over the 11th District race at this point is whether State Senator Mike Machado will jump in. The filing deadline is March 10, 2006, for the June 6 primary, and Machado really does not have to make a decision until then. So the Dems could be left waiting with bated breath until March to see if Machado joins or not.

There are several large factors that are in Machado's favor, and the Dems power-that-be see this and were encouraging him to run, and most likely still are:

1. He can raise serious money, such as the $5 million for his last senatorial election.
2. His name recognition is huge in San Joaquin.
3. He has strong credentials as a San Joaquin local.
4. He can run an aggressive, no-prisoners-taken campaign.
5. He can raise serious money, such as the $5 million for his last senatorial election.
6. He is an experienced politician, something the other candidates are not.
7. He is termed out of the Senate seat in 2008 anyway.
8. He wants to stay in politics.
9. He can raise serious money, such as the $5 million for his last senatorial election. (or did I say that already?)

All in all, he would, no question, be the strongest candidate against Pombo. If he sees that Pombo is vulnerable and that a Democrat could win this year, he will jump in, I think. He would not want another Dem to win this year and then have to run against that incumbent in a primary in 2008. Even if he starts in March, he has run campaigns before and would be able to ramp up very quickly.

And Pombo is looking more and more vulnerable. He has gone far off the deep-end with proposals to sell off parks and national lands, to gut the Endangered Species Act, and other grossly anti-environmental actions. Also, there are the DeLay/Abramoff corruption scandals swirling around him.

But most important, I think, is that he has not done a damn thing for the District. San Joaquin County has one of the lowest per capita rates of federal spending. For example, for Fiscal Year 2001, according to page 41 of this report, the county received $4328 per person versus a $6321 average across the US. With over half a million people in the county, and with Pombo in office for 14 years, that works out to a shortfall of over $15 billion dollars. Certainly, Pombo has not brought home the bacon. He is actually costing the District money every day he stays in office. Any serious candidate would point this out repeatedly, as much as the scandals and anti-environmentalism.

With Pombo off on ideologically driven campaigns to do such things as sell off the National Parks and restart commercial whaling, he has not passed any truly significant legislation that helps the District. Granted, he has done a few things here and there to get some federal money, but overall his perfomance has been pathetic, and has cost the District billions of dollars in lost federal spending.

Meanwhile, the District suffers from poverty worse than Appalachia, some of the worst air quality, poor schools, tainted water, transportation issues, etc., etc.

OK, this was not meant to be a rant against Pombo. I could go on and on with that. I think I have established that Pombo is vulnerable. Now back to Machado. Will he run or not? I think the smart thing for him is to see how the race is shaping up and what Dem contenders are out there and how their campaigns shape up. Right now, there is just Steve Filson and Jerry McNerney, and Machado would easily eclipse them. That would not even be a contest. Next, maybe more dirt will come out about Pombo's dealings with Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff and the Indian tribes and Marianas Islands. Also, by waiting, Machado has a chance to build behind the scenes support and see what kind of backing he can arrange before he actually declares.

So in many ways, it is Machado's game now. If he does join the race, many Dems will be excited and energized, not because Machado has great, progressive ideas, but because he is serious contender who could, with the right moves, beat Pombo in November. He could be seen as the white knight, riding in to rescue the District from another two years of Pombo.

More Info on Machado and the Senate districts:

Democrat Mike Machado is the State Senator for District 5, which encompasses a good part of San Joaquin, as well as extending north into Solano, Yolo, and Sacramento counties.

The rest of San Joaquin County, including Lodi, Escalon, and parts of Tracy are in District 14 and represented by
Senator Charles Poochigian, a Republican. District 14 is an odd-shaped creature with its main body in the Fresno area, then reaching over with a few juts into San Joaquin County.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Economic Disparity in the District

There are some significant differences between San Joaquin County, which constitutes just over half of the district, and the parts of the other three counties that form the remainder of the district. I’ve mentioned this before, but I would like to look at this a little more systematically today.

According to the Modesto Bee, the Congressional Research Service has just come out with a long report showing that the San Joaquin Valley is poorer by some standards than Appalachia. Margee Ensign spoke about this somewhat in her campaign speeches, but it still hasn’t gotten enough attention. I must say as a Californian that it’s pretty staggering to think that a part of the state is so impoverished that it ranks below Appalachia, which is a region well-known for its endemic poverty. The article says:

“By a wide range of indicators, the San Joaquin Valley is one of the most economically depressed regions of the United States," the Congressional Research Service concluded in its final version of a report begun about a year ago. Even notoriously poor Appalachia stretching from the northeastern states to the South fares better in some respects.

Per-capita income is lower in the valley's eight counties than in the 68-county area known as Central Appalachia. The valley's public assistance rates are higher than Appalachia's. Uncle Sam also seems to be investing more in Appalachia than in the valley. Per capita federal spending overall was lower in the San Joaquin Valley than in the depressed Central Appalachian sub-region, the report concluded.

To be clear, this report covers all of the San Joaquin Valley, which stretches more or less from Stockton to Bakersfield. As far as I can tell, San Joaquin County itself is a bit better off economically than the parts of the San Joaquin Valley further to the south. Still, San Joaquin County has much more in common with the San Joaquin Valley as a whole than it has in common with the other parts of CA-11. In fact, the differences between SJC and other the parts of the district are pretty staggering. It’s hard to quantify the cultural differences, so let’s just look at the economic differences.

First, let me caution you about reading too much into the averages you might see. Nick Juliano, on his Political Notes blog, cited a district-wide median household income of around $62,000. (He was using the statistic in a different way, so what I’m saying is not intended at all as a critique of his use, which was perfectly proper).

Don’t let that median household income fool you. There are huge income disparities between San Joaquin County and the rest of the district. For example, in 2000 Stockton, the largest city in the county, had a median household income (MHI) of around $35,500 and Tracy (Pombo’s hometown) had a MHI of around $63,000. This contrast to Danville (where Steve Filson lives), which had a median household income of $114,000, and Pleasanton (where Jerry McNerney lives), which had a median household income of $91,000.

Furthermore, the differences are exacerbated at the higher end of the income spectrum. Almost everyone in the district with a household income over $125,000 a year lives somewhere other than San Joaquin County.

If you’re interested, you can check out the statistics for all of the cities and towns (that I know of) in the district, which I have organized by county:

What’s the point?

Well first, all the candidates we have in the race come to San Joaquin County as outsiders in a very literal sense. But in addition to this, I think there is a huge issue of class that will have a big effect on who wins the Democratic primary.

As I’ve mentioned before, Steve Filson is a well-off candidate from the richest part of the district. He’s not going to be electable if he does not find a way to connect with, or otherwise inspire, the voters in SJC. Right now, I don’t see either a political message or a personality that is going to do it for him. Jerry McNerney, whatever else you think about him, clearly seems to be doing a better job of connecting with folks in San Joaquin County.

Richard Pombo, who admittedly makes Filson look like a pauper by way of comparison, is also to connect with voters in SJC. He is able to do that partially because he is undeniably a local, and he plays to the image of a local boy who did well for himself and got elected to Washington. But he also is much more socially conservative than any of the Democrats in the race, and this plus his skill at using rhetoric to mask his political ideology, makes Pombo’s values appear much more in line with the values and traditions of San Joaquin County voters than the values really are. Like most things in politics, in this case perception counts more than reality.

Of course, Pombo does not represent his constituents’ economic interests, especially those that live in SJC. I think that provides an opening for a Democratic candidate who sticks to kitchen table issues and puts forth a populist message.

He voted to eliminate the estate tax. How many voters in San Joaquin County do you think that helped? Richard Pombo is fighting to let Canadian mining companies snap up federal land at fire sale prices, but he acquiesces to cuts in food stamps. Who’s he representing? Not his constituents. Richard Pombo is causing a ruckus about opening ANWR to drilling, but does not lift a finger to help his constituents widen I-205. Who’s he representing? Clearly not the people who voted to put him in office. Richard Pombo is one of the most powerful members in the House of Representatives, but he hardly does one damn thing for his constituents. He’s too busy trying to allow an Indian casino to open in upstate New York even though nobody in the community wants one. Or anything it seems, but represents the people he is duty-bound to represent. And I think this is one of his biggest weaknesses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Things I Heard Last Night

Last night, after the speeches, there was a lot of time to socialize with the others who attended the meeting. I was surprised that a lot of the people I had hoped to see did not come, and the upshot of this is that the people I did know at the event were mostly McNerney supporters. Actually, to be clear, most of the people I knew were my friends who also happen to be McNerney supporters. So I think others looked at me sitting and talking with McNerney partisans before the meeting began and drew the understandable, but mistake, conclusion that I too was a McNerney partisan. Throughout the night I noticed a certain caginess when CA-11 came up, and a couple of people made reference to my “guy” or my “candidate” meaning McNerney. I think this made the night much less fruitful as a fact-finding mission than it might otherwise have been, although I did hear some interesting rumors, which will make up the bulk of this post .

Note, I did not speak to Steve Filson, however, whom I did not seek out and who did not seek me out either. Initially I was bothered by his speech, but as the evening wore on I saw him schmoozing with others and decided to let him make the most of it. But I did not run any of the following rumors or observations by Filson, so take them with a grain of salt.

  • The first big thing I observed was that people were deeply unhappy with the fact that Margee Ensign leaving the race. Every former Ensign supporter I spoke to seemed unsure what to do now that she’s out of the race. On one hand it’s good that Ensign rallied a group of supporters who might have otherwise stayed less active in the race, but on the other hand her supporters do not have any clear direction now that she’s back out of the race. I do want to note that Ensign sent me an e-mail letting me know that she’s going to stay actively involved in this race, and in fact is going to speak at the Tracy Democratic Club this evening. I’m sure that will placate her supporters somewhat, although it still leaves them without a candidate.

  • I overheard a member of the County Democratic Central Committee mention that she was looking for a “wealthy Democrat” to join the race, although I suspect she meant State Senator Mike Machado, who is probably the only A-list contender waiting in the wings. I had heard that some members of the Congressional delegation were putting pressure on Machado to run, but I can’t see why he’d bow to it now. He’s termed out in 2008, so he has time to build up a war chest to take on Pombo if Pombo stays in office. And even if a Democrat beat Pombo, the Democrat would still be very vulnerable to a primary challenge by Machado. But if Machado does enter this race, I expect the other Democrats would bow out. And I think some people are pinning their hopes on that.

  • I heard that the Sierra Club is looking to enter the race in an anti-Pombo (as opposed to pro-Democrat) capacity. This is the second time I heard the rumor. The first time I heard the rumor was this weekend, and it was from someone who told me that it was supposed to be super hush hush. I figure if I heard about it again last night from a completely different source, it can’t be that big of a secret. In any event, my first source told me that this effort was being discussed by the National chapter, as the Mother Lode chapter of the Sierra Club (which is the chapter that covers San Joaquin County) was afraid of entering the race and pissing Pombo off. This got a big fat “WTF?!?” from me. Hopefully saner heads are prevailing and we’ll see a big push by environmentalists to rid the House of one Mr. Richard Pombo.

  • Perhaps the most gossipy of the rumors I heard last night was that sometime last week Steve Filson told a crowd that either he would not or might not (my source wasn’t clear) support Pelosi as leader of the House Democrats. This really upset some people (including some important checkbook Democrats) who thought it was tasteless to take Pelosi’s money and show up at events with her and then say that you would not or might not support her. Before we head down the road we went down last week, let me just say that my source ended by telling me that Pelosi and Filson had “kissed and made up” already about this. Furthermore, I might not know exactly what Filson said, but I do know whatever he said upset some people that it’s not smart to upset. So I put this here as another small fracas started by Filson’s lack of tact.

  • Also, I spoke for awhile with Pam Aguilar, who is the head of the Contra Costa Central Labor Council. I was trying to see what I could find out about their endorsement process, which she was nice enough to discuss with me. The short version is that nothing is happening yet, but I did get a lot of background about how the CLC operates in Contra Costa County. In any event, I made some comment about how I was impressed by how labor provides such a strong backbone of Democratic field operations and she made a comment about how she hopes more Democrats get involve in the effort. I told her that my take on things was that Democrats were very, very energetic to take on Pombo and that Labor would get a lot of help from the Democrats I knew. But Contra Costa Country CLC represents 90,000 union members, and I bet they have a much larger active volunteer base than Contra Costa CDCC.

  • Lastly, I heard that some people have been getting robo-calls from a group opposed to Pombo. If I recall correctly, they said the calls were from American Family Voices, but I might be misremembering the name they gave me.

Character Matters: Speeches from last night's meeting

The Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee meeting and holiday party last night was not what I expected. First, I really had not expected much of a meeting. Silly me. But the meeting did give the elected officials and candidates who attended the ability to give short (for politicians at least) speeches to the crowd. Both Jerry McNerney and Steve Filson spoke, and I think their speeches provided the most important fodder for this piece. So I’m going to discuss the speeches somewhat before I discuss some of the interesting rumors I heard and the observations I made during the subsequent party. I will include those in the next post. (Update, the next post is up, here)

To set the stage a bit, you need to understand that the Co Co County Democratic Central Committee is the organizational level at which the Democratic Party grassroots meets Democratic elected officials and the Democratic Party establishment. The meeting last night was attended at various points by State Senators Liz Figueroa (SD10) and Jackie Speier (SD08), who are both running for Lt. Governor in 2006; State Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla (AD11); Loni Hancock (AD14); the mayors of Richmond and San Pablo; and Joe Ovick, Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools, who came up with the best anti-Pombo line of the night, saying (roughly) “I had a discussion with Representative Pombo, who is Chairman of the House Resources Committee, and I told him that he was constantly ignoring the needs of our most valuable resource—our children.” I think the number of politicians that showed up last night evidences the political power held by the members of the County Democratic Central Committee and the grassroots constituencies they represent.

I any event, after a thankfully brief agenda that included discussion of various bylaw amendments, the Chair of the DSCC called Liz Figueroa up to speak. She gave a good, positive speech. Then, since neither Jackie Speier nor Steve Filson had arrived, the Chair called upon Jerry McNerney to say a few words.

While McNerney was heading up to the podium, Liz Figueroa called out, out of the blue and somewhat casually, that she was endorsing Jerry. This took everyone by surprise, including, I think, McNerney himself. I guess Christmas does come early for some people.

McNerney’s speech was not fantastic, but it was a lot better than almost any speech I had seen or heard him give. I’d give it a solid B. He seemed relaxed and positive, and there was a twinkle in his eye, no doubt from his recent (vocal) endorsement by a popular State Senator. (For those who don’t know, Figueroa’s district includes Pleasanton, which is where McNerney lives along with about 30,000 other Democrats). That said, McNerney addressed his message to the “Republicans” and the “neo-Cons,” which I thought was a little misguided since he was speaking to such a quintessentially Democratic audience. But even where he faltered in style, what he said was still substantively fine. He got a lot of cheers and applause from the crowd and I think he did okay for what was really nothing more than a three minute schpiel.
I’m much, much more critical of the speech Steve Filson gave. He arrived sometime in the middle of McNerney’s speech, so he might not have understood exactly what was going on. Still, I think he should have understood his audience well enough to avoid some of the excesses that he engaged in.

As he began to speak, I noticed some odd mannerisms. He was pacing back and forth and literally twiddling his thumbs, which made it seem like he was giving off really bad vibes. So stylistically, I was turned off by how he was speaking. But I would not mention it if he had not said something that really bothered me and, from what I can tell, a number of others in the room.

Filson began by talking about how bad Richard Pombo is. So far so good. But then he started down a weird road saying (this is from memory, so it may not be exact), “I am the one who can beat Richard Pombo. My friends have told me that I am the one who can beat Pombo. Voters in the district have told me that I am the one who can beat Richard Pombo. I have had members of Congress tell me that I am the one who can beat Pombo.” I’m not sure the words on the screen quite do this justice. It came off as exceptionally arrogant. My thoughts at the time were: And no doubt Cesar the High Priest has told you that you’re the son of Jupiter, what’s your point? But again, I would not have mentioned anything here, had he not taken it one step further.

I forget exactly what he said, but his next rhetorical step was to talk about how it’s going to take a lot of money to defeat Pombo and how he (Filson) is the only one with the money. The jab against McNerney was blatant, and to my mind uncalled for. And frankly, in a room full of grassroots figures of sufficient stature that they should have been consulted before Filson was thrust upon the district by Washington, I’m doubt it made him any friends or won him any supporters. If anything, I think it exacerbated the feeling that Filson takes his real political gold—his fundraising numbers ought to be a strong argument for him after all—and turns it into political lead by the force of his personality.

Nobody else even hinted at taking pot-shots at their Democratic opponents that night. And frankly, Filson could have conveyed his strengths (assuming there was anyone in the room who was ignorant of the race, which was not likely), without sounding like he was attacking McNerney. The last thing people in the Democratic Party want is an ugly primary. But Filson seems content to make things uglier than they need to be. This bothers me, and I’m not the only one. In fact, I really think Filson is alienating people who ought to be his supporters.

And to be clear, the argument against what Filson said is not moralistic, it’s hard nosed in its own way. Recently I had a phone conversation with an Ensign supporter after it was clear that Ensign was bowing out of the race. The Ensign supporter told me that he agreed with Filson’s politics to a large degree, but could not see himself supporting Filson in the primary because “character matters.” He’s right, character does matter. And if Steve Filson cannot or will not elevate the discourse about the race beyond crude political calculus and stratagem, he’s not going to be half so electable as he claims to be.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

More Campaign Updates

I’m going to the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee (Co Co County DCC) meeting this evening. It’s a potluck and a small fundraiser ($15/person suggested donation) so there ought to be a good combination of local grassroots activists and elected officials and their coteries. I’m going for recreational purposes, even though I don’t live in the county, but I’ll keep my ear to the ground and see if I can’t pick up any info about the race in CD-11. It’s going to be the first opportunity for me to get a feel for the state of the race now that Ensign is out, so hopefully I’ll get a feel for how this development has changed the dynamics in Contra Costa County. You can check back on what happened tomorrow.

In the meantime, I figure it’s time to throw in some campaign updates. As usual, I’m only able to speak about what I’ve heard or experienced. I do not have much new information on Steve Filson’s campaign, so any Filson supporters out there (or really anyone knowledgeable about his campaign) can feel free to add an update in the comment section. The same goes for Steve Thomas.

  • First, I want to announce that due to a considerable response from the matching donor offer, the ActBlue site has generated $1,535 in contributions from new donors since last Thursday. Out of that, $100 went to the General Election Fund, $100 went to Ensign, and the remainder, $1335, went to McNerney. Because the matching donation offer was limited to $1,000, that offer is now over.

  • Second, Jerry McNerney has recently announced that he has hired a new campaign manager, A.J. Carrillo. Carrillo was the person I called “AC” when I allowed him to guest-post in an entry I titled “Expert Advice.” I have two things to say about this.

    • One, I think Carrillo, having managed the coordinated campaign for the DCCC in KS-3 (Dennis Moore’s district) in 2004, brings a lot of expertise to McNerney’s team. Carrillo has proven that he can function successfully in a very red district, and he brings with him a more systematized and more practical understanding of a congressional race than most of the other members of the McNerney Campaign. McNerney’s biggest weakness besides his poor fundraising numbers has been a pretty significant level of disorganization in his campaign. Working with an all-volunteer team without much establishment support is a recipe for learning the ropes the hard way. Adding Carrillo to the team ought to do a lot to add a keener focus to McNerney’s campaigning efforts.

    • Two, I think the process by which McNerney found Carrillo shows something important about the blogosphere. After posting Expert Advice, the McNerney people contacted me about Carrillo. I then turned around and gave Carillo the contact info of the McNerney team. I bring this up because I think blogs are uniquely suited to connect people who might not otherwise know of, let alone know, one another. That is, just having a “location” in cyberspace allows a process of self-selection on the part of the audience, such that people with similar interests and goals will almost inevitably wind up connecting if that’s what they want to do. In an area like CD-11 where the organizational structure of the Democratic Party is not completely straightforward (with four county committees, any number of assembly district committees, different clubs, etc. all inter-connected in various ways) blogs function as a locus of interconnection with very low barriers to entry. The informal nature of this organizing helps bring in people who might not otherwise feel comfortable in the Democratic Party hierarchy. Far from simply preaching to the choir, blogs can function as an important tool in the service of political organizing and community-building.

  • Lastly, Nick Juliano of the Tracy Press reports that Steve Filson raised approximately $20,000 at his Washington fundraiser on December 6. This was less than what I had speculated he might raise, as one commenter noted. However, the numbers I gave before the event were simply my guess, and were not based on anything Team Filson had put out. I have no way to determine how successful Filson himself considered the fundraiser, although I expect that he’d be happy to raise in one night an amount it takes his opponents a fortnight to raise.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ensign Is Out

Now it’s official, Margee Ensign has dropped out of the race. She confirmed this to me in an e-mail exchange earlier today. I was not sure whether I was supposed to wait for an official announcement from her before I blogged about it, but I see that Nick Juliano of the Tracy Press has an announcement about this up already on his brand-spanking-new blog. (Welcome to the blogosphere Nick, we’ll be linking to you). Given that Nick basically got everything I got out of Ensign, I figured there was no harm in putting the information up on this blog as well.

Ensign has declined to discuss her reasoning for dropping out of the race, and has instead sent me the following statement:

“So many of the challenges facing us in our community and country are related to educational performance. We must ensure that all of our students are prepared for the 21st century challenges. It is in this arena that I believe that I can have the greatest impact.”

I hope that this does not signal her desire to completely stop working to stop Pombo, but I cannot help note that she did not mention Pombo at all.

Also, Ensign has decided against endorsing any particular candidate at this time. This is perhaps the most significant piece of information aside from the fact that she’s dropping out of the race. We’ll have to see what she does later on, but my gut reaction is that the longer she waits to make an endorsement, the less of an impact her endorsement will have. Right now she has clearly energized a segment of the district to fight Pombo. Unless she continues to show leadership in the anti-Pombo effort, which she could do in a number of ways, her supporters are going to plug themselves in to other facets of the fight to oust Pombo. Once that happens, her voice will be much less likely to steer any of her erstwhile supporters towards one candidate or another.

Why Are They Shilling for Pombo Today?

Well since speculative posts are all the rage these days, I’ve got another doozy for you.  While I was looking at my XML feed on Richard Pombo and I saw the following headline, “Junk Science on Mercury Debunked.”  I had heard that Richard Pombo and Jim Gibbons (yes the same guy who helped author the Pombo Amendment on mining) had come out with some sort of whitewash on the dangers of ingesting mercury. I clicked over figuring some enterprising scientist had debunked Pombo’s claims.  Instead, I read a press release, dated today, from the Heartland Institute supporting Pombo.  

Now before you all get uppity, you need to know that the Heartland Institute looks like another GOP astroturf group funded by the likes of the Scaife Foundations, ExxonMobil, and Phillip Morris. So it’s not surprising they’d shill for Pombo.  

What is surprising is that the press release came out today when there’s apparently no news about this issue.  I mean the press release itself essentially rehashed info (well really, rehashed bullshit) that’s been out since February.  So I wonder if this is an attempt to provide some positive press for a pair of Representatives that have caused quite a stir (and not in a good way), even among their fellow Republicans.                

Can anyone else think of another good reason for this press release?  Please drop a comment if you have anything insightful to say about this.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

More on Pelosi and Filson

Babaloo posted a fabulous piece raising interesting questions about why Pelosi would give any money (especially in the primary) to Steve Filson when Filson is being backed by Ellen Tauscher and Steny Hoyer. Babaloo’s main post concerned the bad blood between Pelosi on one side and Tauscher and Hoyer on the other side. In the comments, Babaloo linked to a piece by David Sirota suggesting that Hoyer is actively working to undermine Pelosi’s leadership in the House. This seems to show that the history between Pelosi and Tauscher et al is not simply water under the bridge.

But Sirota also links to a Washington Post article that brings up another big point of contention between Pelosi and Tauscher, Hoyer, and (wait for it) Filson’s friend Rahm Emanuel. The issue is the war in Iraq. The fact that Pelosi would support a candidate who’s the golden boy of her ideological rivals on this issue, especially since she’s in the midst of currying support for her own position on Iraq, simply boggles my mind. I’m not sure I’m going to solve this issue in the post, and by the end of it you might be left with a big, fat question mark on the subject like I am. Still, I think this is something worth exploring.

So to begin, let’s establish that Pelosi is supporting Filson to some significant (although not overwhelming) extent. The clearest proof is the fact that Pelosi gave Filson at least $2,000 from her re-election account. I say at least because it’s unclear whether Pelosi has given Filson any additional money since the last reporting date at the end of September. Furthermore, I know that Pelosi co-hosted a fundraiser for Filson along with Ellen Tauscher and some other Reps (including Lofgren I believe) last week on December 6.

If Filson were less wholly a Tauscher devotee (or in fact, less indebted to Tauscher for giving life to his campaign) I might see Pelosi’s actions as a way of counterbalancing Tauscher’s influence with Filson. But Filson’s in so deep with Tauscher it’s hard for me to believe he’d be anything but an extremely loyal Tauscher supporter. So by helping Filson, Pelosi is helping someone who might not be loyal to her, and in fact might actually work with those trying to undercut Pelosi’s status in her caucus. And since this has been happening while there’s been a primary on the horizon, it’s hard to imagine that Pelosi is doing this out of some sense of self-sacrifice for the party.

This conundrum is compounded when we realize how vulnerable Pelosi has made herself by endorsing John Murtha’s call for withdrawal of troops within six months. The Washington Post lays this out pretty clearly (emphasis mine):

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democratic leader, have told colleagues that Pelosi's recent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal, combined with her claim that more than half of House Democrats support her position, could backfire on the party, congressional sources said.

These sources said the two leaders have expressed worry that Pelosi is playing into Bush's hands by suggesting Democrats are the party of a quick pullout -- an unpopular position in many of the most competitive House races.
"What I want Democrats to be discussing is what the president's policies have led to," Emanuel said. He added that once discussion turns to a formal timeline for troop withdrawals, "the how and when gets buried" and many voters take away only an impression that Democrats favor retreat.


Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) embodies this cautious approach. He has resisted adopting a concrete Iraq policy and persuaded most Democratic senators to vote for a recent Senate resolution calling 2006 "a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" and to compel the administration "to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq." While Republicans introduced the resolution, it was prompted by a Democratic plan.

Democratic Reps. Jane Harman and Ellen Tauscher, both of California, plan to push House Democrats to adopt a similar position during a closed-door meeting today that is to include debate on the Pelosi position.

(Parenthetically, this shows the hollowness of Emanuel and the DCCC’s effort to run “macho Democrats” in 2006. If there was ever a macho Democrat, John Murtha was one. So it’s clear that Emanuel wants to run military vets to cobble together some sort of appearance of machismo to give people the impression that Dems are “strong on defense”, even while the Emanuel-backed candidates support a rather milquetoast policy on Iraq. So much for fighting for Democratic values….)

Maybe I’m just reading too much into this Washington Post article or maybe I’m giving Sirota too much credence. But it really looks like Pelosi’s support of Filson is somewhat masochistic. I’m not sure that Ensign or McNerney would endorse (either privately or publicly) Pelosi’s position on the race. But they each are certainly light years closer to Pelosi’s position than Filson, who please remember, has characterized calling for any timetable for withdrawal (much less a six month timetable) “irresponsible.”

Looking back over the Washington Post article I have more sympathy for Democrats who want to avoid the issue because they feel it’s bad politics than for the Democrats who are just reflectively hawkish. Tauscher, for example, wet-blanketed a move to pass an anti-war resolution at the Contra Costa Democratic Central Committee because, according to my source, Tauscher said it would embarrass her. This, despite widespread opposition in her district to the war.

Looked at this way, the Tauscher-Pelosi conflict looks both real and ideological as well as personal. These are not simply a case of people disagreeing on strategy. Again, what can explain Pelosi’s support for Tauscher’s chosen candidate? I’m really at a loss on this one.