Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lisa Vorderbrueggen at the Lamorinda Dem Club

UPDATE 1/15: Lisa Vorderbrueggen helped report on an article entitled "Pombo Aide Under Fire for Finances" that was published today. Go read it here.

VPO and I made it over to the Lamorinda Democratic Club last night to hear Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times. I went both to the meeting both to hear what Lisa Vorderbrueggen had to say about Contra Costa politics and to get a feel for what the club members were thinking about the race in CA-11. I found out interesting information on both counts.

Before I get into my report, let me plug an upcoming event at the Lamorinda Democratic Club’s next meeting. Next month the club is going to host a candidate forum for the three Democrats running to replace Congressman Richard Pombo, which is the first one scheduled if I’m not mistaken. Furthermore, the Lamorinda Club is a club that is very effective in their activism (they are also one of the largest clubs in the state) and very progressive in their politics. Their candidate forum ought to be interesting, especially because it’s difficult to imagine any serious candidate refusing an invitation to speak at a candidate’s night, which is not something you can say about all of the Democratic clubs. I encourage everyone to come, especially if you live in Alameda or Contra Costa counties. Anyhow, here is more info on the event.

When I arrived at the event I pretty quickly ran into someone affiliated with Pete McCloskey (I think he came for a similar reasons as me). I had a chance to speak with him a bit and I tried to press him on whether McCloskey was running or not. He told me that McCloskey would make an announcement later this month (I forget if he said the 23rd or the 28th) about who would run against Richard Pombo in the Republican primary. I certainly hope it’s McCloskey, and I know a number of you feel the same way.

The other interesting tidbit I heard before Lisa Vorderbrueggen spoke was that the California Democratic Party might be giving bounties on registering new Democrats in CA-11. This would really benefit the clubs in the area who would be able to afford running a volunteer voter registration drive if such bounties are indeed offered. I still need to pin down the ins and outs of this, but at least in principle giving a couple of dollars for each newly registered Democrat would do a lot to incentive is the type of voter registration work in the district that desperately needs to take place.

Lastly, I should just mention that Jerry McNerney attended the event and was given a brief opportunity to speak from the podium. He more or less said the same thing he said at the Defenders of Wildlife event (although he seemed a bit more nervous this time). Importantly, to those of you who read the comments at Say No to Pombo, McNerney did not say one word about his primary opponents.

When Mrs. Vorderbrueggen spoke, she covered a lot of ground about Contra Costa politics, including a lot that is frankly irrelevant to the race we’re focusing one. But she did say some interesting things in her speech and in the subsequent question and answer session.

One thing, perhaps the most immediately important to the readers of this site, is that she strongly believes that it is unlikely that state Senator Mike Machado will run against Pombo this election. Perhaps this is more confirmation of what we already knew, but it certainly sounds like everyone who has spoken to Machado’s aides comes away thinking that he’s opposed to entering the race. For those who don’t know, Machado had a pretty fierce battle against a former (if I recall correctly) Stockton Mayor in 2004, and was elected to a four year term, after which he will be termed out of office. It makes a lot of sense that he is not inclined to give up his hard-fought seat to take on Pombo in 2006 when Machado will be in great position to take on Pombo in 2008 if Pombo is still in office. One other funny side note on the topic of Machado’s prospects in 2006 is that Vorderbrueggen credited Say No to Pombo with alerting her to the MoveOn poll that lists Machado as a possible recruit in CA-11.

The other thing I want to focus on that Vorderbrueggen spoke about was her take on the race writ large. To me, I think she articulated a lot of the conventional wisdom on the race, and it’s important to keep her non-partisan perspective in mind, even if we disagree with it.

She began by implying that the Democrats have a pretty tough row to hoe in 2006 against Pombo. She definitely thinks that it will be difficult for what she called “Danville Democrats” to generate voter support in San Joaquin County. I think we all realize that cracking the San Joaquin problem will do a lot towards winning the district, although I think there are differences between Danville, where Filson lives, and Pleasanton, where McNerney lives. Certainly, Danville is a newer, wealthier city than Pleasanton, and I think a lot of people associate Danville with Blackhawk, which is an ultra-wealthy enclave. But she’s right that any candidate coming from west of the Altamont Pass is bound to have a tougher time than someone from the Central Valley, at least with the San Joaquin County voters.

Vorderbrueggen also seemed to think that talking about the “Republican Culture of Corruption” (a phrase commonly used in the blogosphere and by the Democratic Congressional delegation) would only cause Pombo’s supporters to dig in, especially if the phrase is tied to Nancy Pelosi. She may be right here, but I’m inclined to think that if Pombo cannot be (accurately) painted as corrupt, the Democrats are already in deep trouble.

Tied to the previous point, Vorderbrueggen also said that the Dems should be wary of calling Pombo corrupt because he may or may not be tied to the Abramoff scandal, but in any case there is no evidence that Pombo has broken the law. Also, she said this against the implicit assumption that since both Democrats and Republicans took money from Indian tribes connected to Abramoff, both parties are somehow equally culpable for the ensuing corruption.

I’m not sure that I agree with many of her assumptions, but getting into why I disagree would involve getting into the Abramoff scandal itself, which is tangential to this post. You ought to read Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo blog if you want to know who most influences my thinking on the subject.

But one assumption I do want to take on is the idea that charges of corruption or ethical lapses are only acceptable if they are tied to an indictment or a guilty verdict. There question in my mind is not whether Richard Pombo ought to be sent to jail. The real question is whether he ought to be sent back to Washington to represent the interests of his constituents.

Richard Pombo, for example, has spent quite a bit of time and energy supporting the resumption of commercial whaling by the Makah Tribe off of Washington State. You really ought to wonder what a Congressman from the Central Valley is doing concerning himself with commercial whaling in Washington. Is Pombo, who represents part of one of the poorest areas in the country, who represents a district with some of the dirtiest air in the country, who represent a district with the most congested highway in California, really fulfilling his duty to represent his constituents by worrying about commercial whaling? Although any Congressperson will doubtlessly spend time on idiosyncratic projects, I think it is telling that Richard Pombo has spent his time waging a holy jihad against the fundamental environmental laws in the country instead of trying to solve the problems of his district. Richard Pombo is playing Don Quixote and Captain Ahab wrapped together while his district’s needs go unmet. And I am deeply, deeply suspicious of the seeming congruence between all of the objects of Pombo’s attention and all of the desires of Pombo’s campaign contributors. Tell me, do you think Richard Pombo would cut one subsidy for Big Oil with the alacrity that he cut the budget for food stamps? Somehow Pombo’s moral compass always seems to point to his pocketbook, and he might not have done anything illegal, but to me he’s still an unethical and has no business doing the people’s business.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Fiat Lux said...

Excellent work, Matt. Thanks for attending this event and giving the low-down to the folks who couldn't make it.

Question: Did Filson show up?

Seems the answer is no, given that McNerney got an opportunity to speak and presumably Filson would have as well.

5:15 PM, January 14, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

Not only did Filson not show up, the one person at the Lamorinda Club whom I knew was impressed with Filson ended the night by telling McNerney she'd endorse him partially because Filson did not show up.

This is a person involved with a fairly significant grassroots organization, although she is endorsing in her personal, as opposed to organizational, capacity.

I found this out when I went over to ask her if she knew what Filson was up to. I really wanted to know if he has any upcoming events, and I figured she'd know. (Incidentally, if any of you Filson supporters want to let me know what he's been up to, I'd appreciate it).

Anyhow, this woman just out and told me that although she had been leaning towards Filson initially, McNerney really won her over at the meeting last night and that she was angry (yes angry) at Filson for ignoring the grassroots. Furthermore, she mentioned that it wasn't smart for him to avoid these types of meeting and her endorsement of McNerney is the biggest support in favor of her argument as far as I'm concerned.

Also, when I was talking to this new McNerney supporter I overheard two women cleaning up in the kitchen (it was after the meeting had adjourned) and all I heard was "See, that's why I like McNerney. He's got guts." And the other woman asked if McNerney was the candidate at the meeting and the first woman indicated that it was. And then I heard the second woman say something long and thoughtful like, "Oooohhhhh, mmhhhmmm." Anyhow, you could almost hear the gears turning in her head. If Filson had shown up and spoken, maybe the second woman would have taken up his cause. Or maybe the first woman would have been ambivalent and said something less pro-McNerney.

Howard Dean said (IIRC) that 80% of politics is showing up. And McNerney certainly has been doing that in spades. I hope that Filson publishes his calendar and starts showing up at important events. And I encourage my readers who support him to encourage him to show up at more events.

5:59 PM, January 14, 2006  
Blogger VPO said...

I was at Lisa's talk and frankly was a bit disappointed by it. She is a very bright and engaging woman, so these comments are not meant for her personally. I liked her, I just did not like her complacent acceptance of the status quo in DC and the ease with which she lets Pombo off the hook for his all-too frequent "ethical lapses".

Here's why: she kept saying Pombo is not a crook. OK, technically, that is true. He has never been convicted of a crime. So in the strictest sense, he is not a crook.
Also, she said, everyone in DC does it -- takes money from lobbyists and votes their wishes. Somehow this was okay with her. She thought there was not an exact quid pro quo going on -- she did not think any lobbyist was saying precisely "Hey Pombo, if you vote yes on this bill, we'll give you $1000."

That is probably true, lobbyists are generally not stupid enough to put it in such explicit terms.
But the end result is the same. For example, why did the Mashpee tribal leaders give Pombo over $40,000? Because they liked him? Did they not expect to get their case heard? They were buying his interest in their case, which they received. Their petition for tribal recognition was greatly sped up. So it amounts to the same thing.

I have a journalism degree and spent time as a reporter and editor. My take on the journalism profession is that it is supposed to treat elected officials with a healthy dose of skepticism and be ready to expose their ethical lapses to help keep them straight. I see it as the moral responsibility of the journalist to speak for the people, not the politicians. The people have little or no voice other than the press. They do not have PR machines or a "spokesperson" to make up all kinds of distortions.

Pombo has the full power and resources of the resources committee to get his side of things out. For us, we have little money and a few websites and blogs.

The press should be as skeptical and critical as we are of the people in power. Perhaps Lisa is right, calling Pombo a crook could backfire, but calling him unethical and corrupt is just stating the truth, not staking a partisan position.

Reading his PR with the BS-detector set to high is her job also. Pombo puts out all kinds of distorted nonsense, like the Mercury report, the ESA "study", the ANWR "only 2000 acres" lie. A reporter's job is to expose these lies and call him on his frequent vacations from what we call "facts".

I know Lisa is a good person and capable. I just would like to see her more combative and skeptical, especially when we have a Rep so far astray from the straight and narrow.

8:36 PM, January 15, 2006  
Anonymous Lisa Vorderbrueggen said...

Thanks very much for your constructive comments.

It's interesting to read how others perceive you at the conclusion of a one-hour speech. It's good for journalists to feel what it's like on the other side of the news business.

Those who know me well were a bit puzzled by your statement about my lack of skepticism because they view me as overly critical on most matters. The influence peddling in Washington, D.C., is an absolute disgrace and I am as disgusted as anyone. I am sorry if that did not come across.

But my point on Friday night was to warn against blurring the line between personal allegations of misconduct and that of discontent with a system that has encouraged the formation of close ties between members of Congress and lobbyists on both sides of the political aisle. As a reporter, it is incumbent upon me to treat individuals fairly and if I err, I want to err on the side of fairness. My focus on fairness has and will continue to be the foundation of the strong reputation I have earned in this community as a reporter who cares about the facts and is not just in pursuit of a sensationalist headline.

On the other hand, you do rightfully remind me that questions about Pombo's relationships with his contributors and their lobbyists is an absolutely appropriate topic for public debate, and that Pombo did, after all, volunteer for this job.

The balancing act between fairness and public debate is a daily exercise. Thanks again for providing me another viewpoint with which to weigh my role as a watchdog on government.

11:46 AM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

Lisa,

I just want to thank you for braving the wilds and posting a comment on this blog. I have a great deal of respect for you personally, and I really appreciate your willingness to engage in a dialogue about not only Richard Pombo, but your coverage of Richard Pombo.

12:16 PM, January 16, 2006  

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