Are CA-11 Voters Indifferent to Pombo's Corruption?
There’s an interesting article in tomorrow’s Washington Post about the mood among voters in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote in CA-11. Contributors to this blog, as well as Republican challenger Pete McCloskey, have spent quite a bit of time focusing attention on the many corrupt, if not downright criminal, activities in which Richard Pombo has been engaged over the last 14 years. But this WaPo article posits that we may have fallen prey to the echo chamber effect.
But as former congressman Pete McCloskey traverses Pombo's district hammering the incumbent for ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), one response has been dominant, he conceded: shrugs of indifference.Of course, Pombo, through his spokesman, Wayne Johnson, professes not to be worried by charges of corruption. To Johnson, apparently charges of cravenly dismantling and selling off our country to the highest bidder are less important than clothing choices.
With California's Tuesday primary approaching, McCloskey's experience may have broader significance for the larger contests in November. The "culture of corruption" theme featured so prominently in Democratic campaign literature may not be so potent, after all.
"When I talk about ethics, the response quite often is, 'Yeah, he's a crook, but he's our crook, and isn't everybody a crook out there?' " McCloskey said in an interview last week. "I'm not sure it makes much of a dent on anyone in [California's] San Joaquin Valley who's worried about water, the traffic and air that has become some of the worst in California."
Pombo declined to be interviewed for this article. His chief political consultant, Wayne Johnson, said insinuations of unethical behavior have been "created out of whole cloth" by some Internet denizen "sitting in his underwear in Massachusetts writing it up on his blog."Heh.
However, it seems to me like “indifference” might be the wrong word for what’s going on in the minds of CA-11 voters. Remember, the local media has pretty much given Pombo a free pass over his term in office. The citizens of the district are only recently, and many for the first time, seeing a bright light shone on Pombo’s activities; he’s been around for 14 years, and only now are these charges being widely disseminated. Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that people who have supported him for so long would be a little hesitant to toss him over him so quickly. But all the same, I suspect that they're now looking at him in a different way: questioning, distrustful, perhaps a little more open to hearing other viewpoints.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, I have to hope that a steady drip of information exposing Pombo’s corruption may eventually erode his support. Earlier today, the Lodi News endorsed Pombo. But the endorsement was less than enthusiastic, adopting much of the same stern warning tone that the Modesto Bee used in its recent endorsement:
We find McCloskey inspirational and refreshing. His candidacy has put a fresh focus on ethics, integrity and the future of environmental policy.On a different tangent, along with endorsing Pombo for the Republican nomination, the Lodi News also endorsed Jerry McNerney for the Democratic nomination. Here’s what they had to say about McNerney:
Even so, Pombo's the more pragmatic choice for Republicans. We're sticking with him through the GOP primary — and hoping he develops more sensitivity to even the mere appearance of impropriety. If Mrs. Pombo were to find a job outside the campaign between now and November, her husband will win our admiration and probably a large majority of 11th District votes.
In the Democratic race, all three candidates have clear strengths, but we like McNerney.
He's not a typical politician, and we find that refreshing. He's studious — almost a little nerdy — but in pleasant way. He talks with conviction and expertise about the importance of energy policy. He takes the long view. He is thoughtful but tempered by pragmatism.