View From Lodi, CA: GOP TO Democrats—"The Fat Lady Hasn't Sung Yet!"

Last week, the Lodi News-Sentinel tepidly endorsed U.S. Congressional incumbent Richard Pombo citing vague reasons like "bright," "amiable," and has "solid conservative values."

But the Sentinel then listed alarming reasons not to support Pombo, including donations he received from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and from the Indian tribes whose fortunes he oversees in the House.

And the Sentinel noted that Pombo has hired and retained his wife to work on his re-election staff. Unmentioned is that Pombo also hired his brother and paid both over the last three election cycles more than $370,000 for "bookkeeping" and "consulting."

If you don't think these salaries are excessive for the jobs performed, just try to imagine what you, as a non-Pombo family member, would be paid.

More abuses that the News-Sentinel did not include but which are written up by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct are Pombo's support of two new freeway projects (the Pombo family owns 1,500 acres near the freeway), his opposition to environmental standards, an excessive and inappropriate use of franking privileges and use of federal funds for campaign expenses. [Pombo For Congress—But He Must Clear Ethical Clouds, Lodi News-Sentinel, October 14, 2006]

To the list prepared by the CSOC, I'll add my own gripes. Pombo has been a consistent supporter of trade agreements and has dishonestly misrepresented his positions right up to the last minute.

Prior to the vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement that expanded NAFTA into six additional countries, I called Pombo's office to encourage a "No" vote. A staffer told me that Pombo had serious reservations. But that same night, Pombo voted "Yes" without blinking. 

Previously Pombo voted "Yes" on the both the Chile and Singapore Free Trade Agreements.

And on immigration, Pombo's true position has vacillated so often voters are hard pressed to figure out what his true position is.

According to Pombo's website, he wants to

"… secure our borders, and then provide the opportunity for guest workers to work legally and pay taxes. I also believe those who enter the country legally, pay taxes and learn English should have the opportunity someday to earn their U.S. citizenship."

From this comment, I conclude that Pombo has covered all his bases. Conveniently, he's for the conflicting positions of border security, a guest worker program and amnesty.

What the News-Sentinel's endorsement of Pombo underlines is not the incumbent's qualifications for re-election so much as the lack of an attractive Democratic challenger.

The News-Sentinel damned Jerry McNerney with faint praise as a "thoughtful, soft-spoken and decent fellow" who would make an "excellent college professor."

And this albatross—unappealing Democratic candidates— hangs around the party's neck nationwide.

Look, for example, at California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides—no charisma, no humor, no chance.

And the lack of solid candidates is one reason that, current thinking not withstanding, the Republicans may keep control of the House in November.

Sure, Americans are unhappy with the Republicans, President Bush and the direction of his War in Iraq.

But will they vote for lackluster unknowns?

A highly placed Capitol Hill Republican operative assured me that the GOP expects to survive the November scare. He points to three factors.

  • First, 97.9 percent of incumbents have been re-elected since 1996, a huge advantage for Republicans.

  • Second, in 2006 fewer open seats—the most likely to change hands—are up for grabs. Of the 21 total, Bush carried 18 of them in 2004 with an average of 61 percent.

  • Third and most important, according to the Political Money Line website, Republican candidates in competitive races have a combined $16 million more in cash on hand than their Democratic opponents.

Whether 2006 will be the year that the voters are finally angry enough to throw out the incumbents remains to be seen.

But the Republicans can't be counted out just yet, no matter what you may be reading or hearing to the contrary.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.