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With McClintock in D.C., why hire lobbyists?

Another View
By: Charlie Brown
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Like many California counties facing huge budget shortfalls this year, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors recently decided, by a 3-2 vote, to spend $25,000 retaining the Ferguson Group to lobby for funds made available by the recently enacted $787 billion federal stimulus package. In a spirited debate on whether a county that already implemented a 25 percent general fund cut, layoffs and furloughs, could afford to spend its limited resources on such an effort, newly elected Supervisor Lori Simpson — an opponent of the contract — asked, “Well, we have three representatives in Washington now … what are they doing for us, what do they get paid for?” It’s a fair question. So in the midst of a steepening recession, rising unemployment and record foreclosures, I looked to see what our newest representative was doing that would necessitate our district’s continued reliance on D.C. lobbyists. In visiting Tom McClintock’s Web site, I found a lot of no votes, some floor speeches rehashing his favorite sound bytes from 30 years in politics, and only one bill authored — H.R. 54, “Celebrating the Life of Ronald Wilson Reagan on his 98th Birthday.” Therein lies the answer to Supervisor Simpson’s question. A larger question remains. Do we expect our representatives in Washington to represent their constituents, or some ideological utopia? We know that the former tends to produce solution-oriented compromises (imperfect though they be). The latter, almost always produces partisan gridlock — a recurring problem both in Sacramento and Washington that we can point to as a big reason why things have gotten so far off track. Congressman McClintock has made a career, at taxpayer expense mind you, of choosing the latter. Unfortunately, that’s a choice that comes with costs for the people of California’s 4th District, at a time our region and economy can least afford them. Last year McClintock opposed reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self Determination Act — a bipartisan measure replacing more than $20 million annually in lost logging revenues to seven of District 4’s nine counties — saving local jobs and funding everything from schools to highways, water projects and law enforcement. On legislation to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) — providing more than 12,700 4th District kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access health coverage (ultimately increasing health costs for all of us when the emergency room becomes their primary care doctor) an affordable choice of private health plans, he also voted no. On the recently passed and earmark-free federal stimulus bill — to include a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans, expanded benefits for the 10.1 percent of Californians now out of work, long overdue investments in energy production, forest management and infrastructure, and an estimated 8,300 new jobs here in the 4th District (1,000 more than estimates for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district by the way), he voted no again. In doing so, he voted no on shovel ready infrastructure projects like Lincoln Bypass, expansion of Interstate 80, improvements to Highway 50 and the Dorsey Interchange. He voted no on tapping our immense local energy resources to help fuel our national recovery, and against modernized water storage, flood control and prevention of costly wildfires. Anyone who knows our community knows that each of these investments will yield solid dividends for our region, the state and the nation. In between recent lectures to the California Republican Convention and Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on the merits of reprising the Bush Administration’s recession-inducing economic policies and hoping a different result will trickle down to the rest of us, McClintock suggested to a group gathered in El Dorado County that the county he represents — and one facing a $15 million projected deficit — shouldn’t take nor expect any stimulus funds. That’s sage advice for a community which spent $130,000 last year alone on federal lobbyists — most of which went to a firm employing the son of McClintock’s top political aide. In Congress, hard budget choices and a deepening housing crisis will be up next. And with the Center for Responsible Lending projecting that California’s 4th District will be home to the third highest number of foreclosures in the state this year (nearly 10,000), the stakes could not be higher (coincidentally, the 3rd Congressional District, where McClintock currently lives, has the highest projected foreclosure rate). Unfortunately, if history is any guide, it seems a safe bet that Tom will vote no, and an even safer bet that he won’t offer a viable alternative. Meanwhile, we can expect our local officials to continue hiring federal lobbyists to do the work of advocating for our region in Washington. Maybe we should call that the “McClintock Tax” on local government. Charlie Brown is a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force from Roseville. He was the Democratic candidate for the District 4 U.S. Congressional representative in the 2008 general election.