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Our View: Time to move forward in the Fourth District

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Former Congressman John Doolittle announced Friday he had been told by the Justice Department that the investigation into his alleged illegal activities has been closed. “I had been praying for this day for years,” Doolittle told the Associated Press in an Auburn Journal article published first online Friday. While supporters like Auburn oil company executive Tom Dwelle lauded the news, others like former Democratic Central Committee chairman Larry Dubois remained convinced that Doolittle “always had his hands in dirty water.” Politics are not always black and white. In fact, there are plenty of gray areas. What most of us can agree upon is that Doolittle worked hard to bring much-needed federal dollars to the Fourth District. Whether he was supporting a regional wastewater treatment plan pipeline, or securing federal dollars for Interstate 80 traffic-flow upgrades, Doolittle brought home the bacon. He even reached out across political lines to seek federal help in securing money to preserve beautiful Lake Tahoe, which might be the most valuable environmental asset in our region. On the other hand, Doolittle freely admits that he was a friend of Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who recently served prison time for bribing elected officials. Former Doolittle aide Kevin Ring faces a second trial next month after a hung jury could not agree on his guilt or innocence in another Abramoff-related bribery scandal. Ring first worked for Doolittle, and then for Abramoff. Several other elected officials have already pleaded guilty to bribery and related charges in connection with Abramoff including Congressman Duke Cunningham of San Diego and Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. Doolittle freely admits that his wife, Julie, and her business, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, were employed by Abramoff. Sierra Dominion Services also collected more than $200,000 as part of Julie Doolittle’s 15 percent compensation for raising money for her husband’s political campaigns. Many, including leading Placer County Republicans, questioned whether that was ethical. The Association of Fundraising Professionals sent a letter to Rep. Doolittle stating that its long-standing ethics code, “explicitly prohibits percentage-based compensation,” according to previously published reports. Doolittle served nine terms in Congress. He did a lot to secure federal funding for local projects. For that he deserves our thanks. But perhaps as a sign of the flawed nature of our political system, it takes a lot of money to keep getting elected and re-elected. And there are lobbyists, and special-interest groups, more than willing to “help.” Doolittle assisted Abramoff in securing a lucrative lobbying contract with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. He helped Abramoff with out-of-district Indian casino clients, despite his anti-gambling stance. These are at the very least, questionable actions. What most agree on is that it’s time to move on. Today, there are new challenges facing the district and some old ones that continue to fester. Congressman Tom McClintock vows to not support earmarks. His position is so strong that some local officials say it’s a waste of time even asking him for federal help. The problem is, Washington’s business-as-usual political climate has not changed that much since Doolittle was in office. And federal dollars are still desperately needed locally. What can be learned of the Doolittle saga? Doolittle, despite what naysayers claim, no doubt had some very positive impacts on Placer County, especially in regards to securing federal funding for local projects. He was a champion for our district. But Doolittle got too close to lobbyists and needed to distance himself from the perception of impropriety. He was unable to do that effectively, and questions of his integrity led to a federal investigation. That investigation led to his resignation. Politicians from the Domes in Auburn to the Beltway in Washington should take note. Getting too close to lobbyists doesn’t always result in an indictment, but it always affects one’s ability to lead and govern. And get re-elected. News that the investigation is over is goods news for Doolittle and Fourth District constituents. The announcement is a welcome relief from a seemingly endless and unfruitful six-and-a-half-year investigation that pitted neighbor against neighbor. It’s time to move forward, and hopefully, with us all a little wiser.