Better Dem than him

Some lifelong Republicans are defecting from Doolittle

GOP stalwart Joanne Neft is fed up with John Doolittle. She’s switching to moderate Democrat Charlie Brown.

GOP stalwart Joanne Neft is fed up with John Doolittle. She’s switching to moderate Democrat Charlie Brown.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Joanne Neft wouldn’t vote for just any old Democrat, let alone work on a campaign for one. She’s a rock-ribbed Placer County Republican, registered with the GOP for going on 50 of her 71 years of life.

“I’ve only lived in Placer County for 40 years,” Neft told SN&R. She wants to make it clear that, even though she’s a relative newcomer, she’s no carpetbagger. “My husband is fifth-generation, though.”

So, what’s she doing in a bright red T-shirt that proclaims her a member of the Republicans for Charlie Brown? And how in the world does she think the shirt doesn’t clash with her traditionally Republican elephant earrings?

“I respect the office of Congress,” Neft said. “Unfortunately, I do not have, right now, a congressman I can respect.”

Her list of grievances against incumbent Republican Representative John Doolittle starts with his habit of inserting both money and partisan politics into nonpartisan local political races [see “Boss Doolittle”; SN&R Feature Story; July 22, 2004] and gets longer. She’s outraged that he’s been implicated in financial scandals with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his alleged co-conspirator Brent Wilkes. She loathes what she sees as a pay-for-play attitude, where “in order to have a conversation with John Doolittle himself, you need to be a major contributor.” And Doolittle’s work with Abramoff on behalf of the garment industry in the Mariana Islands, “where his idea of free-market capitalism is women in indentured servitude, working for less than minimum wage and forced to sell their bodies to pay off debts,” puts her over the edge.

She was looking for a candidate she could support. That was Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes in the Republican primary. When Holmes lost, Neft decided to at least talk to the Democrat.

After a conversation with Brown, she was a convert.

She is most assuredly not a Democrat. But she said, “Charlie Brown promised only two things: that he will be honest and he will be accessible. What more can you ask of your congressman?”

Neft started Republicans for Charlie Brown herself, by printing up some signs, T-shirts and bumper stickers at her own expense. Those items were enough to attract attention—and more members.

One of them is Colfax resident and Republican Don Adams, who saw one of the red T-shirts at an event he attended in El Dorado County.

Though Adams admits to being “kind of liberal” in his youth, since he became politically involved and registered to vote 25 years ago, he’s been a conservative. That means, he said, “I want the government to stay out of my personal life, I believe in the smallest government possible, and I believe in controlling the budget deficits—none of which is being done now.”

Like Neft, his dissatisfaction with Doolittle started with the congressman’s involvement in local politics, which Adams, too, sees as excessive. “When I sent a candidate $50 and found out he was up against $50 grand in Doolittle money, that’s when I lost it,” he said. And his anger at the incumbent grew.

“As a conservative Republican, I agree with Doolittle on plenty of things,” Adams said, citing immigration in particular. “But on the things that are most important to me, we deviate. I absolutely demand clean government.” What’s more, Adams wants a representative who’s above reproach. “Just being clean isn’t enough. I want my representative to be the king of clean.”

Adams described the current climate in Washington, D.C., as “going nuts as far as corruption.” The problem, he said, is that Doolittle seems to think “everything is OK, and the FBI is asking for more people to investigate government corruption. He thinks the system is working just fine,” said Adams, “and I need someone in there who’s going to fix this thing.”

Also like Neft, Adams had been a Holmes supporter in the primary. After Holmes’ loss, Adams’ inclination was to “just sit it out.” Then he saw the T-shirt and looked into Brown. “I do a lot of research before I make a decision,” Adams said. “Charlie Brown seems like an honest guy.”

Adams likes the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel’s military background and the approach Brown takes to national security. And, in a time of war, Adams believes veterans’ leadership is essential. “I want somebody in there that’s going to look after the troops and take care of the veterans after they come home,” he said.

Adams, like Neft, doesn’t think it’s enough for Brown to just be the anti-Doolittle. “He’s not just the ‘lesser of two evils,’” Adams said of Brown. “He actually stands for a lot of basic traditional values, like service and honesty and fairness. He’s in favor of balancing the budget. And he’s not going to send American kids to do anything he hasn’t already done himself.”

Adams isn’t too worried about being mistaken in backing Brown. “If he doesn’t turn out to be an honest guy, he’s a Democrat. He’ll be easy to replace,” Adams said.

Do the Republicans for Brown represent a real force in the campaign? Officials with Republican organizations in Placer County don’t think so.

Carl DeWing, president of the Republican Congress of Placer County, told SN&R that he didn’t expect many defections among the party faithful. “I have a serious concern with Mr. Brown’s philosophies, and Republicans who vote for him aren’t taking into consideration what that vote will mean for the Republicans in Placer County, as well as for the rest of the district,” DeWing said.

While he acknowledged that some Republican stalwarts may be “concerned about the allegations that have been made” about Doolittle, he’s convinced they’ll put those concerns aside. “Those are not as important as maintaining a conservative Republican in Congress who will back the president when it comes to the security of the country.”

In a telephone message to SN&R, Dean Forman, the chairman of the Placer County Republicans, echoed DeWing’s sentiments. “The vast majority of Republicans in this district will reject Charlie Brown’s candidacy,” he said.

Both DeWing and Forman made an issue of Brown’s perceived status as a “liberal” and pointed to his membership in the American Civil Liberties Union. But Adams doesn’t think most rank-and-file Republicans see the ACLU membership as a deal-breaker.

“Look at their bona fides,” he said. “Sometimes they’re over-the-top, but almost any organization is over-the-top once in a while. They’ve also fought for civil liberties for Christian groups, you know.”

With Brown’s internal polling showing the race much closer than political analysts and pundits might have predicted, Brown’s appeal to disenchanted Republicans might be enough to tip the balance.

Meanwhile, Neft has plenty of “Republicans for Charlie Brown” T-shirts. “I can wear a clean one every day until the election,” she said.