Land of the lost

Reptilian Republicans Tom McClintock and Doug Ose vie for John Doolittle’s 4th District congressional seat

Illustration By robert armstrong

California’s 4th Congressional District occupies a rough rectangle that extends north and east from Orangevale to the Oregon and Nevada borders. It is a decidedly Republican district, encompassing El Dorado, Placer, Plumas, Lassen and Modoc counties, as well as snippets of Butte and Sacramento counties. Since the district was redrawn in 1991, it has been lorded over by John Doolittle, one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives and a protégé of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Both Delay and Doolittle played integral roles in the Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the mid-1990s. It was a heady time for conservatives, who took control of the House for the first time in 40 years. It was not to last. Scandal would force both Delay and Doolittle out of office, and Doolittle remains under federal investigation for his alleged participation in the Jack Abramoff corruption case. Riding a wave of anti-war sentiment, Democrats regained control of the House in 2006.

With Doolittle out, this year the 4th District is up for grabs. Democratic challenger Charlie Brown, who nearly defeated scandal-plagued Doolittle two years ago, has a fighting chance to take the seat (see “Warriors and peace,”). He’ll face off against either Tom McClintock or Doug Ose, who are currently waging one of the nastiest campaign battles in recent memory to win the June 3 Republican primary. While Brown should prove to be a formidable opponent, my money is on McClintock or Ose to win a district that with the exception of 2006, has consistently voted Republican by a 2-to-1 margin.

McClintock and Ose represent the two faces of the Republican Party. As a seven-term assemblyman and two-term state senator, McClintock has earned a well-deserved reputation as the Legislature’s preeminent advocate of lower taxes and less government. Ose, who served three terms in the House of Representatives for the neighboring 3rd Congressional District, casts himself as a savvy businessman who can get things done. The pair, along with underfunded candidates Theodore Terbolizard and Suzanne Jones, faced off in a debate at the Sunrise Area Republican Club in Orangevale last week.

The sparks flew early. “Tom, welcome to Orangevale,” Ose smirked during the introductions, continuing his campaign’s theme that McClintock, who has represented suburban and rural Southern California during his 20 years in the Legislature, is nothing more than a carpetbagging career politician. For his part, McClintock claims the more moderate Ose has “squandered the Reagan legacy.”

Ose repeatedly hammered his rival on the $300,000 he’s taken in per-diem payments provided to state legislators to support travel and housing costs between Sacramento and their districts—despite the fact that McClintock has lived permanently in Elk Grove since 1996. In turn, McClintock painted Ose as a liberal in conservative clothing who’s soft on illegal immigration. “Will we return to the days of Ronald Reagan, when Republicans acted like Republicans?” he asked. “Or will we slowly morph into a second-rate reflection of the Democrats?”

Lost in the fray was any semblance that these two political dinosaurs have a clue about the enormous economic and geopolitical problems facing the United States. The libertarian-minded Terbolizard was the only candidate who expressed real concern for the disastrous occupation of Iraq and the declining value of the dollar. Ose seemed oblivious to such issues, which began on his watch. Divorcing himself from reality, Ose claimed, “When I left Congress in 2004 after serving three terms, our economy was strong, our nation had faith in its political leadership, we were working to ensure a brighter future by protecting jobs, by cutting taxes, by reducing government spending, by protecting our borders.”

Reducing government spending? Who’s this guy kidding? Since 2003, when Ose was still in office, we’ve blown $1 trillion on the war in Iraq with no end in sight, the federal budget deficit has ballooned out of control, the national debt has grown to, hold your breath, $9.3 trillion.

“You can’t just cut taxes, you’ve got to cut spending,” McClintock countered. “That’s the one thing he and his team utterly refuse to do.” Is McClintock even aware that this is precisely what his beloved Ronald Reagan failed to do during his two terms in office, thereby ushering in the era of massive public deficits we’re still enduring?

Despite all the rhetoric about cutting taxes and spending, both McClintock and Ose offered voters a laundry list of expensive federally funded projects, from the proposed Auburn Dam to new highways. Both support the fallacious war on terror and strengthening our defense capabilities, despite the enormous cost. Both support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Ose even backs the idea of slant drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, which happens to lie in McClintock’s district. What the hell, promise them everything. It’s campaign season.

When it comes to who can deliver on those promises, the answer is fairly straightforward. I like the idea of Tom McClintock. His libertarian spirit appeals to my anti-authoritarian nature. But while Ose is clinging to the conservative mantle to win the district, the reality is he’s a moderate Republican who has a documented history of bringing home the bacon. That’s going to be crucial as the U.S. economy enters what many experts predict will be the worst recession in our lifetimes. In the June 3 primary, Ose’s your man.