by Li Miao Lovett
To the cynical and weary, Richard Pombo is the California Congressman in cowboy boots who can’t be bucked from his saddle in the House of Representatives. But Pombo is in for a rough ride this fall. Mary Gill, who’s leading the Loma Prieta Chapter’s campaign to elect contender Jerry McNerney, a wind-energy developer, says that Sierra Club activists are “telling people Pombo’s the guy who wants to get rid of the Endangered Species Act and drill in the Arctic.”
Gill and her allies are hoping that Pombo’s drill-and-sell legacy as the House Resources Committee Chair will become an endangered species itself. Over the summer, the Loma Prieta Chapter has been running a phone bank campaign. A typical three-hour stint in early July yielded 350 calls to constituents, and 30-plus Club members expressed an interest in getting involved.
The Club has officially endorsed
McNerney, and Loma Prieta Chapter activist Carolyn Straub encourages those she calls to volunteer in McNerney’s campaign. She says most Sierra Club members are savvy about Pombo’s record and have a “visceral reaction” to his name. But many say their environmental concerns are not shared by their more conservative neighbors in San Joaquin County.
Former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who co-authored the Endangered Species Act in 1973, came out of retirement to run against Pombo in the primary. Although McCloskey lost the bid,
McNerney hopes to pick up some of those GOP votes for a greener candidate.
Cathy Duvall, the Club’s national political director, finds hope in the changing demographics in the district, as the county is increasingly home to Bay Area commuters flocking there for affordable housing. “They care about traffic and clean air and don’t see Pombo as supportive in regard to these issues.”
The donations Pombo has accepted from oil, mining, and timber interests have also touched a nerve with voters. At a June rally, residents in Pleasanton, California, accused him of changing his stance on offshore drilling after Big Oil added a quarter million dollars to his campaign coffers. The non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics calls Pombo one of “the 13 most corrupt members of Congress.”
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups took Pombo to task by circulating petitions and running radio ads before the primary elections. As November approaches, a cadre of volunteers will be recruited from several chapters to engage voters at tabling events and by walking the precincts to get out the vote.
Duvall says that Pombo was perceived as a local boy when he was first elected 14 years ago, but has lost that image over the past ten years.
Unseating Pombo won’t be easy. His manifesto on property rights has won the favor of developers and landowners, and he has wielded his influence as chair of the House Resources Committee to promote oil drilling and mining interests. But Gill thinks the public is hungry for honesty and integrity in government.
|The Pombo Mask: Last Halloween, the Sierra Club called Pombo the “most frightening man in Congress.” Download your own mask at sierraclub.org/pombo.
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