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Jon Fleischman

DREIER v. THOMAS: Congressional Fissure? Or gossip gone awry?


I am a big supporter of Proposition 77 – the measure that calls for a new process of redistricting in California that I believe will lead to more competitive seats in general elections.  I do not believe, as some do, that this measure will cause a ‘moderation’ in our GOP nominees.  That said, sometimes politics does make strange bedfellows.  I will tell you now that I never dreamt that I would be rowing an oar in the same boat as Congressman Bill Thomas. 

Let me start here:  It is very easy to dislike Congressman Thomas on a personal level.  As a matter of fact, he almost makes it fun to not like him.  In a moment, I will talk about the ‘politics’ of a Pro-77 letter and the Congressional Delegation, but first, a little bit on my ‘favorite’ Member of Congress…
Bill Thomas, our Republican Congressman from Bakersfield for decades, represents what is wrong with the Republican Party.  As a Congressman, he seems to embrace the idea of big-government spending, proudly touting himself as an architect of this massive entitlement expansion of prescription drug benefits for seniors at a time when we should seriously be looking at ways to cut entitlement programs, not increase them.  Beyond the policy arena, in politics, Thomas has made a career of ‘breeding’ political operatives who are bent on moderating the Republican Party into some sort of amorphous ‘generally economically conservative’ party that has no positions on social issues.  It seems like I have spent the last twenty years of my life embroiled from time to time in intra-party battles as Thomas and his operatives have sought at every crossroads to take the party down the path away from principled conservatism and into the quagmire of ambiguity.
This whole ‘generally economically conservative’ line seems like a sick joke now that we have seen how this ‘Cardinal’ of the House Ways and Means Committee has made no visible efforts to reign in spending.  I have yet to see him stand up and declare "my committee is going to stop the pork" — it just hasn’t happened.  Now does Thomas deserve all of the blame for this culture of largesse in our Republican Majority in Congress — of course not.  There is a whole band of fellow-moderate Congressman that are to blame — but Thomas is a very visible leader of this group.  It is also easy to pick on Thomas because when they were handing out tact and smoothness traits, Thomas was at the back of the line.  He has a notorious short fuse, and very much has a ‘you are with me or you are against me’ philosophy. 
All of this said, I respect Thomas for two things — one is his dogmatic determination to accumulate power and influence.  He is truly the ‘energizer bunny’ of political gamesmanship.  I also admire him for loyalty to his team.  He definitely takes care of the people that take care of him, and that is selfish, but admirable in a way.
Now get into the issue at hand – which is this split of the California Congressional Delegation when it comes to supporting Proposition 77.  Half the delegation is for it, and half is against it.  I have attached below a letter that was circulated amongst the California Republican delegation, formally endorsing the measure.
The Prop 77 folks had already gone out there and solicited the delegation already – so it was more or less known that the following nine Members of the delegation would NOT sign the letter – as they had already turned down previous attempts to get them to sign onboard:  Mary Bono, Duke Cunningham, John Doolittle, Elton Gallegly, Wally Herger, Duncan Hunter, Gary Miller, George Radanovich, Ed Royce.  Their reasons may vary from principled opposition to taking redrawing the lines from elected officials, dislike if a redraw before the next census, or fear of losing GOP seats (their own?).  No surprises there.
Signing the letter were these expected members:  Darrell Issa, Jerry Lewis, Dan Lungren, Buck McKeon, Devin Nunes, Dana Rohrabacher, Bill Thomas.  (Chris Cox is a supporter, but is no longer on the delegation).  Patriots all.
Okay – so where does the ‘surprise’ come in?  Well, that would be Congressman David Dreier, who will not sign the letter!  This is confusing because Dreier is a supporter of Proposition 77.  As a matter of fact, in my recent column on this issue in Capitol Weekly (which is worth a read for a more in-depth look at the split in the delegation on this), I praised Dreier for his support – I thought it especially notable given that his East-Los Angeles County based GOP district might very well become much more competitive under newly redrawn lines.
When I was told that Dreier would not sign, I became concerned.  I was quite certain I was not mistaken about his support of the measure.  I reached out to Brad Smith, a friend, who is the Congressman’s Chief of Staff.  Smith assured me that Dreier has not only endorsed the Governor’s entire reform package, but has also been making fundraising calls for raise money for the measures.  Dreier is apparently quite engaged in passing these measures, and Brad has assured me that he has been devoting significant time to it.  In an effort towards ‘due diligence’ – I went ahead and reached out to a senior player on the Governor’s campaign team — and he assured me that Dreier has, indeed, been very involved and a part of their efforts.
So, that brings us back to the letter, and that also brings me back to my initial observations about Bill Thomas.  You see, and no one will tell me this ‘on the record’ (but I have several sources) — Dreier doesn’t want to sign this letter because of a personal, visceral dislike of Thomas (again, I am sure the denials are being issued by Dreier’s office as you read this – collegiality on The Hill being so important).  It’s funny, but I was prepared to really raise a stink about Dreier not signing the letter.  But, I respect his reason, and understand it!   As a matter of fact, I almost didn’t endorse 77 myself because of Thomas’ role in the Yes on 77 effort! (I was sure there was language buried deep in the measure that would require Thomas to personally ratify the new lines!).

I would like to take an opportunity to praise those Republicans in Congress who are supporting 77, and to encourage the nine who haven’t come on board to do the right thing — having a shot someday at a Republican majority in the State Assembly is worth shifting some GOP "safe" House seats to the "competitive" category… 
On a closing note, David Dreier deserves to be loudly praised for his leadership on the redistricting measure.  As I said in my Weekly piece, his district could very well change to one that he could not win, but that is not keeping him from taking a leadership role in support of Proposition 77.  Well done!

Click here for more analysis on Prop. 77 and the California Congressional Delegation.

Jon Fleischman

PS:  I almost choked on my Wheaties when I read that the San Francisco Chronicle had endorsed Prop. 77!!