Pombo bows out of politics
Former local Rep. Richard Pombo has ditched politics for a less-hectic life with his wife and children on their rural Tracy ranch.
The passionate battler for the rights of landowners was left shell-shocked by millions of dollars worth of attack advertisements purchased against him in recent years by environmentalists and other activists.
Those groups helped topple the House’s most powerful environmental lawmaker in the November election, when Pombo lost to Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.
“I’m done,” the former House Resources Committee chairman said during a 2½-hour interview Wednesday. “It’s not worth it. What my kids had to go through. What my parents had to go through. Listening to … every crackpot conspiracy theory that came out there about how I was doing all this stuff to benefit myself and benefit my family. I’m done.
“I didn’t like the politics. I didn’t like talking to the media. I liked the policy. That’s what I liked, and that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
After flying back and forth every week for 14 years between California and Washington, D.C., Pombo says he now works from home as a partner at Oregon-based Pac/West Communications. His former chief of staff, Steve Ding, also works for the public relations and lobbying firm.
Most of Pombo’s business for Pac/West is done through conference calls or in West Coast cities, he said. That lets him spend most nights at home and gives him plenty of time with his wife and kids, except when he visits Alaskan clients.
Pac/West Communications was hired this week for $100,000, after a unanimous vote by the Stockton City Council to assemble a partnership of private and public organizations to rebuild rotting Delta levees before they are ruled unsafe and decertified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’ve got a real disaster coming,” Pombo said of flood insurance costs and lost opportunities to develop land when levees are decertified. “The city is looking at this and saying, ‘We need to do something that not only takes care of existing areas, but also looks at where our growth is, and how do we fix those levees.’”
Pombo said the challenge is too big and expensive for any one local government to handle by itself, and he said he is working to pull Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties into the project along with other government agencies. He will try to help the groups raise money for levee repairs through local bonds that are matched by state and federal grants, he said.
Pombo is also serving as honorary chairman for the nonprofit Partnership for America, which represents 800,000 landowners and was previously called Partnership for the West. He said Partnership for America focuses on Internet-based organizing.
Pombo, who was a target of last year’s national Internet-based assault by left-leaning activists, said he was a victim throughout his career of a hostile local press and of Democratic Party influence in environmental groups’ boardrooms.
“The World Wildlife Fund has probably some of the best information and does some of the best work on the ground in recovering endangered species around the world, and at that level the guys are interested in what they’re doing. They care.
“But you get up to the political level, the political leadership, and they’re just an arm of the Democratic Party.”
The fund’s D.C.-based spokesman, Tom Lalley, said Thursday that two of the organization’s chairs emeritus are lifelong Republicans who worked for presidents Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush.
“We really are distressed when the environment becomes a partisan issue,” said Lalley, who said environmental issues didn’t always lurk in the “political ghetto” of partisanship.
Pombo supported and was heavily backed in his later campaigns by oil companies that are targeted by the same environmentalists who targeted him. Oil companies “don’t know how to handle their own PR,” he said.
“I guess maybe it’s because they’re big international corporations and there’s really nobody in charge, but they don’t get it. They don’t realize that everybody in the world hates them.”
Pombo blames environmental lobbyists and some Democrats for blocking the main goal of his congressional career. His proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, which would have forced the federal government to reimburse landowners barred from developing land judged critical to a species’ survival, stalled last year in the Senate before the House and Senate changed party hands.
The ruling congressional Democrats today are in disarray, he said.
“When you become the majority, you’re shooting with real bullets. It’s like, ‘this could become law,’ so your whole thought process has to completely change.”
He thinks the challenges facing Democrats are similar to those that faced Republicans in 1994. “I’ll be the first to admit that we didn’t know what we were doing when we took over,” he said.
Pombo said Republican congressional candidates will do well next year if Hillary Clinton runs as the Democratic presidential nominee.
“In Republican districts — there are about 40 districts that the Democrats hold right now that are considered Republican districts — it will drive up our turnout, which will hurt their congressional candidates,” said the Republican.
About 43 percent of the 11th District’s 346,000 voters are registered Republican, and 37 percent are Democrats. Although Republican registration numbers have fallen from 45 percent in 2005, Pombo says Republicans who join the easterly migration away from the San Francisco Bay Area and into the 11th District are more partisan than Republicans who already live here.
“Who knows, the House may flip back next time. I don’t think the Senate will, but I think the House could flip back next time, dependent on what happens in the presidential races,” he said.
Pombo said businessman and former Assemblyman Dean Andal, who works for developer Gerry Kamilos and filed this week to run against McNerney in 2008, has a good chance of beating the inexperienced Democrat. He said Andal’s name is better recognized than McNerney’s in San Joaquin County, where 55 percent of the congressional district’s voters live.
McNerney spokesman Andy Stone on Thursday disagreed. “McNerney is back in the district every weekend meeting with constituents,” he said.
Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore, is also considering a run against McNerney. He expects an expensive campaign.
“We figure this race will easily surpass $3 million,” Houston said Thursday.