Richard Pombo plans to run for 19th District

January 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
He is labeled one of the "Dirty Dozen" by environmentalists, but now former Congressman Richard Pombo wants another crack at Washington politics. On Tuesday, he announced his plans to run for Congress again. However, this time he has a different strategy.

Pombo told ABC7 he never thought he would lose to Jerry McNerney, but in 2006 he did. Now he wants to run again, but not against McNerney.

After being defeated in 2006 Richard Pombo went back to ranching in Tracy. Nevertheless, the once-powerful chair of the House Resources Committee has decided to return to Congress, but not from his home district. Instead, he wants to run from the 19th Congressional District, which covers a big swath of the Eastern Central Valley from Modesto down to Fresno.

"I'm a Central Valley guy; my family's been here for over 100 years," says Pombo.

Speaking to a reporter from our sister station in Fresno, Pombo said it does not matter that he does not live in the 19th District, he knows the issues.

"When you talk about water issues and agriculture issues, that's what I worked on. Those were the issues that were most important to me," says Pombo.

In his seven terms in Congress Pombo rose to become a power in the Republican House and a target for environmentalists.

"He wanted to open up California's coast to off shore oil drilling, he wanted to sell the national parks, he wanted to gut the Endangered Species Act," says Bruce Hamilton, deputy executive director of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, the Defenders of Wildlife, and the League of Conservation Voters donated a total of $1.3 million to Democrat Jerry McNerney who beat Pombo in a huge upset. But would those same environmental groups weigh in again against Pombo? Hamilton says it is probably the case.

"If he is you know posing a reasonable risk of getting in, we're probably going to be in there opposing him," says Hamilton.

Still, the 19th is a rural and very Republican district; which means the primary will likely decide the race.

State Senator Jeff Denham, R, and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, R, have already declared former Secretary of State Bill Jones, R, as a probable candidate and with that line up, the head of the California League of Conservation Voters is not sure it is worth risking the group's financial resources.

"If the alternative is a congressman who basically has the exact same voting record, or a comparable voting record, what's the difference?" says Warner Chabot, with the California League of Conservation Voters.

And if environmental groups do back a Republican rival to Pombo, ABC7's political analyst Professor Bruce Cain, Ph.D., says that would carry another sort of risk.

"You'd have to find a way to do it to, to sort of launder it because if it came across as environmental money, that would be death in that district," says Cain.

Professor Cain says the race in the 19th will be a race to see who can be the most conservative. Congressman George Radanovich was the incumbent who is retiring and it will be a race to see who can replace him. Radanovich has a record of being pro agriculture business and does not have a great environmental voting record.

This will be an interesting race to follow since the crown jewel of the national parks, Yosemite, is in the 19th District.