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Environmentalists gird for anti-Pombo battle

In the waning days of summer, environmentalists are girding up for an all-out fall offensive against Rep. Richard Pombo’s re-election bid in Congressional District 11.

It’s conceivable that environmental organizations will spend as much or more money on anti-Pombo initiatives than his Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney.

The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund now has seven full-time campaign organizers in its Pleasanton office and has plans to hire three more.

The group has produced anti-Pombo TV and radio ads and held a joint press conference this week with Moveon.org to release a report on the cost of the Iraq War to residents in the district. ($974 million and counting.)

The two groups have launched what they call the “Caught Red-Handed” campaign, intended to highlight what they consider Pombo’s ill-advised positions and unethical actions. They’ve been following Pombo around the district during the congressman’s summer break from Washington, D.C., wearing large, foam rubber red hands.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have formed a new 527 committee, named after the IRS designation for political groups, called the Ocean Champions Voter Fund. Its executive director is David Wilmot, a former director of the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans Program.

The Ocean Voter Fund has produced two mailers in opposition to Pombo’s bill, the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, (H.R. 4761), which would allow states to authorize oil and natural gas drilling between 50 and 100 nautical miles from shore.

But the green wave had a misstep this week.

The League of Conservation Voters fired off a rousing e-mail this week that denounced Pombo’s appearance in Montana at an immigration hearing of the House Resources Committee, of which he is the chairman.

“While we’re glad to see Rep. Pombo deep in Montana listening to Montana voters, we’re quite sure he actually represents the 11th District of California,” the statement read.

The league has named Pombo one of its “Dirty Dozen 2006,” a group of candidates they have targeted. Since 1996, the league says it has helped defeat 28 of the 49 anti-environment candidates.

There’s only one problem: Pombo was never in Montana. He’s been at home in his district.

“Mea culpa,” said League spokesman Chuck Porcari. “Pombo was on the schedule to go to Montana and we should have checked to make sure he went.”

But Porcari says the premise of the league’s message remains true.

“Pombo spends more time looking out for the interests of his campaign funders than those of his constituents,” he said.

Pombo and his advocates vigorously disagree, of course.

On the surface, all this anti-Pombo money helps McNerney, right?

Maybe. McNerney has far less money than Pombo and his advocates welcome anything that helps soften the well-funded incumbent.

On the other hand, Pombo’s campaign staffers repeatedly discount the greenies’ efforts as a bunch of out-of-town liberals trying to tell the good folks of Congressional District 11 how to vote.

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Pombo vs. McNerney: Does “vulnerable” signal victory?

Folks in the camp of Democratic congressional candidate Jerry McNerney were excited to read a Cook Political Report analysis that called incumbent GOP Rep. Richard Pombo “vulnerable.”

Unhappiness over the Iraq War, President George Bush’s unpopularity, high gas prices and congressional scandals are dark clouds in a number of otherwise safe Republican districts, says Cook Political Report analyst Amy Walter.

“In a year where Congress’ approval rating is at just 29 percent, voters aren’t as willing to let incumbents simply stow their political baggage in the overhead compartment as they have been in the past,” Walter wrote.

But calling Pombo vulnerable is not the same as thing as saying McNerney will win, Walter cautioned in a follow-up telephone interview.

“Opportunity does not equal victory,” Walter says. “Many of the Democrats (facing vulnerable Republicans) are woefully underfunded and lack name recognition. That allows the incumbent to define the challenger.”

As of June 30, the last quarterly reporting period, Pombo had collected $2.2 million in contributions compared with $448,946 for McNerney.

The money advantage is especially acute in Congressional District 11, Walter says, which straddles two expensive media markets. It costs roughly $800,000 a week to run television ads in the San Francisco market.

Let’s be honest, Walter says.

If it weren’t for the sour smell dogging Republicans across the country, no one would be talking about Pombo’s race at all. He’s a seven-term incumbent with a 7-percentage point party registration advantage, two very strong indicators of the outcome.

“But for the political climate being as bad as it is, it would be fair to say that this race would be in a safe category,” Walter said.

At the same time, Democrats haven’t invested the money to take advantage of Pombo’s predicament and don’t appear likely to do so.

McNerney has failed to qualify for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue fundraising program. The committee has raised nearly $4 million in this initiative for 34 Democratic congressional candidates.

Democrats need to win 15 new seats in order to take majority control of the House of Representatives in November.

“But it’s not enough that Pombo is vulnerable,” Walter said. “You have to have enough money and resources to convince people that you are a viable alternative. There’s been no indication to me, at this point, that McNerney will be able to beat Pombo.”

Meanwhile, salon.com posted an interesting story on McNerney titled “Can a politically clumsy windmill engineer who wants the U.S. out of Iraq succeed in his quest to unseat Abramoff ally and eco-villain Richard Pombo?” by Michael Scherer. Check it out.

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Contra Costa growth measure finally finds a champion

For a while, Contra Costa County’s much-ballyhooed growth initiative was headed for the Nov. 7 ballot with no one at the campaign helm.

But today, Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross officially formed a Measure J campaign committee that will promote the next generation urban growth boundary in Contra Costa County. His wife, Dianne Dunlap, will serve as its treasurer.

The measure extends until 2036 an urban growth boundary that voters originally adopted nearly two decades ago. It was imposed on the county in a voter-approved, 2004 half-cent transportation sales tax, which conditioned local agencies’ receipt of their road maintenance money on the adoption of the boundary.

The county and its cities fought bitterly for almost two years over where to place the line, eventually prompting Antioch and Pittsburg voters to adopt their own lines last year. Both allowed expansions of the line that county leaders opposed.

An urban limit line redirects new homes, businesses and shops into areas with existing infrastructure and stems suburban sprawl.

Ironically, the resulting line that voters will see in November was the product of so much compromise that almost no one emerged from the process with much enthusiasm. The environmentalists felt it didn’t go far enough, while property rights advocates view the line as an unfair restriction on the use of their properties.

The Board of Supervisors placed the line on the ballot but government agencies are not permitted to use taxpayer dollars on political campaigns except to provide factual information. In most cases where public agencies agree to put issues to the voters, private citizens or elected officials acting on their own form campaign committees and raise money.

The board voted on the measure months ago but until today, it had no campaign organizers and to date, there is no opposition force, either.

Barring a significant no-campaign, few expect the measure to lose. The urban limit line is wildly popular in Contra Costa County.

And cities stand to lose a great deal if it fails: Each receives a share, based on population, of the sales tax proceeds to use for local road repairs. It amounts to millions of dollars at a time when communities face deteriorating roads and declining sources of cash.

“We don’t want to take voters for granted,” Ross said. “We need to tell them why they should vote for this measure and why it’s important for the future of the county.”

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Boxer to raise money for McNerney

On the same day House GOP Majority Speaker John Boehner will prime the cash pump for Rep. Richard Pombo in Stockton, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will appear at a fund-raiser for Congressional District 11 Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney.

Suggested contribution levels for an evening of political discourse and cabaret in Orinda at the Masonic Center are: champions, $2,100, includes reception with Boxer; prizefighters, $1,000; contenders, $100; and union members, $50. (For details, click here. or call 925-556-7077.)

Boxer is very popular in the Bay Area and her name will undoubtedly help McNerney raise much-needed money in a race against a well-funded incumbent.

Unlike Pombo’s event in Stockton, though, It doesn’t appear that anyone plans to protest outside the Masonic Center.

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House leader to fund-raise for Pombo

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is the star attraction at a Friday fundraiser for Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, at a private home in Stockton.

The price of admission, dinner and photo opportunity is $150 a person. For tickets, contact Pombo’s campaign office at 209-956-3976 or visit www.richardpombo.com.

But it won’t cost anything to attend the protest scheduled for the street in front of the hosts’ home on Roberts Road in Stockton.

One of the losers in the Democratic primary, Steve Thomas of Danville, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and Moveon.org will hold a rally to draw attention to their unhappiness with Pombo’s conservative politics and what they consider the incumbent’s ethics problems. The fun starts at 5:30 p.m. Click here for specific address and additional details.

Boehner’s appearance prompts the bigger question: Will President George Bush come to California to campaign for Pombo?

To Bush or not to Bush: It’s a dilemma for California Republicans. The president is unpopular with a majority of the state’s residents but a huge fundraising draw among conservative contributors.

Pombo campaign manager Carl Fogliani says he can’t say whether or not Bush will show in Congressional District 11.

“We’re running the campaign based on circumstances under our control,” Fogliani says.

Few political experts consider Pombo seriously vulnerable in his race against Democrat Jerry McNerney, so the incumbent doesn’t necessarily need massive amounts of cash in his campaign. But as chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo is also expected to raise money for the party and other GOP candidates.

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“Nurses Vs. Arnold” movie premiere

A documentary about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s struggle with California nurses in the 2005 election premieres Thursday.

After the governor imprudently told nurses publicly he was going to “kick their butts,” the nurses successfully beat down the governor’s efforts to reverse nurse-to-patient ratios and pass ballot measures unfriendly to labor.

The Bay Area premiere will take place Thursday, Aug. 24, 7 p.m., at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave., in Oakland.

The film is also serving as a campaign tool for the California Nurses Association’s Proposition 89, a November ballot measure that would establish voluntary public financing of campaigns.

The association says it sponsored Prop. 89 as an antidote to the current campaign finance system, which they say gives corporations too much access to and power over the incumbents.

Called the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, it sets tighter limits on contributions from unions, corporations and individuals. It bars contributions from professional lobbyists and state contractors and calls for prison time for candidates who break the law.

Opponents call the initiative phony reform at the taxpayers’ expense. To read their arguments, visit www.noprop89.org.

The proponents’ web site is www.Yeson89.org.