Lifelong Republican, Marine veteran and former congressman Pete McCloskey has left the GOP and registered with the Democratic Party.
McCloskey says he is disgusted with the “succession of ethical scandals, congressmen taking bribes and abuse of power by both the Republican House leadership and the highest appointees of the White House.”
“A pox on (Republicans) and their values,” he wrote.
As a Republican, McCloskey served in the House of Representatives from a San Mateo County congressional district from 1967- to 1983. He was a brief presidential hopeful when he ran on an anti-war platform against Richard Nixon in 1972.
But McCloskey again found himself in the media spotlight last year when he left his rural Northern California farm in Rumsey, rented a house in Lodi and ran in the primary against Richard Pombo, a conservative, seven-term Republican incumbent who later lost the general election to the novice Pleasanton Democrat Jerry McNerney.
McCloskey may lost the primary but observers say he provided a pivotal voice in the growing, anti-Pombo chorus that eventually led to the incumbent’s defeat.
His party shift will be no surprise to the Republicans who backed Pombo. They called McCloskey a shill for the Democratic Party before he even filed for the office.
Months before McCloskey entered, he helped formed a group called the “Revolt of the Elders,” which made no secret of its search for viable Republicans willing to run against Pombo. When they couldn’t find someone, McCloskey filed himself.
Here’s what McCloskey wrote in an e-mail announcement about his decision.
McCloskeys have been Republicans in California since 1859, the year before Lincoln’s election. My great grandfather, John Henry McCloskey, orphaned in the great Irish potato famine of 1843, came to California in 1853 as a boy of 16, and joined the party just before the Civil War.
By 1890 he and my grandfather, both farmers, made up two of the twelve members of the Republican Central Committee of Merced County. My father’s most memorable expletive came when I was a boy of 10 or 11: “That damn Roosevelt is trying to pack the Supreme Court!”
I registered Republican in 1948 after reaching the age of 21. We were the party of civil rights, of free choice for women and fiscal responsibility. Since Teddy Roosevelt, we had favored environmental protection, and most of all we stood for fiscal responsibility, honesty, ethics and limited government intrusion into our personal lives and choices. We accepted that one the duties of wealth was to pay a higher rate of income tax, and that the estates of the wealthy should contribute to the national treasury in reasonable measure.
I was proud to serve with Republicans like Gerry Ford, the first George Bush and Bob Dole.
In 1994, however, Newt Gingrich brought a new kind of Republicanism to power, and the election of George W. Bush in 2000 has led to wholly new concept of governance. The bureaucracy has mushroomed in size and power. The budget deficits have become astronomical. Our historical separation of church and state has been blurred. We have seen a succession of ethical scandals, congressmen taking bribes, and abuse of power by both the Republican House leadership and the highest appointees of the White House.
The single cardinal principle of political science, that power corrupts, has come to apply not only to Republican leaders like Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney and John Doolittle, but to a succession of White House officials and appointees. The stench of Jack Abramoff has permeated much of the Washington Republican establishment.
The Justice Department, guardian of of our rule of law, has been compromised. It’s third ranking official, a graduate of Pat Robertson’s dubious law school, has taken the 5th Amendment.
Men who have never felt the fear of combat, and who largely dodged military service in their youth, have led us into grievous wars in far off places with no thought of the diplomacy, grace and respect for other peoples and their cultures which has been an American trademark for at least the last two thirds of a century. We have lost the respect and affection of most of the world outside our borders. My son, Peter, one of the U.S. prosecutors at The Hague of the war crimes in Serbia and elsewhere, tells me that people of other countries no longer look at the country which countenances torture as a beacon for the world and the rule of law.
Earth Day, that bi-partisan concept of Gaylord Nelson in 1970, has become the focus of almost hatred by today’s Republican leadership. Many still argue that global warming is a hoax, and that Bush has been right to demean and suppress the arguments of scientists at the E.P.A., Fish & Wildlife and U.S.Geological Survey.
I say a pox on them and their values.
Until the past few weeks, I had hoped that the party could right itself, returning to the values of the Eisenhowers, Fords and George H. W. Bush.
What finally turned me to despair, however, was listening to the reports, or watching on C-Span, a whole series of congressional oversight hearings on C-Span, held by old friends and colleagues like Pat Leahy, Henry Waxman, Norm Dicks, Nick Rahall, Danny Akaka and others, trying to learn the truth on the misdeeds and incompetence of the Bush Administration. Time after time I saw Republican Members of the House and Senate. speak out in scorn or derision about these exercises of Congress oversight responsibility being “witch-hunts” or partisan attempts to distort the actions of people like the head of the General Service Administration and the top political appointees in the Justice and Interior Departments. Disagreement turned into disgust.
I finally concluded that it was a fraud for me to remain a member of this modern Republican Party, that there were only a few like Chuck Hegel, Jack Warner, Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins I could respect.
Two of the best, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Jim Leach of Iowa, after years of battling for balance and sanity, were defeated last November, and it seems that every Republican presidential candidate is now vying for the support of the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells rather than talking about a return to the values of the party I joined nearly 59 years ago. My favorite spokesmen have beome Senators Jim Webb and Barack Obama.
And so it was, that while at the Woodland courthouse the other day, passing by the registrar’s office, I filled out the form to re-register as a Democrat.
The issues Helen (McCloskey) and I care about most, public financing of elections, a reliable paper ballot trail, independent re-districting to replace gerrymandering, the right of a woman to choose not to bring a child into the world, a reversal of the old Proposition 13 and term limits which have so hurt California’s once superb education system and the competence of our Legislature, are now almost universally opposed by California’s elected Republicans, and the occasional attempts at reform by our Governor are looked on with grim disdain by most of them.
From Helen’s and my standpoint, being farmers in Yolo County gives us the opportunity to work for purposes which were once Republican, but can no longer be found at Republican conventions and discussions.
I hope this answers your questions about the party and a government I have served in either civil or military service under ten presidents, five Republican and five Democrat … I doubt it will be of much interest other than to our friends, but it has been a decision not easily taken.
Respectfully, Pete McCloskey,