Pat Butler: Holmes offers GOP another choice
For some reason, Mike Holmes is bearing a faint resemblance to legendary newsman Walter Cronkite.
The 65-year-old Navy veteran has a nice shock of gray hair, a neat and trimmed moustache, and is well-dressed in a coat and tie on this particular Friday morning.
The mayor of the town down the hill has just driven 25 or so miles to meet with me. I am all the more impressed that he will travel another 25 miles on Highway 49 when he returns to Auburn, which is where he graduated from high school in 1963.
Holmes is the lone Republican among three candidates challenging incumbent John Doolittle in the 4th Congressional District race. Charles Brown and Lisa Rea are vying for the Democratic nomination.
The fifth-generation Placer County resident jumped into the Republican race last summer, long before the stories about Jack Abramoff broke. Rep. John Doolittle, seemingly invincible at the time, is now on the defensive as he explains his relationship to the former lobbyist who has pled guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
Earlier this week in an interview on KFBK-AM in Sacramento, Doolittle challenged the Department of Justice to investigate his relationship with Abramoff. In making that declaration, Doolittle acknowledged that the lobbying and ethics scandal in Washington poses a threat to his chances of getting re-elected to a ninth term.
If this environment keeps churning, Holmes might have a chance in the primary to do the improbable and defeat an incumbent and fellow Republican. In the last three general elections, Doolittle has received at least 62 percent of the vote while his Democratic opponents have received no more than 35 percent.
It’s also exceedingly rare when an incumbent receives a serious challenge in the primary.
Holmes, who describes himself as a “mainstream Republican,” retired in 1994 as a captain after 26 years in the U.S. Navy. His military career includes spending 18 months in Vietnam, a tour as a diplomat in China, and involvement with national defense and intelligence issues.
In fact, I was also impressed with his local intelligence network.
He said that Doolittle had made a rather low-profile trip to Grass Valley earlier in the week to rally the base, which I had heard about from only one other person. Holmes also knew about the then upcoming radio interview that Doolittle was negotiating to do on the Sacramento radio station. We later learned that congressman and his lawyers had to approve of the conditions of the interview before Doolittle would consent to it.
Holmes says he was encouraged to run by other Republicans. He calls Doolittle a “right-wing idealogue” who has lost touch with his constituents. He says Doolittle’s relationship with lobbyists like Abramoff troubles him as well.
“I’ve called on Doolittle to return the money or give it to a charity,” he said. “It might be legal, but ethically I’m very concerned.”
Holmes also supported Prop. 77, which would have taken redistricting chores from lawmakers and allowed a panel of judges and then voters to decide the look of future districts. A majority of Nevada County voters supported that measure as well. Doolittle opposed it and it was defeated in last fall’s special election.
Doolittle, meanwhile, has said he will not return any money donated by Abramoff or his clients and defends the current fund-raising climate in Washington.
In terms of constituent service, Holmes pledges to keep in contact with the district by maintaining his primary residence in Auburn, returning on a regular basis and holding “real town hall meetings. John doesn’t do that,” he said, referring to the town hall meeting last year in Grass Valley where Doolittle was pitching the president’s Social Security privatization plan.
National defense tops Holmes’ list of priorities. He feels our military might be stretched too thin these days.
“I am really concerned that upwards of 40 percent of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the National Guard or the reserve components. To me, this just isn’t right,” he said. “What this tells me is that the structure of the Army needs to be looked at. I’m not sure if we can fight on two fronts at once.”
He feels the intelligence-gathering process before the war was flawed. First, he cited “stovepipping,” or the inability of intelligence agencies to share information, as a problem. Secondly, he said the shift from using human intelligence (spies and informants) to more technical means like satellites or electronic-surveillance devices has not served us well.
“We got involved for a lack of good information,” he said, adding that the United States was not adequately prepared to invade and then remake Iraq.
“I think it’s a naive concept to say that we’re going to introduce democracy in Iraq,” said Holmes, while at the same time adding that “we need to get out as quickly as possible without jeopardizing our own people.”
On the domestic front, he is not entirely happy that Congress cut $50 billion in social programs last year and then passed another $60 billion in tax cuts. He calls the new prescription drug plan “a fiasco.”
He says that Doolittle “is a not a friend of the environment” and would like to see the federal government be a stronger advocate for clean air and clean water. He opposes recent attempts by some Republicans to dismantle the Endangered Species Act. Finally, he describes himself as a fiscal conservative who is greatly concerned about the nation’s deficit spending as well as the growing trade deficit. He also favors some sort of guest-worker program as a partial solution to the illegal immigration problem.
Holmes own political career is rather short. He was elected in 2002 to the Auburn City Council and sits on the Placer County Air Pollution Control District Board.
It’s impossible to determine at this point whether Holmes can make a dent in the considerable amount of machinery that will be supporting the incumbent in this race. In 2004 election, for example, Doolittle raised nearly $1 million.
Holmes, however, does feel that he’s a far more independent-minded candidate than Doolittle, who he would like to meet for a debate before the June primary.
“I think part of the problem is that John has not been challenged in the past,” Holmes said. “My mission is to expose his record.”
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