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Pat Butler: Is a competitive House race possible?

Pat Butler

These are just a couple of the comments I received after I wrote columns about candidates for the 4th Congressional District seat. Charles Brown, a Democrat from Roseville, was the subject of the first column. Mike Holmes, a Republican from Auburn, was the subject of column number two.

I will be writing about Lisa Rea, a Democrat from Lincoln, in my next column in this series. Finally, I have made two requests to interview Rep. John Doolittle, but I haven’t heard yet if he’s interested.

Now, I see some readers are jumping to conclusions after reading the columns. They seem to believe that if I write about a candidate, I am endorsing that candidate. That is not the purpose of these columns.

What I’m doing is merely introducing our readers to the candidates in an attempt to generate more interest in the race. I am tired of this country’s recent legacy of non-competitive elections. It is, I believe, the primary reason that representative democracy no longer represents us unless we have a large check in hand.

This should not be interpreted as a knock on Rep. Doolittle. He is just surviving or perhaps even thriving in a system that has been hijacked by political professionals and their special-interest financiers. It’s like they belong to an exclusive country club, while the rest of us need a savings plan to buy golf clubs. After awhile, you lose touch with those on the other side of the fence.

Our recent congressional elections have been among the least interesting in the nation, which is saying a lot in an era of party domination. In 2004, Doolittle received 65 percent of the vote while his Democratic opponent, David Winters, received 35 percent. Even more astounding is that Doolittle raised $935,907 for this laugher, while his opponent raised $2,300.

In 2002, Doolittle raised $1,024,986 to Mark Norberg’s $8,202 while running away with 65 percent of the vote.

In this race, Doolittle has raised $508,975 while Holmes has $55,843 and Brown $36,018, according to the Federal Election Commission’s most recent reports.

It’s these types of races and the inherent advantages incumbents have that contribute to the well-documented voter apathy that leads to more of these types of races. It’s a depressing cycle that only satisfies hard-core partisans from the incumbents’ party in our gerrymandered districts.

How bad has it gotten? We’re hearing stories about how our congressman has intervened on the behalf of tribes and businessmen who don’t live in the district but have contributed to his campaign. In the meantime, we’ve been told that we need our own lobbyists to get results. It was also disheartening to hear that Rep. Doolittle was in Grass Valley two weeks ago but held no town hall meetings. Instead, he was quietly meeting with the party faithful.

Why would he do that? Doolittle, like all incumbents, doesn’t have to reach across party lines to win an election. They don’t have to convince the nonpartisans that they are the best person for the job. If they get the party’s blessing, they win. It’s that simple and an insult to the rest of us.

So how do we get escape this growing sinkhole without real campaign finance reform?

I don’t have the answer, but I do know the media can do a better job of informing voters about the candidates. I have seen, for example, how some editors have been so intimidated by the tenacity of the loyal partisans that they limit their coverage. They would rather not take chances than risk being the targets of well-orchestrated attacks.

My columns about the candidates are simply a small step in an effort to better inform our voters. Hopefully, they will stir up a little more interest than we’ve seen in our past moribound electons.

I’m also hoping that we can take advantage of our Web site to add more layers to the coverage. I’ve encouraged all the candidates to send the newspaper as many press releases as they desire. We will then post them on our Web site (theunion.com) and then you can evaluate them on their own merits.

If we want real change in America, it starts with the election process. We shouldn’t expect those who benefit from the current system to seek change. Therefore, we need to take it upon ourselves to open our minds and give the challengers a fair shake, which in this case means taking the time to learn more about them and where they stand on the issues we care about most.

Real competition should improve the quality of candidates and make our elected officials more accountable in the long run.


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