In the spring of 2005, no one forecasted the dramatic political changes that have taken place in California in the past twelve months. Because of the fallout from various scandals, six supposedly safe GOP Congressional seats are in jeopardy.
On November 28, 2005, Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned his seat (CA-50) after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from defense contractors. On June 6th there's a special election to determine whether Democrat Francine Busby or Republican Brian Bilbray will replace Cunningham. This is a slightly Republican district and according to The Cook Report the race leans Republican.
Republican Incumbents John Doolittle, Duncan Hunter, Jerry Lewis, Richard Pombo, and Dana Rohrbacher occupy the other five seats. Each has been linked to either Jack Abramoff or to military contractor, Brent Wilkes, who admitted paying Cunningham for help landing federal contracts. Each GOP congressman consistently voted with Tom DeLay and strongly resisted any measure to strengthen House ethics rules.
John Doolittle (CA-4) represents a rural area in northeastern California. He's one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress and through his long association with DeLay and Dennis Hastert has become one of the Deputy whips. Doolittle was implicated in the Abramoff scandal because he received political donations directly from Abramoff and his family ($13,000) and from the Indian tribes he represented. Doolittle also accepted $19,375 from Tom DeLay's ARMPAC. Recently the California Congressman has been under attack for his "practice of paying a 15 percent fundraising commission to a company owned by his wife." In addition, Doolittle is rumored to be under investigation for his ties to the Cunningham scandal. Nonetheless, he's in a Republican district and Cook rates this a "likely" Republican victory.
Duncan Hunter (CA-52) represents eastern San Diego County. He's chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Along with Cunningham, Hunter had close connections to military contractor Brent Wilkes. He's in what Charlie Cook describes as a "solid" Republican district.
Jerry Lewis (CA-41) represents parts of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. He's chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Lewis also had connections to military contractor Brent Wilkes. On January 9th, a Washington public advocacy group asked the Justice Department to "initiate an investigation into the relationship between Rep. Lewis and lobbyist Bill Lowery and Mr. Lowery's firm, Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White. A recent story in the San Diego Union-Tribune asserts that Rep. Lewis, as Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for Mr. Lowery's clients. In apparent return, Mr. Lowery, his partners, and his firm's clients have donated 37% of the $1.3 million that Rep. Lewis's political action committee has received over the past six years." Hunter represents a "solid" Republican district.
Richard Pombo (CA-11) represents parts of Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties, just east of the San Francisco Bay area. Pombo was implicated in the Abramoff scandal because he received political donations directly from Abramoff and his family ($7500) and from the Indian tribes he represented. Pombo also accepted $5200 from Tom DeLay's ARMPAC. In January the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Pombo one of the thirteen most corrupt members of Congress. Pombo has a dreadful record on environmental issues; as a result the Sierra Club and other environmental advocacy groups have focused on this race. He's in a marginally Republican district, which Cook says is "leaning" Republican.
Dana Rohrbacher (CA-46) represents coastal Los Angeles and Orange Counties. He's Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee. Rohrbacher was implicated in the Abramoff scandal because he received political donations directly from Abramoff and his family ($5500). Pombo also accepted $8583 from Tom DeLay's ARMPAC. Rohrbacher was one Abramoff's most ardent defenders, "I think that a lot of other things that have been characterized as corruption on the part of Abramoff are actually standard operating procedures for lobbying in Washington, D.C. - arranging trips and things like that." Nonetheless, Rohrabacher had ties to Abramoff. He took a trip to the Northern Mariana Islands with him and frequently dined at Abramoff's restaurant Signatures. However, he's in what Charlie Cook describes as a "solid" Republican district.
It's remarkable that these six California seats are in play. It remains to be seen whether the Congressional corruption scandals will actually cost the GOP any seats in the House. The two most likely to fall to the Democrats are the former seat of Cunningham and the current seat of Pombo.