Valley Republicans upset with Mariposa congressman

10/13/2008 5:23 AM

10/13/2008 5:25 AM

Bailout stirs talk of revolt in GOP Valley Republicans are upset with Radanovich. By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee 10/12/08 22:32:32 Some prominent local Republicans are fed up with congressional representatives from their own party -- and Rep. George Radanovich is at the top of the list.

They're upset enough that they're advocating the unthinkable: seeking candidates to challenge these entrenched incumbents in 2010.

For some, it comes close to violating Ronald Reagan's famed 11th commandment -- don't speak ill of fellow Republicans. But the recent House vote for a $700 billion financial rescue plan seems to have been a tipping point.

Several local Republicans say elected members of Congress should have to face a tough re-election battle and explain themselves -- and their votes -- to constituents.

Many of these Republicans, including Radanovich, were swept into Congress in 1994 on former Rep. Newt Gingrich's agenda of small government, fiscal restraint, lowering taxes, a balanced budget and term limits.

"I think the drift away from what got these guys elected is dramatic," said local Republican strategist Michael Der Manouel Jr. "I don't think they relate ... with what's going on in the world."

Der Manouel, who is chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County, penned a commentary for the popular California conservative Web site Flashreport, writing Oct. 5 that members of Congress and state legislatures have "insulated themselves from competition through idiotically skewed districts."

"The only real strategy we center-right small-government conservatives have now," he continued in his commentary, "is to step up and challenge Republican incumbents who have served longer than 10 years, and challenge them in primary contests."

There are plenty of Republican congressional representatives who fit that description, but only one is from the central San Joaquin Valley -- Radanovich.

Some, like Der Manouel, are careful not to single out Radanovich. But others are more direct in their criticism of the Mariposa Republican -- who voted for the financial rescue plan -- and are comparing him to Visalia Republican Devin Nunes, who voted against it.

"A lot of people are frustrated by George's work ethic on Valley issues," said businessman Tal Cloud of Sanger, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1992 and remains active on Republican issues. "He hasn't taken a leadership issue in much, and when he does, he's on the wrong side of the issue."

Radanovich defended himself, and his vote on the bailout, saying he has to put principles above politics.

"In a situation like this, I felt like the right thing to do was to support the effort," he said of the bailout vote. "In my view, this was something that had to happen to avoid a crash or a depression."

Radanovich also said he knew some type of bailout would pass eventually, and that the longer it took, the more pork would be added to win wavering representatives.

"The sooner we got this off the table, the better," he said.

Cloud, however, is not only upset by Radanovich's bailout vote, but also for his continued support of the San Joaquin River restoration bill.

The bill would approve channel improvements and other work needed to return salmon to the river. But in an effort to get the bill passed, Sen. Dianne Feinstein stripped funding to pay for the improvements.

Cloud worries that if the bill passes without funding, San Joaquin Valley interests will get stuck with paying for required improvements.

He thinks Radanovich and Fresno Democrat Jim Costa should pull their names from the bill to protest the funding cut.

Radanovich said the bill needs to pass so federal court oversight will end; later on, legislators can work out issues such as funding.

Reedley resident Cliff Unruh, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress and helped manage former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson's unsuccessful 2002 congressional campaign, called the bailout bill "a big disappointment" that brings the Republican Party full circle to 1994, when it swept to power in Washington with the "Contract With America."

"Maybe George does need a challenge," he said.

The current financial crisis, Radanovich said, is an emotional issue and "right now people deserve an explanation." He said he plans to "get out a lot more and do the explaining."

This backlash isn't surfacing among Democrats. There are no calls for primary election challenges against Costa or Merced Rep. Dennis Cardoza, both of whom voted for the $700 billion bailout.

"I haven't heard anything about that -- nothing," said John Hutson, a Fresno Democrat who is active with labor unions in the building trades.

Local Republicans also are angry at Costa and Cardoza, and would love to see them challenged from within the Democratic Party. They're also pushing for redistricting reform, which would likely result in more competitive congressional districts.

"Everybody that is in office, from both parties, that has allowed this mess to occur needs to do the noble thing and leave, but they're not going to do that," said frustrated Friant resident Ken Kay, who ran for the state Assembly in 2000.

Fresno businesswoman Octavia Diener thinks elected officials have become too comfortable. A bona fide challenge -- either during the primary or general election -- might change that.

"I think if they're not challenged, they can do whatever they want," she said. "They're not living the life that we're living. It's the proverbial ivory tower they've built themselves into."

Der Manouel thinks that if Republican presidential nominee John McCain loses to Democratic candidate Barack Obama, "there's going to be a meltdown in the Republican Party that will be a healthy thing. That meltdown needs to include a challenge to anyone who's been in office during the time Republicans have abandoned their principles."

Unruh agrees.

"These challenges," he said, "can sometimes end up being a rude awakening."

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