Politics & Government

Some former GOP supporters take aim at Radanovich

WASHINGTON -- Rep. George Radanovich faces a revolt from some of his former GOP supporters who say they want to topple the veteran congressman.

With 14 years of House service under his belt, the Mariposa Republican can still count on support from San Joaquin Valley officials and constituents content with his performance. But with notable vehemence, an influential Valley Republican is going public with his attempt to lead an insurrection.

"It is the American way. If you don't like your representative, you need to get a new one," Fresno-area businessman Bob Smittcamp said in an interview Friday. "So I am looking for somebody to run against George who is more attuned to the problems we have here in the Valley, because in my opinion he ignores them."

Driving the point home, Smittcamp and an ally, GOP activist and one-time congressional candidate Tal Cloud, electronically distributed an anti-Radanovich letter to a group Smittcamp dubbed "500 of my closest friends."

President and chief executive officer of Lyons Magnus, a frozen and canned fruit company, Smittcamp swings weight in Republican circles. He has contributed more than $139,000 to federal candidates and campaign committees over the past decade, Federal Election Commission records show.

Smittcamp's past contributions include $9,700 to Radanovich since 2003. In 2006, he donated to Radanovich's Democratic opponent, T.J. Cox.

"Bob is a fine, upstanding member of the community," Radanovich said in an interview. "I have very much enjoyed getting his support, and I regret this (latest development)."

At the same time, Radanovich insisted that "it's a relatively small group" that's voicing dissatisfaction. This is, in fact, the key question for Radanovich right now: Is Bob Smittcamp isolated, or the tip of an iceberg that threatens Radanovich's future political course?

Some things are clear.

Certainly, Radanovich retains allies throughout the 19th Congressional District that connects Modesto with Fresno via the Sierra Nevada. He has easily held the solidly Republican district since first winning election in 1994.

"He is doing good things for us," said Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson, a fellow Republican. "He is very in touch with constituents, and I think he's very well liked."

Within a few hours of Radanovich's office being informed Thursday that The Bee was working on a story about Smittcamp's criticism, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin's office and Madera Irrigation District board member Carl Janzen both initiated calls to The Bee to discuss the congressman's work.

Swearengin said Friday that in her seven weeks in office, Radanovich's office has been "very accessible and has worked with us."

Despite occasional rumors, no Republican has stepped forward to say he will challenge the incumbent in 2010. Smittcamp said he has "three or four candidates on my radar screen," but he declined to identify them.

Much of the conflict arises over a river restoration plan backed by Radanovich and many other California officials. Some farmers, though, fear it will undermine irrigation water supplies to the San Joaquin Valley's east-side farmers.

"This is over the water issue, and the frustration over that," Radanovich said, adding that "I can understand the frustration that people feel out there."

As then-chair of the House water and power subcommittee, Radanovich in September 2005 joined with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in urging San Joaquin Valley farmers to negotiate their river differences with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Without a negotiated settlement, a federal judge in Sacramento would have been the one allocating San Joaquin River water.

The settlement is supposed to restore water flows and, by 2013, a salmon run to the long-parched river channel. It is endorsed by the 20 irrigation districts of the Friant Water Users Authority.

"Everybody but a small group of people thinks they're better off with the settlement," Radanovich said.

Among the disenchanted is Kole Upton, a Chowchilla Water District director who has now become one of the river restoration plan's leading opponents.

Cloud, under the organizational name Families Protecting the Valley, has already been attacking Radanovich with ads and public letters. Radanovich's GOP colleague, Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia, has likewise clashed with Radanovich over the river restoration bill.

Nunes' chief of staff, Johnny Amaral, said Friday that Nunes supports Radanovich for re-election and had nothing to do with Smittcamp's letter.

The river issue may not be the only potential chink in Radanovich's political armor.

Last fall, Radanovich upset part of his Republican base when he switched his position to vote for a $700 billion package that had become known as the Wall Street bailout. More recently, some Madera County farmers have grown unhappy over their belief that Radanovich will not try to secure federal funding for a proposed underground water bank.

Radanovich introduced the bill authorizing the water bank. He said he still supports it, while holding to his new pledge to forego congressional budget earmarks.

"I will do everything I can to get it funded, outside of an earmark," Radanovich said of the Madera project.

When asked specifically whether he would ask the House Appropriations Committee to provide money for the Madera water bank, Radanovich repeated that he would "do everything I can outside of an earmark" to obtain funding. He did not elaborate.