Politics & Government

California freshman McClintock is reliable 'no' vote for GOP

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Tom McClintock says the federal government has wasted enough money subsidizing solar power, calculating that it would take 22,000 acres of solid solar panels to duplicate the energy from a single nuclear plant.

"This is an industry that exists solely off the dole, by the dole, and for the dole," McClintock said in a speech on the House floor last month.

Two weeks later, he proclaimed that Congress was "disconnected from reality" as he accused environmentalists of producing a water crisis in his home state of California "for the enjoyment and prosperity of the Delta smelt."

That same week, he joined 11 other House members in voting against an extension of unemployment benefits.

And then he voted against a trillion-dollar health care bill, noting that it included the word "shall" 3,400 times.

In a Democratic-led Congress, McClintock hasn't had much of a chance to shape policy in his freshman year. But that hasn't stopped him from flexing his conservative muscles, particularly this past month.

Ten months after coming to Congress, McClintock has emerged as one of its most outspoken and consistently reliable conservatives. And it's looking as though he might be sticking around for a while, thanks to a hefty campaign account that seems to be scaring away the competition.

McClintock, who lives in Elk Grove but represents a sprawling north state district anchored in Placer and El Dorado counties, survived a recount against Democrat Charlie Brown to win election last November. He has established himself as California's top Republican federal fundraiser, collecting more than $838,000 in the first three quarters of the year. And with so much money in the bank, no Democrats have announced plans to oppose his re-election in 2010.

The Washington-based Cook Political Report, which handicaps congressional races, ranks McClintock's district as a "Solid R," as in solidly Republican. And the Rothenberg Political Report, another congressional handicapper, says McClintock's seat is not "in play" for 2010. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain won the district 54 percent to 44 percent in last year's presidential race.

"With those fundraising numbers, I think McClintock is trying to stop any Democratic opponents before they even get started," said Nathan Gonzalez, political editor of the Rothenberg Political ReporT. "I don't think Republicans in California can be completely at ease because of the surge in Democratic registration last year, but I don't think McClintock is very vulnerable at this point."

While McClintock is getting a free ride from Democrats, the national Democratic Party is aiming its sights at other California Republicans they deem more vulnerable, such as Dan Lungren in the Sacramento suburbs (3rd District), Ken Calvert in Riverside County (44th District), Mary Bono Mack in the Palm Springs area (45th District) and Brian Bilbray in San Diego (50th District).

With Democrats focused on other seats in California and across the nation, Gonzalez said: "Any challenger that may creep up against McClintock will probably have to do it on their own. Democrats may have lost their opportunity to win the seat last year."

Representing a politically safe district makes it easier for a member of Congress to speak his mind. And McClintock rarely holds back.

In an interview last week, he said Democrats have "greatly alarmed and aroused the American public" while achieving nothing politically by passing their health care plan. He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is most interested "in taking over" the U.S. health care system.

"I think she's run afoul of what the Air Force calls target fixation," McClintock said. "That's what happens when the pilot becomes so fixated on a target he forgets to fly the airplane and crashes it into a mountain."

Since being sworn in, McClintock has made fiscal issues one of his top priorities. When he came to Washington in January, McClintock wasted no time in saying he'd oppose President Barack Obama's plan to stimulate the economy with nearly $800 billion in federal spending.

And he said he'd oppose any bailouts for either the auto industry or the state of California.

Andrew Stone, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said McClintock is "a true embodiment of the Republican just-say-no mantra."

"Obviously, when McClintock said this past January that he was ready to say no, he really wasn't kidding," Stone said.

McClintock, who served 22 years as a California legislator before coming to Capitol Hill, has been consistent in voting against anything that he believes will raise taxes and opposing any expansion of government.

All of those "shalls" in the health care bill make him nervous. He offered a couple of his own "shalls," making the point of what he thinks Democrats are out to do.

"You shall only get your health care through the government exchange," said McClintock. "You shall only select among the health care plans that the government czar has approved for you, whether they fit your family's needs or not." And he said he voted against extending unemployment benefits because he believed it would raise taxes and worsen the recession, producing more joblessness.

"Simply stated, we cannot help the unemployed by creating more of them," McClintock said.