What's a guy gotta do?

November 20, 2006

This month's Democratic sweep of Congress may have dampened the ambitions of some Republicans, but not those of Rep. Darrell Issa.

The Vista Republican once again campaigned for the post of House GOP policy chairman, a junior spot on the House Republican leadership team that he aimed for unsuccessfully earlier this year.

Again, his aim was off. When the votes were counted Friday, Issa had lost his bid to Michigan's Thaddeus McCotter, with whom Issa had exchanged some pretty testy words as the pair campaigned for the post.

Before we get to that, let's first hand it to the former car-alarm magnate for launching a campaign of some note.

For starters, Issa had his own campaign Web site, www.gopleadership.org, where one could find an entire page of policy positions and a list of House supporters. He provided on-the-spot news on his campaigning, updating the names of his supporters with a regularity that would make The Associated Press proud, and even providing a breakdown of those who had signed on in the past 24 hours. Finally, he had his own campaign “team” – a group of California Republicans who lobbied on his behalf when the full House voted on its new leaders.

His vision for the Republican Policy Committee, which helps shape the issues agenda for the House GOP, was to “rally around our core principles,” which he described as fiscal restraint, limited government, lower taxes and individual responsibility. This agenda, he promised, would give the “American people a better vision for the future than Democrats have to offer.”


Issa played up his “energy and drive”; his technological strengths; and his work as founder and former CEO of Directed Electronics, the car-alarm company perhaps best-known for its Viper alarm and perhaps just as well-known for making Issa a millionaire many times over. As of last count, he had assets worth at least $135.8 million.

Naturally, he highlighted his successful drive to recall former California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. Think about it: If you're the guy who was instrumental in tossing a sitting Democratic governor from a blue state like California, imagine what you might accomplish in a Congress just seized by Democrats!

Issa, who spent in the neighborhood of $2 million of his own money to fund the recall signature drive, had planned to run to replace Davis. But tearfully, and under what was believed to be tremendous pressure, he dropped out early.

Now would you believe that the race for Policy Committee chairman – surely the most obscure post we've ever had to describe to those outside the Beltway – actually could degenerate into nastiness?

It did. Issa, ever the competitor, lashed out rather forcefully when he learned that McCotter was claiming he had 106 supporters, although only about half wished to have their names publicized. At that juncture, Issa claimed to have 79 supporters, 46 of whom wanted to go public.

“We are still waiting to hear from Rep. McCotter's imaginary friends,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill told one Hill newspaper. “Congressman McCotter's fuzzy math isn't to be believed, and his perplexing claim is probably a sign that his campaign has failed.”

Sheesh. Don't these guys still have to work together?



In the end, it turns out McCotter's friends weren't so imaginary after all. He won 132 votes from his Republican colleagues; Issa had 63. McCotter will succeed current policy chairman Adam Putnam of Florida, who won the Republican Conference chairmanship, a more senior spot on the leadership team.

Odd how Issa's barbed rhetoric quickly grew conciliatory.

“I will continue to serve as a member of the Policy Committee and look forward to working with Chairman McCotter to help our conference develop new ideas for our conference,” Issa said in a statement.

For now anyway, we won't know if Issa's “energy and drive,” technological skills or business prowess might have helped House Republicans as much as it helped California's GOP. We do know that it may be too soon for Issa to add “political instincts” to his résumé.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.