Capitol Hill road rage

May 21, 2007

When Republicans lash out at Democrats, or vice versa, folks around here barely notice. In this town, it's only news if everyone gets along for a full 15 minutes.



Prop302 But when the crossing of swords involves two hometown members of Congress – who presumably need to make nice for the good of their common region – that's a little more interesting.

And so that brings us to Darrell Issa, the Vista Republican known, shall we say, for periodically blowing his cool. And to Susan Davis, the San Diego Democrat who recently provoked this unfortunate tendency in Issa.

It all started with a toll road that some want to build between southern Orange County and northern San Diego County. The proposed Foothill South freeway would be 17 miles long. It would have four lanes. It would connect state Route 241 with Interstate 5.

And it would cross a nature preserve.

Oops. State law forbids a freeway from crossing into a state park, while federal law requires highway builders to exhaust “all feasible and prudent” alternatives before paving over parkland.

But the Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies, which wants to finish this road to ease traffic in southern Orange County cities, in recent years persuaded some in Congress – including Issa – to grant exemptions from those requirements.

Davis – no doubt carrying water for the conservationists, surfers and state-park advocates – recently wrote an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act repealing those exemptions. The amendment went into the act earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee passed it, and the full House approved it last week. Next stop is the Senate.

Upon learning of what he called the “midnight passage” of Davis' measure, Issa faulted the former school board member for all sorts of vices – secrecy, catering to special interests, ignoring her region's welfare, even threatening national security.

Issa claims that while Davis and other lawmakers were negotiating about the toll road, she never showed him the language of her amendment.

“Her plan threatens to deny the residents of Southern California the benefits of an important regional transportation asset,” Issa wrote in a release. Her intervention, he said, was “unusual, unwelcome and ill-informed,” designed to advance “the agenda of outside special interests” and now threatens “further encroachment on Camp Pendleton and its critical military mission.”

Davis isn't backing down.

“This particular toll-road project received a number of unprecedented legal exemptions,” Davis spokesman Aaron Hunter said. “Susan feels that this project should have to follow the same laws other transportation projects in the state must follow.”

Hunter also pointed out that the California Legislature should have a chance to weigh in on a state route that might barrel through a state park.

As for the “midnight passage” of the amendment, Hunter said Davis negotiated for a full day and into the night with Issa and others, apparently with little success. She finally put the amendment into the authorization act, and the Armed Services Committee – of which she is a member – passed it.

“Considering that supporters of the toll road are claiming that Susan's amendment will 'kill' the project, I would speculate that the toll road will not come to fruition without the exemptions,” Hunter said.


During a silent auction at a recent benefit for the Armed Forces Foundation, Issa bid $330 for a “Zero Tolerance” kitchen knife, which he won.

He isn't likely to keep it for long.

Issa donated an item to the auction as well – a 1926 Ford Model T woodie that he bought at the same gala last year for $35,000.

Is the congressman adding to a knife collection?

“He does not have a collection,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said. “Last year, he purchased (the) Model T, and it was donated and re-auctioned at this year's event. This year's items will probably have a similar fate.”

Issa did bid $1,200 on a Colt Single Action Army revolver, also known as a “Colt .45,” but didn't win it (contrary to a report in a Capitol Hill publication).

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

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