- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Former Rep. Richard Pombo, the feisty California Republican known for his black cowboy hats and his epic battles with environmentalists, announced Tuesday that he will run again for Congress.

Mr. Pombo, 48, plans to run for the Central Valley seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. George Radanovich. The 19th Congressional District is adjacent to the 11th Congressional District, which Mr. Pombo represented for seven terms before he was defeated in the 2006 election.

“I’ve decided to run for the 19th, go back to Washington and get back in the middle of the wars,” said Mr. Pombo in a radio interview on “The Ray Appleton Show” on KMJ-AM in Fresno, where he made his announcement.

Mr. Pombo jumps into a crowded Republican primary field that includes state Sen. Jeff Denham, who’s been endorsed by Mr. Radanovich, and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson. The seat is viewed as a fairly safe GOP stronghold, with 44 percent registered Republicans, 37 percent Democrats and 14 percent independent voters.

Mr. Radanovich, 54, announced last week he would not seek a ninth term in order to spend more time with his wife, Ethie, who is battling ovarian cancer.

Mr. Pombo, who garnered strong support from property rights activists and Western business interests while in Congress said he decided to run after “my phone started ringing” in the wake of Mr. Radanovich’s announcement.

Asked whether he should defer to a fresher political face, Mr. Pombo said that he would enter Congress as the senior Republican on the House agriculture and natural resources committees, giving the district more clout.

“With everything that’s happening, I just felt it was time to re-engage,” he said. “The biggest difference between me and others is that I actually do something.”

One potential problem for Mr. Pombo is that he lives about 10 miles outside the district in Tracy, Calif. Under California law, congressional candidates aren’t required to live in the districts in which they seek office, although such candidates risk accusations of carpetbagging.

The Denham campaign launched an early shot against Mr. Pombo on Tuesday by questioning his connection to the district.

“If Pombo is so desperate to run for Congress, he should compete where the voters already know him — the 11th District seat he should have never lost in the first place,” Denham campaign consultant Dave Gilliard told the Stockton (Calif.) Record.

Mr. Pombo’s entry into the race was also met with hoots from the environmental groups he once battled. As chair of the House Resources Committee, Mr. Pombo was the driving force behind efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act to make it friendlier to local economies.

“We are not about to stand by and watch Pombo grab his carpetbag and return to Congress a mere four years after we worked so hard to oust him,” said Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund President Rodger Schlickeisen. “If he runs, we’ll be there to remind voters about his corrupt record and why he was booted out of Congress in the first place.”

Environmental groups spent millions to oust Mr. Pombo, who lost by six percentage points to Democrat Jerry McNerney three years ago. The anti-Pombo campaign hammered on his environmental record and links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

It didn’t help that Mr. Pombo’s district underwent a radical shift in 2002, gaining a stronger foothold in the more liberal San Jose and Berkeley Hills areas while losing its rural Central Valley focus.

“In 2002, they redistricted me and put me in the Bay Area,” said Mr. Pombo. “They spent millions of dollars going after me, and eventually they got me.”

He called the 19th Congressional District “a better fit for me,” with its emphasis on farming and ranching. The district is struggling with high unemployment due in part to restrictions on agricultural water use, which Mr. Pombo blames squarely on the Endangered Species Act.

“The very first thing I would do is reintroduce my bill to reform the Endangered Species Act and try to convince the Senate to pass it,” said Mr. Pombo, predicting that the current water crisis would give the bill greater momentum.



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