To those who have spent any time with Rep. Christopher Cox (R.-Calif.), the announcement at the White House last week that he would be leaving Congress to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission was anticlimactic. Despite his powerful positions as past chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and now the Homeland Security Committee, nine-termer Cox (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98%) has long been restless on Capitol Hill. In 1994, for example, he briefly explored a race for the U.S. Senate. Four years later, when the position of speaker of the House came open, Cox announced for the job, but soon deferred when he realized the votes weren’t there for him.
A Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School graduate and onetime Reagan White House assistant legal counsel, Cox was actually one of the earliest judicial appointments of President Bush, who named Cox to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in ’01. But the refusal of both Democratic senators from the Golden State to sign off on Cox led him to withdraw his name from consideration for the bench.
Now, at 52, Cox is finally moving on—the SEC spot, friends say, being a job he has long wanted. The heavily Republican 48th U.S. House District in California will now be open for the first time since 1988, when Cox topped 11 primary opponents and went to Congress for the first time. Within hours of the congressman’s announcement, state Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman said he would run in the special election that will follow Cox’s resignation. (According to his office, Cox will remain in Congress until he is confirmed for the SEC by the Senate.) A onetime Fullerton city councilman and state assemblyman before he went to the Senate in 2000, stalwart conservative Ackerman surprised pundits and pols in ’02 by running a stronger-than-usual race against Democratic state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.
Like Cox in Congress, Ackerman in the state legislature has been pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment and anti-tax. As the senator himself told the Orange County Register, “I think my views closely represent those of the district—pro-business, anti-tax, personal responsibility, smaller government.”
With pledges of monetary support exceeding $100,000 and endorsements from such local GOP powerhouses as state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and Orange County Sheriff Mike Corona, Ackerman is widely acknowledged as the front-runner when the special election is called. However, in a district that gave Bush 58% of the vote last year and where Cox always won general elections with two-thirds of the vote, Ackerman is sure to have competition for the GOP standard. Former state Sen. John Lewis, also a conservative and himself a successful political consultant, sent out signals last week that he could try to succeed Cox.
Clearly hoping that Ackerman, Lewis and others might divide up the right-of-center vote, former state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer told reporters she was considering the race. A self-styled “social moderate,” Brewer has been a leader in the local liberal New Majority Coalition, which lost badly in an attempt five years ago to take over the GOP county committee and depose the then-county chairman, conservative Tom Fuentes.
Other familiar names are being batted around as potential heirs to Cox. Former Rep. (1996-2000) Jim Rogan, who lost his Glendale-Pasadena district in 2000 after serving as one of the House managers in the Clinton impeachment, now practices law in Yorba Linda (which is slightly outside the 48th District) and remains an extremely popular speaker on the GOP “rubber chicken circuit.” Friends of the conservative Rogan told me he was likely to pass on a possible return to Congress and focus on a future statewide race.
Incredibly, the irrepressible former Rep. (1976-82, 1984-96) Robert K. Dornan (R.-Calif.), who has lost comeback bids in two different Southern California districts since being unseated from his Orange County seat nine years ago, was also floating his name as a potential candidate in the 48th. The 72-year-old Dornan, whose home is in Northern Virginia, told the Register that the Cox seat provided “a far different opportunity” than his campaign last year against Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) in the neighboring 46th District, in which Dornan drew 17% of the vote.
Under state law, in a special election, all candidates regardless of party affiliation would appear on a single primary ballot. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the top two vote-getters from each party would advance to a run-off election.
Buckeye State Blowup
In recent weeks, Ohio politics has been in the national spotlight because of what the Columbus Dispatch dubbed the “Case of the Missing Millions.” Under a plan first approved by Republican George Voinovich when he was governor from 1990-98, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation had entrusted Toledo-area coin dealer Thomas Noe with $50 million in state money. Two weeks ago, in a story that dominated Buckeye State media and made the front page of the New York Times, Noe’s lawyer told state officials that $10 million to $12 million in assets are “unaccounted for.” State officials are poised to sue Noe, one of the biggest Republican contributors in Ohio, and the state will liquidate his two Capital Coin funds, which invested tax dollars in coins and other collectibles.
“This coin scandal has been brewing for several months now,” Portsmouth, Ohio, lawyer and longtime conservative activist Eddie Edwards wrote to me in a May 31 letter, “and is now probably going to be worse than the 1970 Crofters loan scandal, which led to two decades of Democratic dominance.”
He was referring to the scandal in which several statewide officials that year, including state auditor and gubernatorial nominee Roger Cloud, had received campaign donations from Crofters, a Columbus firm that had earlier arranged several million dollars of illegal loans from the state treasury. Cloud returned the money, but other nominees on his statewide ticket would not and refused requests from the GOP executive committee to step down. Led by gubernatorial nominee John Gilligan, Democrats swept into the statehouse and, for the first time in memory, won enough statewide offices to control reapportionment of the state Legislature and also have a veto on congressional redistricting—giving the Democratic Party significant beachheads that would last until the 1990s.
Is history poised to repeat itself? The coin scandal comes as lame-duck Republican Gov. Robert Taft sports record-low approval ratings, two years after he and the Republican-run Legislature gave Ohio its biggest tax increase in history. In contrast to recent elections, Democrats have a strong candidate in six-term Rep. Ted Strickland.
One year before the Republican primary, the momentum appears to be with Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to become only the second black to be nominated on a GOP ticket for governor anywhere since Reconstruction. The latest Market Strategies poll shows stalwart conservative Blackwell leading the primary field with 36% of the vote, followed by state Auditor Betty Montgomery with 21% and state Atty. Gen. Jim Petro with 18%. The survey indicated a dramatic turnaround from January ’04, when Market Strategies showed Montgomery leading with 32%, Petro at 25% and Blackwell 21%.
In a race that could well be the last for a conservative long considered one of the movement’s most promising leaders for the future, former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler lost the Republican primary for governor of New Jersey last week. Best known for his championship of reducing record-high property taxes and making school vouchers possible, 2001 gubernatorial nominee Schundler lost to multi-millionaire businessman Doug Forrester by a margin of 36% to 31%, with the remainder spread among six other candidates. The more moderate Forrester spent almost $10 million—most of it his own money—compared to only $2.7 million spent by Schundler.
Forrester, who drew 44% of the vote as the 2002 U.S. Senate nominee, now faces Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine, former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs.