With days to go before the November 4 election, political eyes are, of course, heavily focused on the races for president as well as for the House and Senate. But there are other contests barely on the political screen that, nonetheless, have political importance.
With the next census coming in 2010 and congressional redistricting a year after that, the contests for control of state legislatures are growing in significance. Because they did well in winning legislatures and governorships in the late 1990s, Republicans did well in the 2000-01 redistricting process. The results of redistricting, notably in Texas after the GOP took control of the both houses of that state’s legislature, were pivotal to the party’s clinging to its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives until ’06.
But then, in its worst midterm election showing since the “Watergate Year” of 1974, Republicans lost control of both Houses of Congress. In addition, they also lost significant representation in state legislatures. As of October, Democrats hold more state legislative seats nationwide (2,978) than do Republicans (2,408). With 45 states having races for either their senate or house of representatives this year, these are the last election contests before states take up the redistricting knife in three years.
Even more obscure than legislative races are those for delegates in the U.S. House from U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariannas, and American Samoa, and from the District of Columbia. All send non-voting delegates to the full House, but they have votes that count as much as any House member’s in the party conferences and in House committees.
When retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Ben Blaz won the office of non-voting territorial delegate from Guam in 1984, his fellow Republican freshmen in the House elected him their class president.
Excluding Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, the idea of non-voting delegates from the four island territories was conceived by far-left Rep. (1964-83) Phil Burton (D.-Calif.) when he was chairman of the Territories Subcommittee of the House Interior Committee. All of the delegates got on the Interior Committee, gave their full allegiance to Burton, and also gave him, as Burton biographer John Jacobs wrote in A Rage for Justice, “an empire on which the sun that never sets” on the Interior Committee without his ever having served as its chairman.
In the lone race for territorial delegate this year that is competitive, a Burton protégé is facing the fight of his life from a conservative.
Phil Burton vs. Sarah
Palin By Proxy
Although Newt Gingrich, Rep. Frank Wolf (R.-Va.) and a few others I have written about won their seats in the House on their third try, I must admit that it is rare that candidates running again after two defeats interest me. Upon realizing that Republican Amata Radewagen was making her eighth straight race for territorial delegate from American Samoa, I was turned off.
But the Republican National Committeewoman from American Samoa and daughter of its late Territorial Gov. Peter Coleman rekindled my interest in her race. When she made her maiden run for the seat in 1994, Radewagen drew just over 20 percent of the vote against longtime Delegate and leftist Democrat Eni Faleomavaega. In her successive trips to the poll, the Republican hopeful kept increasing her percentage of the vote until making her ’06 contest with Faleomavaega the fourth closest of any congressional race in the nation.
“And I’m running again because I feel voters are owed a choice,” says the conservative Radewagen.
In a profile of Phil Burton in the 1980s, Ward Sinclair of the Washington Post suggested that the Californian guided to passage the creation of a delegate from American Samoa to help former staffer Faleomavaega. Sure enough, Burton’s protégé has held the slot for 18 years and has been a member of the far-left Progressive Caucus in the House.
In that capacity, Faleomavaega is voting as his mentor Burton probably would: pro-abortion, for raising the minimum wage, and in favor of continuing the present situation in which Washington has the last word over what American Samoa does. (NOTE: Although territorial delegates in Congress are non-voting, they nonetheless cast votes on issues before the full House to indicate their position. If their votes make a difference on a bill, they are removed in the final tally.)
Radewagen is the incumbent’s opposite number. Much as Sarah Palin has sought to do in Alaska, Radewagen wants American Samoa to have greater control over local issues. In addition, she is strongly pro-life and denounces the minimum wage hike as an assault on the island’s tuna-canning business (Tuna canning is to American Samoa what Boeing is to Seattle). (For further campaign information, see www.aumuaamata.com)
In Rogan Country
One of the saddest developments I have witnessed in years of reporting from California is the decline of grass-roots workers and volunteers. With the exception of the twice-a-year state GOP conventions, meetings of party activists seem increasingly poorly attended in the Golden State.
At a time when Democrats have firm holds on both the state assembly and state senate, the decline of the grass-roots is particularly depressing, since it is in those races that volunteers and cause-oriented Republicans can most often make a difference.
That is the reason the candidacy of longtime conservative activist Jane Barnett for state assembly from the Glendale-Pasadena area is refreshing. Along with husband Lou Barnett, Jane has been an active volunteer for conservative Republican campaigns going back to Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial races in 1966 and ’70. Jane and Lou Barnett were “movers and shakers” in the conservative California Republican Assembly volunteer group. Most recently, Jane Barnett took her grass-roots expertise to GOPAC, the national party-building organization started by Newt Gingrich and now run by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Earlier this year, the mother of seven joined conservative State Assemblyman Tom McClintock to back Fred Thompson for President.
Barnett is running for the assembly seat held in the 1990s by a fellow conservative whose career she helped launch: James Rogan, who rose to become a U.S. Representative (1996-2000) and was best-known as one of the Clinton impeachment managers. He is now a California Superior Court judge.
Barnett’s Democratic opponent is the arch-liberal Assemblyman Paul Krekorian. The key issue in their contest is taxes. Krekorian supported the successful bill to reinstate the Golden State car tax that was repealed in 2003. In one of the events that led to his recall and replacement by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in ’03, Democratic Gov. (1998-2003) Gray Davis oversaw the tripling of the car tax.
With Barnett taking the “no-tax pledge,” the same anti-tax activists who worked for Davis’s recall are now swelling the ranks of her volunteers. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Tax Limitation Committee are strongly behind her.
Barnett also backs oil drilling off the California coast and “turning every illegal alien who commits a crime over to federal authorities for deportation after they have served their sentence rather than releasing them back onto the streets.”
Border security advocates have also joined traditional Republican volunteers and the anti-tax movement to make Jane Barnett’s bid one of the premier causes of Golden State conservatives.
(Jane Barnett for Assembly, P.O. Box 3471, Burbank, Calif. 91508)
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