Doolittle faces primary fight
For U.S. Rep. John Doolittle (R-Roseville), recent reshuffling of California’s congressional districts has brought him right back to where he started his career.
Doolittle is now running for his seventh term in the U.S. Congress, but in a district that has radically changed shape.
Thanks to redistricting, the 4th Congressional District will no longer include Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, but will retain El Dorado and Placer counties and now stretch upward to now include Nevada County and all the way to Modoc County and the Oregon border.
It’s territory Doolittle knows well. Doolittle began his elected career as state senator in the 1980s, and represented much of northeastern California, including Nevada County, until he was elected to fill Norm Shumway’s vacant congressional seat in 1990.
Until redistricting took effect in 1992, he represented Nevada County in the U.S. Congress.
“I represented Truckee for years both in Sacramento and Washington,” Doolittle said on Monday in an interview at the Sierra Sun office in Truckee. “I’m back again – in fact, it’s like old home week.”
Due to the peculiarities of last year’s redistricting, Doolittle will not actually represent Truckee unless he is reelected this fall. U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, who represents the 2nd Congressional District Truckee is currently a part of, remains the local congressman until 2003.
“I wouldn’t really take the oath of office to be your representative until January 2003,” Doolittle said.
Doolittle is not assured of representing Truckee again in the U.S. Congress just yet, however. Besides the November general election, Doolittle is also facing a primary challenger from inside his own party. Auburn urologist Bill Kirby will face off against Doolittle in the March 5 primary election.
Kirby has staked out moderate ground within the Republican party, claiming that Doolittle is too conservative for most Californians.
The two differ on many issues. Doolittle is pro-life, conservative on environmental issues and a vocal supporter of the controversial Auburn Dam, while Kirby is pro-choice, against the Auburn dam and takes a gentler line on environmental issues.
Doolittle, however, brushes off Kirby’s claims of extremism.
“I think I reflect pretty well the views of the people in this district, as demonstrated by my 60-plus percentage point reelections repeatedly,” he said.
Doolittle claimed his opponent holds very left-leaning views.
“He seems like he’s almost a liberal Democrat,” Doolittle said. “He’s standing over here far to the left and looking at people over in the middle and saying they’re right wing.”
However, Kirby has been endorsed by some notable state Republican groups, including the California Republican League, a moderate Republican organization.
Doolittle is a close ally of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, whom Doolittle believes “will be the next House Majority Leader.”
Doolittle said that he hopes to advance in party leadership as well, and that he feels that would increase his contributions to his district.
“It is a goal of mine (to move up in the party),” he said. “It increases what I can do for this district and also for the country as well.”
While Doolittle hasn’t had the high public profile of some congressmen, he said that his two proudest accomplishments while in Congress both relate to the “Republican revolution.”
Doolittle said he was proud of his participation in the “gang of seven” Congressmen who exposed the House check-bouncing scandal in the early 1990s.
“It really laid the foundations for the Republican victories in 1994,” he said. “That produced a sea change in politics.”
Also important to the congressman was his vote to impeach former President Bill Clinton.
“I think that was important as a matter of justice and it will add some historic perspective to his record as time goes on,” Doolittle said.
In Placer County, Doolittle has become known, and criticized by some including his opponent Kirby, for his active involvement in local politics.
His political action committee distributed money to more than a dozen local races last year, and he was active in Bruce Kranz’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Placer County 5th District Supervisor Rex Bloomfield, who represents the Tahoe area.
Doolittle said his interest in Placer County races has mostly revolved around the Auburn Dam.
“The focus of my involvement in Placer is really mainly because of the (dam),” he said. “Environmental extremists tried to take over the water board and board of supervisors to produce an anti-dam majority.”
Doolittle doesn’t rule out involvement in Nevada County politics, if reelected to Congress.
“Nevada County needs some more Republicans on that board of supervisors,” he said.
One of Doolittle’s pet projects is the Auburn Dam, which has been debated for more than 30 years by Congress.
The dam on the American River near Auburn has been proposed for both flood control and to increase water storage capacity, but concerns about cost, earthquake safety and alternative solutions for flood control have kept the project dormant for years. Construction on the dam actually began at one point in the 1970s and a foundation still remains today.
“It’s really the symbol for an even more fundamental issue, which is that of water,” Doolittle said. Skyrocketing development in Placer and El Dorado counties requires a steady water source and adequate flood protection, he said.
“This is a land of extremes when it comes to water – there’s either too much or not enough of it,” he said.
The Sacramento Flood Control Agency and other interests believe raising the Folsom Dam by 7 feet would accomplish these goals without the high cost – projected to be as high as $1 billion – and environmental consequences of the Auburn Dam.
But Doolittle remains adamant that an Auburn Dam would provide far better flood protection for valley communities.
“All the facts are on our side,” Doolittle said. “The emotion is on the other side.”
However, Doolittle concedes the dam remains a long way from reality.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen very soon,” he said. “We’re fighting defensively right now.”
On other environmental issues, Doolittle generally takes a conservative view. On the Sierra Nevada Framework, a Clinton administration comprehensive management plan for 11.5 million acres of Sierra Nevada national forests, Doolittle said he believes the plan “needs to be redone.”
The plan was recently upheld by Bush administration officials.
“I believe when the dust settles that you’ll find it will be substantially altered,” he said. “There are many alternatives within that plan.”
“We want to protect the Sierra and we want to have well-managed forests,” Doolittle added. “They’re not well-managed now.”
In his district, Doolittle has represented Lake Tahoe for the last decade. He supported the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which approved $19.7 million (originally planned to be $30 million) to protect the lake’s resources.
(Editor’s note: this is the first of two articles on the Republican candidates for the 4th Congressional District. Challenger Bill Kirby will be profiled in an upcoming issue of the Sierra Sun prior to the March 5 primary