After major efforts by environmental groups and charges of corruption, Richard Pombo lost his congressional seat during the 2006 midterm elections. Six months later, Pombo has signed on to become the national chair for the Partnership for America, focusing his efforts on many of the same issues he dealt with while in Congress. During today's OnPoint, former House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo talks about his new position and what he hopes to accomplish. He discusses current Endangered Species Act reform efforts including the administration's ESA regulations reforms. Pombo also takes a look back at the 2006 midterm elections, addressing the scrutiny and criticism he faced.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Richard Pombo, former congressman of California's 11th District, former House Resources Committee chair, and the new national chair for the Partnership for America. Thanks for coming back on the show.
Richard Pombo: Well, thank you. It's good to be back.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman Pombo, the Partnership for America announced yesterday you'll be their new national chair. Congratulations on the new job.
Richard Pombo: Well, thank you. I'm real excited about it. I think it's going to be a lot of work, but I think it's going to be fun.
Monica Trauzzi: What sold you on the partnership? How did you know that this was the right place for you to go to after so many years in Congress?
Richard Pombo: Well, part of it is that over the years I have worked with the partnership as a member of Congress, as a chairman of a committee. But in order to move forward with an agenda, to be able to get things done, you really need a grassroots group, a national group, that can educate people, that can tell people what's going on back in Washington, what some of the bills are, what the ups and downs are of that legislation, what can happen and what can't happen. But I think the only way we really lose as a country is if people don't pay attention to what's going on in Washington. The more they know the better off we are. The partnership has proven through the years that they have the capability of doing that. And when they came to me and asked me if I would be interested I was definitely interested and it's something that I wanted to do.
Monica Trauzzi: What are you hoping to accomplish as national chair? What are some of the main issues that you hope to tackle?
Richard Pombo: Well, when you talk about protecting private property rights, everybody's property rights, it's not just for the big guys who can afford to have a lobbyist in Washington and have access to the committees. It's about everybody. When you talk about regulatory reform, when you talk about energy production, when you talk about things like reforming the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act or different laws that are on the books, what I would like to accomplish is to be able to work with people across the country in order to see those changes happen.
Monica Trauzzi: What are the personal gains you see for yourself in taking this position?
Richard Pombo: Well, I think personally for me it helps because it keeps me involved. It keeps me as part of the national debate. After spending 14 years in Congress I had the opportunity to do that and didn't want to completely walk away from so many issues that I've worked on for so long. So this gives me an opportunity to continue doing that.
Monica Trauzzi: Like you said, there's a real grassroots approach to what the partnership does. Will you be reaching out to some of your friends in Congress to try to promote your agenda?
Richard Pombo: I think eventually we will. I think eventually that's part of it. I think the main part of it is just working with the grassroots groups, telling them how to contact their members of Congress, how to be more effective in terms of being a political organization and having a bigger voice back here. I think that's more the focus, is teaching them to be more effective at getting their agenda done.
Monica Trauzzi: With the Democrats in power though, do you see it as an uphill battle?
Richard Pombo: Oh, it's always an uphill battle, whether the Democrats are in power or the Republicans are in power. You know that a lot of times Washington's get isolated. It doesn't hear or see a lot of the things that are happening across the country. Obviously, with the Democrats in power, in the majority in both the House and the Senate, it makes things more difficult. But politicians do respond to people, they do respond to voters, they do respond to people across the country. And that's what we have to be more effective at doing.
Monica Trauzzi: So can we take this new position as an indication that you will not be running for re-election? Are your political aspirations over and done with?
Richard Pombo: Yeah, I think you can ...
Monica Trauzzi: Everyone wants to know.
Richard Pombo: I think you can pretty much say that. I have made the decision that I won't be a candidate in the upcoming election, that it's time for me to move on and do some other things and this is one of those things I'm going to be doing.
Monica Trauzzi: And you won't be a candidate for any position?
Richard Pombo: No, I won't be.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. Let's take a look back to November 2006 for a moment. Where do you think you went wrong in that election? Is there anything you'd go back and change?
Richard Pombo: Well, I don't think there's anything that I would go back and change. I think that when I first realized that I was under attack and that it was a national movement, I think that was part of the effort that they put forth to come after me. As far as what I would change in terms of the campaign or what I did as a member of Congress, I don't think there's anything I could have or would have changed.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you have any regrets about some of the things that the enviro groups did come after you about? Do you ever get over that kind of scrutiny and criticism?
Richard Pombo: Well, I don't think anyone likes to criticism, but do I have regrets about anything I did? Absolutely not.
Monica Trauzzi: When you were chair of House Resources you aimed high with ESA, NEPA, ANWR. In hindsight, do you think that you tried to do too much?
Richard Pombo: No, I don't. Unfortunately, a lot of that we weren't able to complete, but I made the decision when I came in as chairman that we had all these issues that we had been debating since I got to Congress. You know, we had been debating what changes to the Endangered Species Act. We had been debating expanding domestic energy production. All these different issues we had been debating and we had never done anything about it. And I just made the decision I was going to try to solve those problems, and some of them were big issues. Obviously, there were a lot of controversial issues and, obviously, it made some people mad that I was taking on such controversial issues. But in the end, I felt that it was my responsibility, as chairman and as a member of Congress, to take on what are tough issues.
Monica Trauzzi: You had proposed an overhaul of ESA when you were chair of Resources. If you were going to advise the administration, right now, on what to do with ESA regulation, what would you tell them to do?
Richard Pombo: The best advice I could give them, or maybe the only advice I would give them, is try to make the Endangered Species Act a law that actually works. It's been a failure in terms of recovering species, it has not. And, as a result of that, it has caused a lot of conflict with private property owners and in businesses across the country. It has been a failure in that respect. And any changes that I would suggest to them would be to look at the act and figure out how to make it actually work.
Monica Trauzzi: Isn't the current proposal coming out of the Interior Department sort of along the same lines of what you were trying to accomplish?
Richard Pombo: Some of it is, some of it is, some of it is different. Obviously, when we drafted the bill that passed the House, we did work with the administration and we talked to them about what would work and what wouldn't work. We talked to a lot of the career people in Fish and Wildlife Service and asked them, what do we have to change in order to make this work? So I would expect that their proposal, in terms of regulatory changes or administrative changes, would reflect a lot of the things that we had in the bill.
Monica Trauzzi: And specifically, how are you going to attack the ESA issue now in your new position at Partnership for America?
Richard Pombo: I think working to reform the law and to update the law so that it actually does work, working with the grassroots groups across the country so that they are more effective in speaking to their elected officials. I think moving that in a way that you educate people, you inform them, and help them to be more effective in getting their point across will result in a law finally passing. I felt great about where we ended up on endangered species. Not only did the bill passed the House, but a minority substitute, the Democrat substitute, was nearly word for word what was in the bill that passed. The main difference that they had was they took out the private property rights protections in their bill. But the rest of it, there was general consensus, general agreement on the changes that needed to be made in the Endangered Species Act. So I think we made great progress. Unfortunately, it became a political year, a political battle, and we were never able to get it through the Senate.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to end it right there. Thanks for coming back on the show.
Richard Pombo: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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