The Sacramento Bee - Tom McClintock: Conservative Soothsayer or Rigid Ideologue?
To his devotees, state Sen. Tom McClintock is a righteous defender of the Constitution and an unrepentant fighter for reining in government spending.
To his detractors, the conservative populist and revered orator is a lone wolf who refuses to bend even when his closest colleagues are preaching compromise.
"Lincoln said, 'I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true,' " said McClintock, a 22-year state lawmaker. "I have stayed true to my convictions."
McClintock, the Thousand Oaks lawmaker now running for Congress in Northern California's 4th District, is a man as consistent in his principles as he is complex in his politics and approach to governance.
During 14 years in the state Assembly and nearly eight in the Senate, McClintock's principles of limited government have led him to pass few pieces of legislation - even for a member of the minority party.
Yet he is famous for helping lead the charge to roll back the motor vehicle registration fee - or "car tax." He is hailed by deficit hawks for voting "no" on nearly every state budget and lauded by free-market advocates for resisting bills that intrude on the sanctity of private business.
Perhaps, above all, he is a fiscal doomsayer who lately has been proved correct.
Only a year ago, McClintock helped inflame renegade Republicans who held up the state budget for weeks. He sounded alarms that fellow Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was papering over a crisis of deficit spending.
Schwarzenegger is now warning that next year's state deficit could reach $20 billion. And one of McClintock's Democratic adversaries in the Senate, Mike Machado of Linden, said recently that McClintock "is the one who brought to everybody's attention the pending crisis we are facing today."
Yet even some Republicans see McClintock as a legislative obstructionist. They say he cultivates an image as a conservative purist but accomplishes little of substance.
"I was around Republican lawmakers who worked with a Democratic majority, and often a Republican governor, to get things done in the context of the reality of politics," said Republican analyst Tony Quinn, a legislative staffer when McClintock started in the Assembly in 1982. "Tom acts as if the reality is not there. He serves his ideology first."
One of McClintock's conservative supporters, former Assemblyman and Sen. Ray Haynes, said McClintock stood out in the Republican caucus for refusing to water down GOP legislation or support Democratic bills as part of political horse-trading.
"If Tom has any challenges with legislative politics, it is that he is not very good at playing on a team," Haynes said. "There are times, for team unity, to give up being right and join the team. Tom always had a challenge doing that."
McClintock said he refuses to "beg for table scraps" on Republican legislation in exchange for "supporting the majority party's agenda."
While he acknowledged, "I don't get my name on a lot of legislation," he also insisted, "The crusade I began is ultimately creating many reforms" in state government.
He claims credit for pressuring the Legislature to move on $1.1 billion in tax rebates in 1987 after rallying support outside the Capitol for a ballot initiative to return a budget surplus to residents. He wrote and got passed legislation for lethal injection - a bill he credits with saving the death penalty in California.
McClintock's consistent ideological voting is reflected in his 100 percent rating from the conservative California Republican Assembly for "no" votes on issues such as environmental regulations, gay marriage and college subsidies for illegal immigrants. He has a zero percent rating from the California League of Conservation Voters for opposing anti-global-warming, fuel-conservation and clean-air bills.
His intolerance for wasteful spending has led him to fight numerous public works bond measures he views as larded up with routine maintenance costs and social programs that won't stand the test of time.
As a result, he effectively voted against improvements to U.S. Highway 101 in his home district and to Interstate 80 in the region where he now runs for Congress.
His fiscal restraint is lauded by conservatives such as Tom Hudson, a McClintock supporter and chairman of the Placer County Republican Central Committee.
"People are not going to vote for a congressman because they want more pork-barrel spending in the district," Hudson said.
Placer County Supervisor Kirk Uhler worked with McClintock at an anti-tax advocacy group, the Center for California Taxpayers. But Uhler said McClintock is wrong in a current pledge to oppose every single congressional spending earmark - even for needed projects in the district.
"Tom will publicly refuse the tools available to all 435 members of Congress," said Uhler, who supports McClintock's opponent, former Sacramento-area Rep. Doug Ose.
Zoe Taylor, CEO of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce in McClintock's home district, said he is a man to seek out when fighting legislation the chamber considers anti-business, and excessive state spending. But she added, "When it came to getting projects done locally, I didn't go to Tom for that."
McClintock says he doesn't believe state infrastructure dollars should be spent to solely benefit local communities. He said he will support regional projects in Congress only if they win support in open votes - not slipped in through anonymous earmarks.
McClintock has backed improvements to state highways 118 and 23 in his district because he felt the projects were essential components of a statewide transportation plan.
And after state voters in 2006 passed a nearly $20 billion transportation bond he vociferously opposed, McClintock lobbied the state Transportation Commission for his district's full funding to improve U.S. 101.
"I think Tom is probably the most active voice in restraining state spending," said state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley, a campaign supporter. "He just tells it like it is. He's upfront and he doesn't play political games.
"If that's a weakness, it's one I'd like to have."