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January 10, 2008

Doolittle Out, And Flake Wants A Seat On Appropriations

The Republican brand got a little cleaner today with the announced retirement of Rep. John Doolittle. The ten-term Californian has a big legal mess on his hands over his tight relationship with corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff as well as the financial relationship between his wife and Doolittle's contributors. This opens the door for Iraq war veteran Eric Eglund to succeed Doolittle:

Doolittle came close to losing re-election in 2006 in one of the most conservative districts in California, and some in his own party believed he couldn't survive this time around.

He has denied wrongdoing in his ties to Abramoff, the disgraced former lobbyist whom he considered a close friend. But after the FBI raided the congressman's Virginia home in April looking for information about event-planning work that Doolittle's wife did for Abramoff, the congressman was forced to step down from the powerful Appropriations Committee.

A flurry of grand jury subpoenas to the congressman and his aides followed. Party leaders pointedly declined to encourage Doolittle's re-election plans and his fundraising lagged.

Doolittle is contesting subpoenas for his congressional records as part of a larger dispute between Congress and the Justice Department over the scope of criminal investigations of lawmakers. That made it unlikely that his legal situation would be resolved before November's election.

For months, Doolittle resisted suggestions that he retire, branding his GOP critics "weasels." But he faced mounting legal bills and at least two declared Republican primary opponents, with others waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, the Democrat he barely beat in 2006, Charlie Brown, collected 10 times as much money as the incumbent for a rematch.

I wrote about the issue with his wife almost exactly a year ago, when Doolittle "fired" her. She had acted as a consultant for recruiting contributors -- and got commissions from the donations. In other words, contributors knew that 15% of everything they gave the Congressman would wind up in his personal funds, a powerful motivation for corruption. Doolittle lost the endorsement of the local GOP in August as the party chair accused him of betraying his conservative roots.

This should make it easier for Eric Egland to win the nomination. Eric joined me on Heading Right Radio in September to talk about his candidacy to unseat Doolittle. Now that no incumbent stands iin his way, Egland should have a clear path to securing the seat for Republicans -- and in cleaning up the brand, too.

Meanwhile, with Roger Wicker (R-MS) moving from the House to the Senate, a seat on the Appropriations Committee has opened up, and porkbuster Jeff Flake wants it. NRCC chair Tom Cole wants it too, and he's a good man; I'm much less worried than Eric Erickson with Cole. However, this gives the GOP a chance to show some real effort at cleaning up the porkfest on Capitol Hill. If they miss this chance to appoint a real porkbuster to the seat, it will be a great opportunity wasted. Call your Congressman and insist on support for Flake's bid.


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