California: Fourth District|
Rep. John Doolittle (R)
Last Updated June 9, 1999
California sprang suddenly into existence: The Gold Rush of 1849 was followed by statehood and the creation of the first 27 counties in 1850. The new state's first boom area was the Mother Lode country in the foothills of the Sierras above Sacramento. Mining camps the size of eastern cities grew up in vacant valleys locked amid steep hills, with thousands of would-be millionaires gathered to find gold--though most of those who actually got rich did so by catering to miners' needs. In Placerville, John Studebaker had a buggy shop, Phillip Armour ran a butcher shop and Mark Hopkins had a dry goods store. The biggest mine in California was sunk in Grass Valley in 1857 and worked for half a century. But long before that, most of the Mother Lode country emptied out, leaving ghost towns and villages with hundreds of deserted houses--an antique vacation country left behind in time.
As they celebrated the sesquicentennial, local residents have sought to resurrect their area into a booming ex-urban and tourist mecca. ''The American River near Coloma becomes a virtual freeway of whooping rafters on summer weekends,'' reported USA Today. ''The Mother Lode also offers modern-day prospectors an intriguing pastiche of bed-and-breakfast inns, musty antique stores and such blink-and-you'll-miss-'em outposts as Volcano, Fiddletown, Rough and Ready''-- named after President Zachary Taylor. Thousands of Californians--many of them families from smog-filled, middle-class suburbs of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay area--looking for a more pleasant, small-town, orderly environment, have found it here along fast-flowing creeks where the '49ers camped. For the first time since the 1860 Census, county populations rose sharply in the past two decades. Politically, this migration has changed the Mother Lode country from Democrat to Republican. The new migrants are tired of the cultures of therapy of the big metro areas and ready for more discipline. In 1976, nine Mother Lode counties from Sierra to Mariposa cast 118,000 votes, 50% for Jimmy Carter and 47% for Gerald Ford--close to the California average. In 1996 they cast 264,000 votes, 51% for Bob Dole and 38% for Bill Clinton, results closer to Idaho than coastal California. In 1998, Republican Dan Lungren's 54% in Placer County, the largest in the district, was among his strongest performances in the state--better than in Orange County.
The 4th Congressional District consists of most of the Mother Lode country plus the northeastern suburbs of Sacramento--Fair Oaks, Citrus Heights, Orangevale--and the old town of Folsom. The district runs northeast along I-80 into Auburn and Roseville in Placer County where the Mother Lode hills start, then up to the crest of the Sierra Nevada and over to the California shore of Lake Tahoe and the arid salt flats around Mono Lake. Politically, this is about as solidly Republican an area as there is in California these days.
The congressman from the 4th District is John Doolittle, a Republican with one of the most conservative voting records in the House. Doolittle grew up in the Los Angeles area and went to high school in Cupertino, in what now is Silicon Valley. His conservatism was annealed in the fires of adversity: He graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1972, when the campus was 97% for George McGovern. After law school he moved to the edge of the Sacramento metro area where the foothills begin, and in 1980 was elected at 30 to the state Senate from a district that stretched up to the Oregon border. As a senator he opposed gun control and abortion, and favored a crime victims' bill of rights and widespread AIDS testing. When the incumbent retired in 1990 in a district that then stretched from the Mother Lode country to Stockton, Doolittle ran for the seat. He had tougher competition than expected from Democrat Patricia Malberg, who was pro-choice on abortion, against nuclear power and for defense spending cuts; Doolittle won by just 50%-46%.
As a freshman, Doolittle was one of the Republicans' Gang of Seven, who were the advance guard for Newt Gingrich's 1994 revolution. He was California House Republicans' point man on redistricting, but he supported a plan that only protected Republican incumbents and gave them no shot at California's seven new seats; this was nixed by Governor Pete Wilson. Perhaps to curry favor with the 25% of the district who voted for Ross Perot in 1992, Doolittle joined ''United We Stand America.'' In 1994, he seemed finally to get a firm hold on the district, raising his vote above 60%.
In the Republican House, Doolittle was given a subcommittee chair the old Democrats who represented this area would have relished: Water and Power. But his agenda resembled theirs only in his support for the Auburn Dam, which he and other Sacramento area congressmen wanted built on the American River, 35 miles east of Sacramento. Doolittle insisted on a design that could supply water to the Mother Lode. But in 1996 the dam was rejected in committee, 35-28, by a combination of environmentalists and spending opponents. When he continued the fight, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by the Bay Area's Barbara Boxer, blocked his efforts in 1998. Doolittle then blocked Robert Matsui's proposal for higher levees and to create more outlets in the Folsom Dam. The deadlock left unresolved attempts to address Sacramento's flood-control needs.
Doolittle's other subcommittee plans are longer range, and also unrealized. He seeks to sell the government's Power Marketing Administrations, which subsidize electric power in some areas because they needed power lines built in the 1930s. But Doolittle's efforts to sell the Southeastern Power Administration was nixed in October 1995 when Speaker Gingrich heeded the plea of the Republican gubernatorial nominee (who lost anyway). Doolittle also seeks to change the environmental provisions imposed on the Central Valley Project in 1992, but the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 blocked his effort to build a water pipeline out of the Lake Tahoe basin.
Doolittle worked with Majority Whip Tom DeLay in 1998 to oppose the Shays-Meehan campaign-finance reform by proposing their own alternative to remove existing restrictions on fundraising but provide daily disclosure of contributions: free expression and transparency. (This is also the position of former Senator Eugene McCarthy.) This was derided as the enemy of ''reform,'' but Doolittle reintroduced it in the 106th Congress; its prospects seem nil. Interestingly, Doolittle's 1998 opponent tried his own reform by not taking contributions at all; Doolittle won by his biggest margin ever. In early 1999, Doolittle hoped that DeLay would tap him to replace Denny Hastert as the Republican's chief deputy whip, but he was passed over. He boycotted the 1999 State of the Union address, calling Clinton ''guilty as sin'' and ''not fit to hold office.'' In March 1999, he and Bill Thomas revived an old proposal--in lieu of a pay raise, per-diem allowances to cover expenses, of the kind they received as California Assemblymen; others said this would be attacked as an $18,000 tax-free pay increase, and the proposal seemed sure to go nowhere. In 1999, Doolittle began to become more active in the House Republican Caucus; he is one of six vice chairs of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Safe. Doolittle's past electoral experience suggests that when faced with a high quality challenger, he can be pushed into a competitive race but perhaps not beaten; against weak opposition he will win comfortably every time. It's unclear whether Democrats will expend the effort to target Doolittle, but it's unlikely that he would lose in any case.
- Pop. 1990: 571,027
- 38.4% rural;
12.5% age 65+;
- 92.7% White,
1.4% Amer. Indian,
7.2% Hispanic origin;
61.8% married couple families;
28.2% married couple fams. w. children;
57.5% college educ.;
median household income: $35,772;
per capita income: $16,263;
median gross rent: $488;
median house value: $152,400.
|1996 Presidential Vote|
|1992 Presidential Vote|
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.