By Molly K. Hooper - 02/14/12 10:30 AM EST
California lawmakers are on edge.
For the past decade, incumbents in the Golden State have, by and large, sailed to reelection. But things have changed this cycle as six California members have announced their retirements and a seventh (Republican Rep. David Dreier) is anticipated to do so later this year.
Redistricting in California, which was handled by an independent citizen board, has tested friendships on both sides of the aisle.
But there is plenty of GOP drama as well.
Some Republican lawmakers are still smarting over the decision not to challenge the new district lines. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) argued against such a move, exasperating others in the GOP delegation.
Human Events recently reported on McCarthy’s role in quashing what would have been a costly campaign to kill the Citizens Commission redistricting plan. The article was titled “Rep. McCarthy Killed Plan to Save Six California GOP Congressmen.”
Sources familiar with the situation say that McCarthy was surprised at the backlash from several colleagues, especially because the new redistricting system was a GOP-backed initiative.
Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), who intends to move his residence into a nearby district to avoid a race against fellow incumbent Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), acknowledged that he disagreed with McCarthy. But, Miller insists, he’s over it.
“We had a disagreement with Kevin … some of us wanted to fight it, but that was nothing personal,” Miller said.
When delegation dean Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) opted not to run for reelection, it created what appeared to be an ideal situation for Miller, whose Orange County-based district borders Lewis’s territory. Lewis’s announcement opened the door for Miller, averting what would have been a costly battle with Royce, who had planted his flag in the district last summer.
A source told The Hill that Miller “backed off, [pledged to move] to this other district to satisfy the party and we have an unwritten law around here that unless somebody has done something malicious, we support our incumbents for unity.”
Miller noted that he has done business in Lewis’s district, his family lives in the district and he had intended to retire there.
Royce, who is “grateful” for Miller’s decision not to run against him, has been pressing his fellow 18 California lawmakers to publicly back Miller, ahead of the mid-March filing deadline.
But Royce’s effort has rubbed some the wrong way, especially Lewis, who has not endorsed Miller.
Others in the delegation explained that the addition of a popular GOP state senator, Bob Dutton, into the race to succeed Lewis has caused some reluctance to endorse Miller.
Dutton, who has fulfilled his term limit in the state Senate, is a close friend of McCarthy and freshman Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). All three served together in the state capitol.
Dutton’s candidacy has sparked speculation that McCarthy talked to Dutton about seeking the seat.
A source close to McCarthy told The Hill that the No. 3-ranked House Republican did not urge Dutton to jump in.
“I don’t think that Kevin encouraged him. I think Bob Dutton saw an opportunity and decided to run,” the source said.
Miller, who is also friends with Dutton as well as Dutton’s father, Ted (a donor and GOP activist in Southern California), said he talked to Dutton and came away thinking that Dutton wasn’t going to run.
“I talked to Bob two days before he announced. I didn’t think he was going to run, but this happens,” Miller said. “It’s not personal for me … I’m not going to make it personal.”
Though Miller said he hasn’t asked for Lewis’s endorsement, one California lawmaker who requested anonymity said Miller shouldn’t have to ask.
“You would think that it would be an automatic. It should be an automatic if you are an incumbent. … [Dutton’s] name ID is high, but Miller’s got a lot of money. That’s not an easy seat to win,” the source said.
Dutton last month announced his candidacy, saying he has lived in San Bernardino County for 37 years and ripping “Washington, D.C., politicians.”
Miller’s campaign war chest had more than $1 million cash on hand at the end of 2011.
Those close to Miller say that he seems irked that more California colleagues haven’t backed him.
“Miller’s definitely frustrated. He wants everyone in the caucus to immediately endorse him, and that hasn’t happened,” the source said.
Miller contends that he hasn’t asked for those endorsements.
But Royce repeatedly has, vexing Lewis, sources say. (Lewis has ties to the Duttons, and has received donations from Dutton’s father in the past.)
The matter was discussed at a recent “contentious” lunch among Golden State lawmakers. Neither Miller nor McCarthy attended, however.
Lewis said that he does not intend to endorse in the race to succeed him.
“I’m staying out because, frankly, I think the primary process is a healthy thing. I’m talking to members and people who are considering it to avoid blood on the street. If I start getting into the endorsement business, I could polarize it,” Lewis said.
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) summed up the feelings in the delegation: “There’s a lot of friendship stuff involved, a lot of personal relationships here, and it’s all getting mixed up and it just will fall out one way or the other.”
He added, “There’s some guys out there that are very personally close to this family [the Duttons]. There’s relationships here, but there’s relationships at home.”
It is unclear if Denham will endorse in the race. McCarthy however, made it clear to his colleagues that he will eventually endorse all GOP incumbents running for reelection.
“As the majority whip, Kevin McCarthy will of course support all incumbent members of Congress for reelection,” McCarthy spokeswoman Erica Elliott said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), meanwhile, have already endorsed Miller.
McCarthy put himself in an awkward position last election cycle when he initially endorsed Denham, who ran for former Rep. George Radanovich’s (R) open seat. He later pulled the endorsement to back former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).
Denham subsequently defeated Pombo easily. The freshman lawmaker said he now works with Pombo back in his district, but called his primary with him “ugly.”
The chain of events caused its own set of personal issues in the relationship between Denham and McCarthy. A source close to Denham said the freshman lawmaker is still “pissed” about it.
Denham, who plays basketball with McCarthy in the House gym, made it clear that he doesn’t like to discuss the issue.
Miller, serving his seventh term, is confident that his California colleagues are not going to get behind Dutton.
“Well, McCarthy’s not backing Dutton … nobody here is backing Dutton at all,” Miller said.
Lewis revealed that if he were going to sponsor somebody, “originally I wanted Mike Ramos to run in that district.”
But the San Bernardino County district attorney has been consumed with prosecuting a high-profile real estate fraud case. Ramos has endorsed Dutton’s bid.
Dutton did not comment by press time.
California’s primary is scheduled for June 5.