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The Orange County Register doesn’t endorse candidates, and that’s
fine with me; I gave up recommending that people vote a certain way some
30 years ago. When Howard Simon was managing editor of the Washington
Post, he preferred that his political writers not even vote (although he
didn’t make it mandatory). He felt that even the personal/emotional
investment of having voted for or against somebody might affect the way
a journalist covered politicians; I think American journalism would be
much better if that ethic were predominant, but I have few illusions as
to whether it’s likely to happen.

Still, politicians keep coming around to talk to our editorial board
and I run into them in various circumstances. Sometimes those meetings
yield information that might be of interest to readers. And since Rep.
Tom Campbell, R-Calif., seems likely (if the polls are reasonably
accurate) to be the Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein — and he has come for visits several
times — there’s a chance I might have stumbled across some items of
interest to readers.

State Sen. Ray Haynes of Riverside is viewed as the more true-blue
conservative in the race, with Campbell seen as a moderate. Haynes, who
has also been to visit us, certainly seems like a good conservative,
personable and well informed. He got involved in politics as a defender
of property rights and is surprisingly willing at least to talk about
alternatives to prohibition as a way to approach the problem of drugs.
But Campbell has more money and better statewide name recognition, and
some conservatives are likely to go for San Diego County Supervisor Bill
Horn, whose main issue is beefing up the military. So Campbell seems to
have the best shot at becoming a nationally important figure over the
next few months.

I have mixed feelings about getting to know politicians, in part
because one of the job requirements is to be reasonably personable, and
I often find myself actually liking politicians whose policy preferences
I consider disastrous. Although Tom Campbell would probably be more at
home in an intense graduate-level seminar on some obscure aspect of
public policy than shaking hands at a mall, he is personable enough. And
you’ve got to like a guy who starts by bragging that he is the cheapest
congressman in the House when it comes to spending the taxpayers’ money,
while Dianne Feinstein was the second most “generous” in the Senate.

The evidence? The National Taxpayers Union compiles an annual list in
which it totes up the cost of all the legislation introduced or
co-sponsored (not just voted for) by each worthy Honorable. And, sure
enough, Republican Tom Campbell of San Jose is there at Number 437 out
of 435. (Reps from Guam and the Virgin Islands get to introduce
legislation though they don’t have voting privileges.)

Tom Campbell has a reputation as a “moderate” or even a “liberal” in
Republican circles, and not entirely without reason. Among the items
that support this impression are his pro-choice position on abortion, at
least during the first three months of a pregnancy (although he thinks
California, not the federal government, should outlaw late-term or
partial-birth abortion), his support of the Brady Bill, and his support
of campaign finance reform along McCain-Feingold lines.

At his most recent meeting with us, he acknowledged that his primary
campaign against conservative Bruce Herschensohn in 1992 was fierce,
perhaps not entirely accurate on both sides, and may have fixed an
impression of Tom Campbell as the anti-conservative in many voters’
minds.

Perhaps because the old terms don’t fit current political reality,
however, it isn’t quite so easy to classify Mr. Campbell. He does have
an anti-spending record to go with his rhetorical commitment to a
smaller federal government. He applauded the “Lopez” decision that
limited the use of the commerce clause as an excuse for the federal
government to do anything it desires. He has called for abolishing the
income tax (replacing it with a national sales tax) and for cutting the
capital gains tax in half as a preliminary step. He voted to impeach
President Clinton (his website includes a
thoughtful explanation) and favors withdrawing from the International
Monetary Fund and other global lending schemes. His conviction that the
feds should have less control over education translates into opposition
to federal “standards” for schools and students.

Mr. Campbell’s most interesting heterodoxies come in foreign policy.
He worked almost single-handedly to get a recorded vote on the war
against Kosovo last year for the charmingly quaint but perfectly valid
reason that the U.S. Constitution specifies that only Congress can
declare war. He has been an outspoken critic of the economic sanctions
against Iraq, which haven’t dislodged Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime
(indeed, they may have reinforced it) but have caused serious suffering
among innocent Iraqis.

He says he opposes drug legalization, but he acknowledges that the
drug war as pursued has been a failure. He has suggested that localities
with serious crime, addiction or AIDS problems be authorized to
distribute drugs (along with drug education and counseling) to certified
addicts. He defends this position on grounds that states and localities
should have more say in drug policy and the federal government should
have a smaller role.

For me, the willingness to question current American foreign policy,
and to do so in large part on the basis of the proper constitutional
role of the president and Congress, is a valuable and rare asset in a
serious politician.

Tom Campbell says his main priorities are individual freedom and
constitutional limits on the federal government. Having taught at
Stanford’s law school might be viewed as a mixed blessing in this
regard. (I think his approach to the Second Amendment is entirely too
lawyerly, for example, even though it’s interesting and less dogmatic
than that of many gun grabbers.) But at least he approaches legal and
constitutional issues with a solid base of knowledge and an independent
reasoning process.

If he becomes the GOP candidate, Campbell will be an underdog against
Dianne Feinstein, whose calm and calming personality makes her seem less
dogmatic in her statism than she actually is. But he will raise issues
that will surface in few other campaigns and deserve to be discussed.

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