Tom Campbell, the anti-politic

Posted: Sep 01, 2000 12:00 AM
The most irritating part of this job is listening to people who don't really follow politics proclaim that all politicians pander shamelessly. For such know-nothings, there are no politicians of principle. They must not know U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, the GOP congress man from Silicon Valley who wants to replace Dianne Feinstein. Campbell is no panderer. His congressional district is a high-tech haven, yet, unlike many Repubs, he supports states levying sales taxes on Internet purchases. "Otherwise, where do you get your money for police and fire departments?" Campbell explained. "I took that stand because it was right." Wait a minute, according to the they-all-do-it crowd, there are no politicians who do something because it's the right thing. Campbell is not a creature of his handlers. Some advisers begged him not to talk against the drug war as he ran for the U.S. Senate, but Campbell felt he had to speak out. He favors more federal spending on drug treatment, as well as allowing local governments to distribute illegal drugs to addicts. Needless to say, Democratic operatives are having a field day with that stance. "It is foolish to be running for the U.S. Senate on a program like that," California Democratic Party activist Bob Mulholland crowed. "I'm sure it's well received in the Stanford faculty lounge" ... where Campbell has been a law professor ... "but not in the Republican stronghold of Orange County." Campbell also has been a leader in fighting against the $1.3 billion appropriation of U.S. funds to fight Colombia's drug war. As he put it, "We're getting ourselves in a civil war with no prospect." Feinstein supported the measure. Unlike DiFi, T.C. challenges Washington orthodoxies. Thus, Campbell is pushing for foreign policies that help the world's needy, instead of bolstering Third-World dictators and American corporations. Asked about the Export-Import bank, T.C. cooed, "Oh, God, yes, we should abolish ExIm. That's an example where American taxpayers pay money to help American companies sell goods more cheaply overseas." Use the money instead, he suggested, to build water purification plants in Africa to prevent river blindness. Campbell also is the rare pol who respects the Constitution, hence his lawsuit against the administration's decision to send troops to Kosovo, which Campbell believes violated the War Powers Act. His reverence for the rule of law made Campbell the rare Republican who both voted against Newt Gingrich's re-election as House speaker (because Gingrich had misled the House Ethics Committee) and voted for impeachment of President Clinton. Those who disagree with what he did at least should be able to recognize that he was true to his deeply-held beliefs. As I prepared to rave about Campbell's fiscal conservative credentials, I was disappointed to find that Campbell's campaign Web site,, misstated his credentials. He is a fiscal conservative, who is more of a tightwad than most Repubs. This year, for the fourth time, the National Taxpayers Union ranked Campbell as the member who sponsored the most spending-cut legislation of any member of the House. The NTU's Peter Sepp praised Campbell for being especially "active in attempting to root out subsidies to dependent corporations." But the site incorrectly boasts that Campbell has earned an A rating every year from the NTU, while Feinstein has earned Fs every year. Yes, Feinstein flunks each year ... no surprise ... but Campbell earned a B in 1996 and a B+ in 1999. Campaign staff say they will correct the error. When Campbell and I have sparred on the phone over various issues, I have always found his arguments compelling, his depth of knowledge humbling and his sense of fairness unerring. What a joy it is to disagree with someone, yet fully respect his reasoning. He's not contrived, he doesn't play to the lowest common denominator, he challenges conventional thinking, he takes risks for what he thinks is right. Which raises the question: Do California voters want a principled person representing them in the Senate? Or not?