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Gary Horton: Escape from your past McKeon

Posted: October 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and challenger Dr. Lee Rogers met at a pay-to-view forum hosted by local business interests last week. Rogers was, of course, the challenger, and that’s what he did — challenge the incumbent and attack his record on every count.

Buck opened up, denouncing attack politics and the “mud” that Rogers has been flinging.

Rogers responded with the key zinger of the debate; “Buck, that’s not mud I’m throwing, it’s your record, and if you don’t like it, then don’t give me so much material to work with.”

Ouch; and with that, Buck was found playing defense of his actions and inaction, of “insiderness” and ethics for the highly charged, but ultimately low stakes, 60 minutes thereafter.

Buck won’t like this, but in some ways he’s Santa Clarita’s very own Barack Obama. Both are good-spirited, affable men, not prone to ill words of others.

As such, they have a hard time defending their records, both good and bad, from attack in debate. Certainly both have their pros, but the cons appear oversized without an extremely deft defense.

Rogers attacked McKeon effectively, spiritedly and adroitly across the entire spectrum of “Buckness,” and on too many topics Rogers was right and Buck simply had no defense.

But effective debates, mailers, and hundreds of visits by Rogers might all be wasted effort: Much of our district is employed in military manufacturing, and with folks fearing for their jobs in the face of pending military cuts, they’re eager to pinch their noses to the corruption they know exists in Buck’s bloated, bloody, military-industrial-congressional complex.

It’s the fear-driven, “jobs over principles” mindset ensuring Buck is almost certainly returning to Congress.

On another front of the Buck battle, The Signal Editorial Board just endorsed McKeon for this, his 10th term. But their nod is as much a pleading for a new, improved McKeon as an endorsement for the congressman he now is:

“We support McKeon, but we want to see real solutions coming from him concerning Cemex — without any political strings attached.

“We want him to return to being more of a Santa Clarita guy rather than a Washington guy. If our congressman is unwilling to do this, we believe he should consider retirement after this term.”

Note that The Signal doesn’t threaten to get him voted out of office. With district demographics, The Signal correctly and passively notes that about the only way for Buck to go is for him to retire.

In the meantime, “Would Buck please think of the Santa Clarita Valley line more, and the Republican Party insider line less?”

I unearthed another Signal endorsement of McKeon from the Bush years. Titled “We Demand More from Buck McKeon,” The Signal struck the same theme, conditionally endorsing McKeon if only he’d focus more on our district and less on Washington politics.

“Where McKeon has failed us miserably is on the local front. Buck McKeon doesn’t seem to understand that we need him to champion the issues that are important to the people here at home.

“He doesn’t seem to grasp the notion that we expect him to be a leader, not just a mouthpiece for the Bush White House.

Today, we see little difference between McKeon — who sends his staffers on defense contractor-paid junkets around the world and takes campaign donations from student-loan companies he is supposed to regulate — and the entrenched, do-nothing Democrats he was sent to replace in 1992.

“We need a re-energized Buck McKeon to go to Washington and fight for us with a renewed sense of civic duty.”

It’s Groundhog Day for Buck McKeon. McKeon has carried the same troubling “Washington Insider” rap for a decade.

But Buck returned to Congress three times since that 2006 Signal endorsement — and will likely return again. District 25 voters appreciate McKeon military jobs and other perceived pros over long-standing and infuriating McKeon cons.

Absolutely, McKeon is more than the sum of Rogers’ attacks and the Signal’s biennial moaning. He’s done much for thousands of individuals and businesses in our district.

Still, after a decade of running complaints and a thrashing debate exposing Buck’s many foibles and faults, McKeon must now slow down on the military cheerleading squad to reconsider these long-running complaints of distraction from local issues and ethics breaches, which others take seriously but McKeon himself dismisses.

Now would be a fine time for some congressional introspection.

While Buck hopefully cogitates on self-improvement, we’ve got to work with the Buck we’ve currently got. The key for local change is for interested parties to raise the drumbeat in McKeon’s ear to achieve that change.

Buck is a good listener. So for Cemex fighters, that means get louder. March down McBean Parkway — or McKeon Way — or hold a sit-in at City Hall, if that’s what it takes.

Ditto on other local concerns. Continued public pressure will ultimately bend Buck’s attention from that darn Armed Services Taxes and Innocent Lives Flushing Committee.

Buck, get in a little trouble with those who pull your strings, for our sakes. Don’t worry about the fallout: you can count on your jobs-fearing, red-leaning district to back you up yet again for 2014.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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