By BEN GOAD
WASHINGTON - Fresh off his successful re-election bid, Inland Rep. Darrell Issa is running again. This time he's vying for the top Republican spot on the influential House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
And he's not taking any chances, even though his chief rival for the post -- Republican Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut -- was unseated on Election Day.
Issa, R-Vista, has unleashed an aggressive campaign to become the committee's ranking GOP member, a position that could allow him to help set the agenda for congressional investigations into government mismanagement, waste and corruption.
"This is the one committee that looks at the bureaucracy of every federal department," Issa said. "Every whistle-blower primarily looks to us."
Traditionally, seniority is the largest factor in deciding committee posts. But Issa, who is eleventh in succession in the current congress, is seeking to overcome his status as one of the panel's more junior members by gaining the backing of those ahead of him in line.
So far he's been endorsed by several of those lawmakers, including the outgoing ranking member, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.
Davis, who is leaving Congress at the end of the year, wrote a letter to GOP members on Issa's behalf, describing him as an emerging leader on the committee.
"No matter the issue, big or small, explosive or tame, Darrell was able to successfully partner with me and other members of the committee to best represent the views of our conference," Davis wrote. "I came to rely on Darrell Issa to be the face and voice of the committee Republicans by being the more aggressive interlocutor."
Issa, known as a lawmaker who doesn't shy from confrontation, famously locked horns in May with the committee's chairman, fellow California Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles. Issa was upset that Republicans weren't being given equal time to question a witness testifying before the committee and repeatedly protested, prompting Waxman to angrily pound his gavel and threaten to toss Issa from the hearing.
Issa maintained that he has a good record of working with Democrats on the panel, pointing to his relationship with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Issa is the ranking member of the committee's Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which Kucinich chairs.
He said the two have worked closely to set the subcommittee's agenda, and each has traveled to the other's home district to participate in field hearings -- Issa to Cleveland for a hearing on the subprime mortgage crisis, and Kucinich to Southern California for a hearing on wildfire prevention.
"There's no reason I couldn't work just as closely with Henry Waxman," Issa said.
Waxman, however, may not return as chairman. He is pushing to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Regardless of which Democrat is at the helm, Issa said he would seek to put partisan disputes aside and focus on the committee's foremost mission: to serve as a governmental watchdog.
"I'm not asking (Democrats) to take on the administration," he said. "I'm asking them to take on the bureaucracy, to work harmoniously on issues."
He said trimming the fat in federal government through committee investigations and oversight would particularly help people in California and in his home district who pay more in taxes then they get back in federal spending.
"Every dollar we stop wasting is almost like a tax cut," Issa said. "We send a lot to Washington that we don't get back, so oversight of how those dollars are spent is intrinsically important to the people in my district."
Issa announced his intention to become ranking member of the Oversight Committee before the Nov. 4 election, but has since ramped up his campaign, sending his GOP colleagues several letters explaining his qualifications and touting endorsements from other members.
With Shays out of the running, it remained unclear whether any other Republicans were actively seeking the position.
Ultimately, the matter will be decided by the party's steering committee, a collection of Republicans selected by seniority, leadership positions and geographical area.
The steering committee is expected to vote on the post later this month. But Issa has at least one backer already.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, a member of the steering committee, said he is supporting Issa for the post.
"Darrell's a very capable guy," Calvert said. "He'd make an excellent chairman, or ranking member."
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008