Inside the Capitol

Monday, December 19, 2005

12-26 Pearce Climbs DC Ladder

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Rep. Steve Pearce, of New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District, is climbing the Washington political ladder quickly.
Soon after taking office in 2003, the representative from southern New Mexico became an assistant whip for Republicans in the U.S. House. Those sorts of assignments usually don't come that quickly.
Shortly after being re-elected to office with 62 percent of the vote, Pearce was appointed chairman of the Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee.
That's quite an accomplishment considering that Pearce had less seniority than almost everyone else on the panel.
Rep. Heather Wilson, from New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, also demonstrated her ability to move quickly when she was first elected in 1998.
A hard worker, with a proven competence to grasp issues quickly, Wilson received more than her share of committee assignments, including the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Sen. Pete Domenici had taken Wilson under his wing during her first campaign, when it appeared to be faltering. His tutelage continued after Wilson arrived in Washington.
Rep. Bill Richardson, from New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, also was a fast riser. He hitched his star to then-House Speaker Jim Wright , of Texas. Unfortunately for Richardson, Wright had to step down amid ethics charges filed by Rep. Newt Gingrich. And Richardson had to start over.
Rep. Pearce has gotten off to a quicker start than any New Mexico member of Congress in my memory. He hitched up his wagon to both House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo.
When DeLay got into trouble, Pearce was still in good shape to get a subcommittee chairmanship from Pombo, a Stockton, California farmer/rancher.
While Rep. Wilson has backed away from DeLay since his indictments for misuse of campaign funds, Pearce hasn't done so yet. Wilson recently returned $48,000 in DeLay campaign contributions. So far, Pearce has kept his $20,000 donation from DeLay.
Rep. Pombo has been a controversial committee chairman, most recently drawing fire for proposing that the federal budget deficit be reduced by selling off 15 national parks, including Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac.
That particular suggestion has raised many hackles, since Roosevelt not only was a Republican president but the father of the national park system.
Soon after Pearce was appointed chairman of the Parks Subcommittee, he created a stir by calling the first congressional oversight committee hearing ever to examine the Organic Act, which is the law that established the National Park Service in 1916.
National parks have received much attention recently because of a Bush administration effort to privatize and commercialize them. National Park Service retirees have gone on the warpath to fight for retaining the intent that preservation is the most important function of the National Park Service.
This has put parks retirees at odds with many of their former colleagues, who now must take a loyalty oath to support Bush administration policies in order to serve at middle management and higher levels.
A recent rewrite of Park Service management policies that will allow snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, cell towers and commercial advertising in national parks received heated opposition from a bipartisan group of senators in a hearing before the Senate National Parks Subcommittee. The Department of the Interior was told the proposed changes were not consistent with law.
Rep. Pearce's hearings on that 89-year-old law may be designed to address that situation. He is being lobbied strongly by the many Park Service retirees who have chosen to live in Pearce's district, which has numerous Park Service sites.
Some of those retirees have written him and not received answers. Those letters are starting to make their way to newspapers in Pearce's district and to this column.
You'll likely be hearing more on this subject.
MON, 12-26-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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