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The joke's on us

October 17, 2006

CALIFORNIA'S REPUTATION FOR WACKINESS doesn't necessarily rest on its representatives in Congress -- the roots of our unconventional ways go far deeper -- but they certainly haven't hurt. Former Rep. William E. Dannemeyer, for instance, a Republican from Orange County, once suggested quarantining anyone who tested HIV-positive. Former Rep. Ron Dellums of Oakland, an avowed socialist, once said that "we should totally dismantle every intelligence agency in this country."

The state doesn't currently have anyone quite in Dannemeyer's or Dellums' category, thankfully. But two current members of the House of Representatives come close.

Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), a seven-term congressman who appears to have a vendetta against the environment, has tried repeatedly to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act. He has proposed selling federal wilderness for a pittance to mining interests. His latest bill wouldn't just open up vast stretches of the coast to drilling, it would slash the royalties that companies must pay for shale-oil leases, potentially costing taxpayers billions of dollars. And then there's his tarnished ethics record, which earned him a spot on a watchdog group's list of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress last year.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) may not come up with as many doozies, but the ideas he does have are almost breathtakingly foolish. He has proposed letting parents sue distributors of comic books and other entertainment that might contain objectionable material. After seeing a prisoner menu that included orange-glazed chicken, he decided that U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay was not just defensible but admirable. "We treat them very well," he told CNN.

Hunter has been best known recently for his whimsical idea, which has taken the form of legislation for two consecutive years, to take Santa Rosa Island away from the general public and make it a hunting playground for disabled veterans. Never mind that the National Park Service opposes the idea and the disabled veterans don't want it. After the proposal died last year, Hunter insisted on bringing it back in 2006.

With congressmen like these, California's reputation for eccentricity is unlikely to suffer. All the same, it's the kind of behavior the state could do without. Better to have our wackiness expressed in, say, our vegan cuisine, where it can do less harm.

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