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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pombo's Travels, For Better And For Worse

As Nick Juliano reports in the Tracy Press, California Congressman Richard Pombo (CA - 11) is taking some heat for using around $5,000 of taxpayer dollars to pay for a ten day trip he and his family took to various national parks in 2003. Pombo has defended the trip as a legitimate, cheap, and productive fact-finding tour undertaken as part of his job as chairman of the House Resources Committee.

If that is the case, more power to him. Many a congressperson disappears into the backhalls of the Beltway upon election, never to be seen in their home districts again unless for a fundraiser or on C-SPAN. Not Pombo, who in addition to getting out and seeing the areas of the country under his purview as Resources Chair, makes a concerted effort to maintain an active presence in his district. This get-out-and-see attitude is a breath of fresh air in this regard.

However, it is not clear that the main purpose of Pombo's tour of national parks was in his guise as congressman and chair of the Resources Committee. Pombo insists he spent nearly all of his time in the parks with park personnel, yet very few remember his visit. This is strange considering the considerable influence Pombo exerts over the parks' budget and the livelihoods of park employees. If the boss shows up, it's at least water-cooler conversation.

Also strange is Pombo's description of the trip on the Resource Committee website:
This August, my family and I rented an RV and set out to explore the West. We
spent two weeks on vacation, stopping along the way to enjoy the splendor of
many of our national parks.

That doesn't sound like a trip taken primarily for work.

Pombo also rented an RV, as opposed to a passenger car, for the journey. While he says he saved taxpayer dollars by not taking the trip via airplane, it is not clear at all why he chose the more expensive RV over a passenger car. Unless he needed the storage space for plant specimens he collected, the lone explanation seems to be that he wanted to take his family on vacation on the taxpayers' dime.

If Pombo's National Parks 2003 Tour was done to benefit taxpayers, Pombo should have no problem proving it with notes he took about the parks (the facts he found) and receipts for his family's expenses. If he cannot produce such documentation, he should reimburse taxpayers for every dollar we spent on that trip.

Regardless, Pombo should not draw the wrong lesson and stop his get-out-and-see approach. We the people are better served by legislators who get out and experience America and the lives of Americans, rather than hole up in Washington, D.C.

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