California Rep. Darrell Issa has chance to grab serious power

Republican control of the House of Representatives will adversely affect Democratic members from California and, of course, benefit the state’s GOP contingent.

Most obviously, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was demoted from House speaker to minority leader. Conversely, Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, who managed GOP congressional campaigns, may assume the No. 3 leadership position and could eventually become speaker.

In most cases, Republicans who lost committee chairmanships four years ago will reclaim them in January. But the big buzz in Washington, D.C., political circles is about Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents portions of San Diego and Riverside counties and will chair the House Oversight Committee.

How the ambitious, combative Issa performs over the next two years may well determine whether he emerges as a Republican star — and perhaps a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012 — or becomes a political asterisk.

Issa overcame youthful brushes with the law and made a fortune in the car alarm business before segueing into politics, capturing his congressional seat in 2000 after failing to win the GOP nomination for the Senate in 1998.

Issa personally rescued an underfinanced campaign to recall Gray Davis from the governorship in 2003 — clearly in hopes of becoming governor himself — but was forced to withdraw when action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the race.

Issa carved out a new role for himself after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 — needler-in-chief — and used his position as the top Oversight Committee Republican to press the new administration on several fronts while probing loans that the defunct Countrywide mortgage company had made to Democratic members of Congress.

As he takes over the committee chairmanship, Issa said he will launch a massive expansion of its probes into various federal agencies, with subcommittees staging dozens, even hundreds, of hearings.

“I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks,” Issa told Politico, a widely read website, with billions of dollars in so-called “stimulus” spending will be major target. His job, he said, is to “measure failures.”

Issa’s investigations will fit neatly into the Republican leadership’s plans to confront the Obama administration on a broad front in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election. And it is an opportunity for Issa to make a big name for himself.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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