Monday, June 19, 2006



By now readers of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, the L.A. TIMES, the NY TIMES or the WASHINGTON POST, who happen to have any interest in the politics of California's 41st congressional district, know that indictments, frog-walks, finger-printings, mugshots, protestations of complete and total innocence and plea-bargains-ratting-out-colleagues are all just what comes before the inevitable prison cell for the 41st CDs larcenous Jerry Lewis. I mean all that stuff, maybe even a trial, is now inevitable. But when do Lewis' constituents find out? Does pa wake up one morning and turn on the TV and yell, "Ma, will ya come in here and have a look. That Jerry Lewis fella is wearing an orange jump suit and has handcuffs on and they're taking him off to prison. I wonder what he done. Always seemed like such a straight shooter, too."

Actually, much to my surprise-- and probably Lewis'-- they actually are starting to find out... now. Lewis has the kind of tight, tight, tight relationships with all the local media that has precluded much coverage of what looks to be the biggest financial scandal in the history of the U.S. Congress. But with the FBI closing in and subpoena-ing records from the city, county and town governments all over the district, from tiny Yucca Valley township to humongous Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, and with more and more national media outlets covering the unwinding of Lewis' scandalous activities as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, even the friend local press has been dragged into reporting on the story.

My friend Leigh lives up in Big Bear and she comes to L.A. every week. She brings me news and tidings from the Inland Empire and the High Desert and, lately, she has also started bringing actual local newspapers. Just a couple months ago she told me no one in the district had even an inkling that their powerful congressman was the head of a high level crime syndicate at the heart of the United States government. "No matter what they say about him, " one of Leigh's neighbors, a Democrat, told her, "he brings home the bacon."

Indeed he was. He wasn't sharing much of it with anyone outside of his immediate circle though. And when he did do things for his constituents, even they had to pay and pay and pay.

Last week Leigh told me that some people in the district, despite Lewis' constant denials of knowing anything about any of this, are starting to wake up to the fact that something about their 28 year veteran representative stinks to high heaven. She brought me the SAN BERNARDINO SUN from Sunday, June 11th. She says it's the biggest newspaper in the district and that "everybody" reads it. There are 4 stories on page 1-- mostly the kind of stuff you would expect from a local Sunday newspaper in an exurban/rural district: a report on a (poorly attended) block party to kick off an anti-crime campaign, an expose about how people without high school diplomas have trouble finding jobs, a thriller on how local residents are seeing Jesus' image on bathroom tiles in Chino and in shadows cast by a willow tree in San Bernardino and then, smack dang in the middle of the page with a thick black border and a huge full color picture of a worried-looking Lewis, an article entitled "Deconstructing Jerry."

Now for all the San Berdoo DWT regulars discovered nothing that we haven't been talking about since last year. But for thousands of Lewis' constituents who haven't been reading this blog-- or the NY TIMES, etc-- it must have come as quite the shock. The article has it all. Not just the accusations and cool denials. This one lays the whole story out as it's unfolded over the last year: the FBI investigation into the ties between Lowery and Lewis, Lewis' relationship to the convicted and imprisoned bribe-taking Randy "Duke" Cunningham and how the same defense contractors who had been paying off Cunningham have also been paying off Lewis; Lewis' ties to Brent Wilkes and Tom Casey and an account of Casey's appearance on NBC-News where he explained how Lewis and Lowery had tried to shake him down for stock in his company in return for earmarks; the FBI subpoena-ing documents relating to Lewis' shady activities in forcing local governments in his district to funnel taxpayer dollars to Lowery in return for his (Lewis') services.

Lewis' Democratic opponent is political novice, Louie Contreras. If ever there was a David and Goliath scenario playing out in California, it's this sleepy race in the High Desert. When I asked Leigh how Contreras' campaign is progressing, she tells me that except for me telling her about it, she wouldn't know anyone is running against Lewis this year. (In 2004 no one bothered to.) When I looked at Contreras' website I found what looks like the tepid hand of the DCCC-- not handing out campaign funds, of course, just some losing advice about steering clear of all controversy in the hope that Lewis will lose the election on his own. Even under the "Ethics" section of the website, the statement doesn't seem likely to make anyone request an absentee ballot or mark election day down on the calendar: "I feel that I am a hard working American who believes that government and its services should always serve the people first. San Bernardino County has seen several cases of where government officials have placed the needs of companies and special interests ahead of the needs of the people. This is creating a level of distrust and cynicism of our elected officials that I feel needs to be drastically altered. I will work hard to earn your trust."

I'd say that Lewis' worried demeanor on the front page of THE SUN has more to do with law enforcement officials closing in on and shutting down his operations than on anything the Democratic Party is liable to throw at him.


Only 28% of eligible Californians turned out to vote in the primary. Maybe it was because the free-spending billionaire candidate for governor, Steve Westly, flooded the airwaves with unending, pounding negativity, just completely turning people off to the whole process. But even if that theory is true, it doesn't explain that Jerry Lewis' district had the lowest turnout of anyplace in the state. San Bernardino County was dead last of California's 58 counties: 20.8% and Riverside County was second worst with 21%. I've been scratching my head about how 43,527 people in the district decided to cast their votes in the uncontested Republican primary for Lewis. I mean, his family isn't that big. But then this morning I compared county numbers and I found something more interesting. Schwarzenegger got 69,274 votes in San Bernardino County. Lewis got 34,224. That means over 25,000 Republican primary voters who bothered to vote didn't vote for the guy who's been representing the district since the late 1970s. I guess that's a tiny step in the right direction.


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