Over the years, California has sent to Congress its fair share of outstanding people, men and women of stature, Republicans and Democrats alike. Any list would include people such as Hiram Johnson, Thomas Kuchel, John Moss, Bob Matsui and Dianne Feinstein, among others.
Moss, for instance, represented Sacramento in the House of Representatives for 25 years and made his mark by fathering the federal Freedom of Information Act and other far-reaching measures to hold government accountable and protect consumers.
The Freedom of Information Act, alone, was enough to move the late Democratic congressman into the ranks of legendary statesmen.
Critics complained of his tendency to ignore the niceties of congressional protocol in favor of speaking his mind, to which Moss said when he retired in 1978, "Too many people want to be popular around here. I don't really give a damn. If it's the right vote, it will become popular."
Kuchel (pronounced Keek-uh) equally qualifies for statesman status and, as a moderate Republican, would today be an endangered species in his own party, which has moved so far to the reactionary right that he would not recognize it.
In a decade in the Senate as minority whip, he was instrumental in putting into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And he declined to support fellow party members he considered too far to the right, including Ronald Reagan, when Reagan ran for governor in 1966, and Barry Goldwater when he ran for president in 1964.
"Progressive Republicans brought to politics the philosophy of governing for the many," he once said in an interview after he had left the Senate. "What comes particularly to my mind is Medicare. If it weren't for Medicare today, there would be tens of thousands of Americans living in the poorhouse, with no care."
Unfortunately, compared to such political giants, the two names of California representatives much in the news lately are two whose names will never be synonymous with the word "statesman," Republicans Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Darrell Issa of Vista in Southern California.
McClintock, who has made a career out of voting "no" on virtually anything designed to help people, is an anti-tax zealot who has spent most of his working life being paid by taxpayers and who, through the misfortune of redistricting, now has Yosemite National Park in his district.
The congressman, who by the way does not live in that district, apparently considers it more important to be able to buy an ice cream cone in the park than to preserve its natural beauty and the natural corridor of the Merced River.
McClintock calls preservation plans "radical" and suggests they are the work of the "most radical and nihilistic fringe of the environmental left." He wrongly charges that various recreational amenities available to visitors will be "dramatically reduced."
Given his anti-government, pro-free enterprise record, it would not surprise me if McClintock favored selling naming rights to Half Dome or erecting neon billboards along the road to Glacier Point.
Issa, meanwhile, continues in his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee to grasp for a scandal that he can wrap around the neck of the Obama White House, more intent in scoring political points than in seeking any kind of truth.
"I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks," he has been quoted as saying. "It'll be good theater."
Issa came to Congress in 2001 after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1998 and after a career peddling car alarms that made him a multimillionaire. Selling car alarms was an interesting career choice, given his early brushes with the law, which include auto theft charges, for which he was never convicted, and a concealed weapons charge, for which he was given six months probation.
For the most part, Issa's investigative efforts to date have yielded little or nothing. His latest and still ongoing probe involves the Internal Revenue Service and whether it was unfairly targeting tea party groups under direction from the White House. That has pretty much fizzled in the face of disclosures that liberal and/or progressive groups also were targeted.
Meanwhile, one of his aides told an interviewer that he was "completely focused on making Darrell Issa a household name," and Issa remains a major contributor to congressional dysfunction.
Etched into the stone at the State Library and Courts Building in Sacramento is an epigraph, "Give Me Men to Match My Mountains." Moss and Kuchel fit the bill. Sad to say, others sometimes barely match molehills.
William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor for The Bee.