Let me give credit where credit is due: Mark Udall made the right choice on this issue. We need a federal government that is more frugal and more transparent in its spending. But one has to ask what took Udall more than 9 years in Congress to come to this conclusion.
Could it have something to do with the favorable political winds blowing in the anti-pork, anti-earmark direction? Or something to do with the fact an election looms less than 8 months away in which he seeks statewide support in a close-heat Senate election? Udall can't expect an easy sweep to power from his native liberal Boulder this time.
These are fair and legitimate questions. However they may be answered, the fact Mark Udall is an anti-pork "Johnny-come-lately" does not stack him up well against his Republican opponent Bob Schaffer. In a race with some of the clearest contrasts between two major candidates, here's one more.
Bob Schaffer came to Washington, DC, as a freshman Congressman opposing earmarks when the concept wasn't altogether popular. From the story dated August 22, 1998:
Freshman GOP Rep. Bob Schaffer represents a sprawling congressional district in eastern Colorado, where ranchers and farmers can drive dozens of miles to buy a quart of milk, visit the doctor or shop at a hardware store. Good roads are important.Interestingly, almost a decade ago, there was a close alignment of the now-GOP Presidential candidate (McCain) and Colorado U.S. Senate candidate (Schaffer) on the issue of pork-busting. They were both ahead of the curve as genuine, principled leaders fighting untold millions of dollars in government waste.
But when the massive highway bill (PL 105-178) was pieced together earlier this year, Schaffer was not among those lining up to bring federally funded road and bridge projects to his district. The rigidly conservative Schaffer did not come to Congress to bring pet projects back home.
"I asked for zero . . . largely because I thought the practice of pork spending . . . was unethical and is exactly what's sick about Washington," Schaffer said. "So I just resolved early on that I wouldn't take anything."
His reluctance to bring home the bacon has earned him some flak from his Democratic opponent in the November elections, former Fort Collins Mayor Susan Kirkpatrick, but Schaffer shrugs it off. And he notes that his Fort Collins "hometown newspaper, which is pretty liberal and usually opposes me, agreed with me on this one."
To the dismay of self-described "pork-busters" such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Schaffer is the exception, not the rule.
And last week, Mark Udall turned a new leaf after 9 years of playing the Congressional earmark game. We welcome Rep. Udall to the party of fiscal responsibility, even if he is late in coming. Isn't it fair for voters to wonder how serious Udall's newfound anti-pork conviction might be, especially when it's compared to Bob Schaffer's longstanding record of leadership?
The contrasts are clear, indeed. Washington insider Udall appears to be forsaking pork and earmarks to save himself the embarrassment of having to defend the practice on the campaign trail. But regardless, Schaffer the reform-minded outsider with a strong track record is the real anti-pork, anti-earmark candidate.