Jeff Denham’s Damage Control, by Bruce Frohman

Trouble on the Border!
Trouble on the Border!

When California politicians get in trouble, immigration becomes the issue that covers all their sins with a cloud of good intentions that somehow never materialize at election time. Here, Bruce Frohman catches Jeff Denham trying to make voters forget the government shutdown by switching his focus to immigration.

A recent editorial in the Modesto Bee roundly criticized Republican Jeff Denham’s October votes on shutting down the federal government and then voting a second time to keep it shut down.

The editorial must have been a wakeup call to Mr. Denham, alerting him to the fact that  his seat is endangered in the next election. The Bee had previously endorsed him. Citizens have lambasted him for his votes. Now, the Congressman seems to be trying to raise his profile and rehabilitate his image in his district with a wholehearted effort at self-promotion and political makeover.

Congressman Denham is now putting out regular newsletters, something most politicians don’t do unless they know that they have become unpopular. The newsletters are folksy in tone, congenial, and designed to create a “good guy” image. He is also portraying himself as a hard worker in behalf of his constituents, a man who enjoys the gritty experience of meeting with the people at community town halls. He said in a recent newsletter that he really enjoyed his visit to a Turlock High School.

Denham’s Changing Priorities

Previously, Aid to Veterans was the number one priority of the Congressman. That issue appealed to his conservative base. Now, Immigration Reform appears to have become Mr. Denham’s highest priority. Not only does he advocate reform, but he is “reaching across the aisle” to compromise with Democrats. He is appearing to compromise by supporting a plan which pundits say is already dead in the current year’s Congress.

By supporting a dead issue, he can claim the mantle of moderate Republican while actually accomplishing nothing that would upset his political base. He disguises his true radical agenda while fooling his constituents into thinking that he has changed into a reasonable compromiser. And in the unlikely event that an immigration bill comes to the floor, he can still vote it down, saying that one obscure provision was objectionable.

Mr. Denham’s performance has been so convincing that one of his conservative supporters wrote an opinion piece in the local paper excoriating Denham for his apparent change of position.  Certainly, the false criticism will help improve Denham’s image in the eyes of moderates with short memories about the Congressman’s voting record.

The Master of Accomplishing Nothing

Reading Mr. Denham’s newsletter, it is hard to discern that he is actually accomplishing something constructive in the Congress.  Gathering opinions is not legislating or solving problems. Talking up immigration reform does not get legislation passed. He doesn’t discuss his role in ongoing budget talks or raising the debt ceiling.

Congressman Denham continues his successful past practices of telling people what they want to hear, taking credit for accomplishments he didn’t achieve on his own, and not really accomplishing anything of value for his district.

The Political Chameleon

Next election, will the Republican Party run a moderate candidate against him in the primary? Or will the party let him run unopposed? The Democrats have already announced that Mr. Denham will have opposition in the election. With the help Denham has given the opposition in the form of radical votes to shut down the government, his reelection isn’t assured. By starting his campaign a year in advance of the election, he may hold onto his seat as the ultimate political chameleon.



Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
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