Washington, 17 August 2012 — Poor Cliff Stearns. The soon-to-be-former Republican congressman from Florida found out Tuesday that voters in his district didn’t much care about the ruckus he’s been raising about the Obama administration and its funding of the failed Solyndra solar photovoltaic maker. The 24-year congressional vet, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, who has led the search for Solyndra’s secrets, lost a primary battle on Tuesday to a little-known veterinarian with the improbable name of Ted Yoho by some 800 votes.
Yoho, who had tea party backing according to news accounts, charged that Stearns was too consumed by inside-Washington concerns and had ceased to be a real Floridian. In an effective campaign ad, Yoho claimed, “Career politicians got us into this mess, but all they do is throw mud at each other.” Yoho promised that, if elected, he’d come home to Gainesville after eight years.
I can’t help an aside here. When my current congressman, Republican Roscoe Bartlett (a very nice fellow) was first elected, he vowed he would only serve three terms (six years). That was in 1992. At age 86, he’s now running for reelection to his 12th term, and will probably lose to a Democrat in a district gerrymandered this year specifically to render him vulnerable. So one might take term limit promises with a grain of politically cynical salt.
Explaining’s the defeat of Stearns, the Wall Street Journal observed, “Mr. Stearns had made headlines this year as the lead Republican on the investigations into the Obama Administration’s loan guarantee to failed solar company Solyndra, but was caught off guard by Mr. Yoho’s campaign’s charges that politicians’ complacency had failed to catch the Solyndra problem in time.”
Politico concluded that Stearns “didn’t take the challenge seriously enough and got outhustled by political newcomer Ted Yoho.” The district got rearranged during the recent Florida remap and Stearns apparently didn’t spend much time at home trying to engage the new folks in his district, who may never had heard of Solyndra. Or of Stearns, for that matter.
Stearns was a GOP heavyweight in Washington. He was a contender for the chairmanship of the energy committee when the Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 elections, but lost out to Michigan’s Fred Upton. Stearns got the important investigations subcommittee as a consolation prize. He attempted to use it to create a name for himself through the subcommittee’s investigative and subpoena powers, but that name apparently didn’t carry far enough beyond the Washington beltway.
Ironically, the election came just weeks after it transpired in bankruptcy court that taxpayers likely will get only about $24 million back from the $527 million loan that the Department of Energy gave to Solyndra in 2009 as part of the administration’s economic stimulus program.