Article Last Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2006 - 8:30:07 AM PST
Congressman Thompson has many answers, not all of them popular
By FRANK HARTZELL Of the Advocate
When Mike Thompson's mom first brought him to the Little River Inn, it was
to soothe the allergies of the future congressman. The family stayed in a
rustic cabin and walked on the beach until young Mike's allergies got
On Thursday night, a much more robust Thompson held a town hall meeting at a
much more glamorous Little River Inn. Thompson rejected political advice
that he not tell people he was once an allergic little boy because that made
him sound like a "sissy," Thursday's standing room-only crowd of about 150
Soldier straight in his blue suit for two solid hours, Thompson literally
stood out in a crowd that leaned further to the left and further toward the
casual than their representative.
While nobody was likely to think of the decorated Vietnam veteran as a
sissy, he managed a politician's finesse while not always saying what the
crowd wanted to hear.
"He did a good job of addressing some of the tougher questions from some of
the radicals," said Fort Bragg High student Jasper Henderson after the
meeting. Henderson is an intern in Thompson's office. "He isn't exactly a
radical congressman but doesn't make them angry either," he added.
Thursday's was a true town hall meeting, with the constituents doing most of
the talking. Thompson answered "questions" that sometimes bordered on
"I was impressed with his knowledge and the way he answered questions," said
Carolyn Zeitler, who is a campaign manager for former Assemblywoman Patricia
Wiggins, who plans to be a candidate for the local State Senate seat now
held by Wes Chesbro. "People would present these monologues, and he just
focused in on the important aspects of it and got to the point," Zeitler
With two people waving "Impeach Bush" signs, Thompson said there wasn't
sufficient evidence or votes to support impeachment. The Democrat also said
Republicans had won the 2004 election (but not the 2000 election) "fair and
square." He chided the crowd when political stereotypes and common
assumptions were thrust at him.
Although he opposed CAFTA because of environmental and labor issues,
Thompson said he was a "free trader." He even rebuffed a slam at the
practice of "pork-barelling."
"What is a pork barrel in one place may be filet mignon in the 1st
Congressional district," Thompson said. "I'm sure Fort Bragg was very happy
to get that $750,000."
He was referring to federal funding for trails at the old Georgia-Pacific
millsite. Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner had started the meeting by praising
Thompson and giving him a plaque for bringing the money to the city.
"Whoever said you can't solve problems by throwing money at them was talking
about somebody else's problems," he said.
Zeitler said the defense of pork barrels was Thompson's way of educating
constituents about the realities of Congress.
"He's in Washington, and we are not. It's a constant power struggle where
compromise and negotiation are needed every day. I have a strong feeling
he's very good at it."
Thompson talked in depth about subjects ranging from African politics to the
baffling complexity of the new federal prescription drug plan, which has
stressed out many constituents.
"People who are computer literate, who can navigate through every imaginable
program, are telling me they are ready to throw up their hands when it comes
to dealing with the prescription drug measure," Thompson said.
His office provides tracts that explain the new Medicare reform, the
creation of which Thompson called a dark moment in history.
When Peter Warner asked Thompson about overwhelming corporate influence on
the political process, the congressman said undue influences get a hold when
the public isn't paying attention.
"More people have to learn to care about the runaway deficit and less about
the runaway bride," he said. He mentioned the Michael Jackson trial as the
type of ridiculous distraction that inhibits intelligent discourse, and thus
a functioning representative democracy.
"We need to refocus the priorities of the American people," he said.
Thompson presented his plan for Iraqi withdrawal, saying Congress should
pledge never to build military bases and promise publicly that Iraqi oil
will be the property of the Iraqi people.
Thompson believes those actions would slow the number of volunteers coming
from around the Middle East to help the Iraq insurgency and allow an
aggressive troop exit to begin this summer, when the Iraqi constitution
amendment process is complete.
Tom Cahill of Fort Bragg, a member of the Veterans for Peace, presented
Thompson a copy of a film called "Beyond Treason" by the Gulf War Veterans
He challenged Thompson to investigate whether the deaths of 10,000 to
15,000 Gulf War (1991) veterans was related to the military's use of
Thompson said he has co-sponsored a bill related to the depleted uranium
investigation. Cahill spotted a tiny pin on Thompson's lapel and interrupted
the congressman saying, "Is that a combat infantryman's pin?"
"Never leave home without it," retorted a smiling Thompson.
Thompson served in combat with the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant/platoon
leader with the 173rd Airborne Brigade where he was wounded and received a
Nothing ever enraged Thompson as much as when right wing talk show hosts and
the Republican National Committee called him a "traitor" for his pre-war
investigatory trip to Iraq.
At a time when many Democrats were backing the president and when television
networks were boosting the war, Thompson found no imminent threat to the
United States from Iraq and no tie between Iraq and Al Qaida. Thompson's
controversial position was mostly proven true later.
"I went to war, I know how tragic war really is. I came back from Vietnam
fairly shot up. I have a keen interest in making sure my kids and your kids
don't have to go through that. It is going to be the last possible
alternative as long as I have a vote," he said.
Thompson was first elected to Congress in 1998. The district includes all of
Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, as well as portions
of Yolo and Sonoma counties. Prior to serving in Congress, Thompson was a
state senator. His quick wit has grown to include more humor over the years.
When the St. Helenan was teased about his famous support for the wine
industry, he responded that was OK "as long as you spell that w-i-n-e."
Thompson said interest on the national debt is now $1 billion per day. The
war is expected to cost $1 to $2 trillion, he said, adding, "Nobody uses the
word trillion but government. Scientists don't use it. Trillion is truly an
He favors bolstering border patrols but opposed a recent immigration reform
measure because it failed to include a guest-worker provision and because it
created 11 million new felons in the United States with no funding to pay to
prosecute, arrest or defend them in court.
When one woman asked him about weather experiments and the infamous jet
cloud trails in the Mendocino County sky, Thompson said he has investigated
the often-raised issue and will continue to do so.
Unlike other politicians, Thompson didn't roll his eyes or ignore the
question. He recalled how one constituent complaint led to the revelation
that the military had used trace nerve gas and other toxins in aerial
spraying of barges transporting animals off the coast of San Diego.
"I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I will also tell you that since going
to Congress, nothing would surprise me."
Thompson, who seemed capable of answering questions on every issue, was
caught short by an inquiry on a bill that would create instant runoff voting
(IRV), which has been touted locally and around the world by groups
advocating more representative Democracy and the creation of a genuine third
party in America.
Instant runoff voting asks the voter to rank the candidates in order of
preference. Benefits including giving voters a wider range of choices,
eliminating the "spoiler" factor with third-party candidates, saving
taxpayer money, and decreasing negative campaigning.
Thompson said he was able to be in Little River because Republicans had
adjourned Congress until early February to give indicted majority leader Tom
DeLay more time to fight felony charges. He said there "had never been a
majority leader as influential" and doubted whether DeLay could ever return
to the rank and file in Congress as has been discussed.
Thompson refused to attack lobbyists as an institution, saying there are
good and bad, "short, tall, fat and skinny" people of all professions. He
said the recent scandals, including the guilty plea of Republican lobbyist
Jack Abramoff, illustrate the need for full disclosure and public scrutiny
for all such transactions. While all of Abramoff 's personal contributions
went to Republicans, several Democrats, including Thompson got contributions
from groups Abramoff did work for.
Thompson is donating $1,500 he received in campaign contributions from the
Agua Caliente Band of Cuahilla Indians to a scholarship fund to avoid any
possible connection to Abramoff, the Eureka Times-Standard reported
Thompson received the $1,500 from the tribe in 2000 and 2002, and at that
time had not heard of Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to offering
money and other treats for political favors. Thompson said he always dealt
with another tribal representative. But because there was overlap Abramoff
worked for the tribe when Thompson received his contributions Thompson has
decided to donate $1,500, the newspaper reported.
Thursday's packed house included more than a dozen Fort Bragg High students,
who earn school credit from civics teacher George Arlie for attending such
real life civics lessons.
A videotape of the event will air on local public access television, MCCET
Channel 3, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.