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Earlier this month, Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson stopped by the Star offices to catch us up on what’s going on in Washington, D.C.

We talked about the work the House Democrats are doing … and how 500 bills are stalled in the U.S. Senate, at the feet of Sen. Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Kentucky); the federal government’s role in combating wildfires, especially pertinent in light of the devastating Kincade Fire; and the current impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, including a comparison of Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

The impeachment hearings have captivated the nation. Certainly they have taken over the political conversation.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee is in charge of the hearings. Although Thompson served on that committee for eight years, he now serves on the House Ways & Means Committee, which also has a role in the impeachment hearings.

Thompson said, “There’s an inquiry right now that has come about because of what is alleged to be inappropriate behavior on the part of the president, withholding congressionally appropriated money to a foreign government, who is an ally, who is really under the thumb of Russian threat, in exchange for that foreign government to provide political favors for this president. That’s what started this whole thing, as you know.”

The quid pro quo was giving money to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for an investigation of Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Republicans and the president have stated there is no “quid pro quo,” and therefore it’s not an issue. Thompson said, “Subsequent witnesses have come forward and said there is a quid pro quo, and now even the Republicans are saying, yeah, it’s a quid pro quo but the whistleblower wasn’t on the phone, he didn’t know.”

Along with the House Intelligence Committee, others investigating the president include the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

Thompson said the Ways and Means Committee has a constitutional duty to do congressional oversight, including of the executive branch. The committee has sought copies of the president’s tax records but “he has prevented that from happening,” Thompson said.

It’s sad that the president has “prevented us from doing any of that oversight by precluding people from coming forward to testify, withholding information that has been requested, even withholding his tax records, which clearly the Ways and Means Committee has the authority to get,” Thompson said. “What’s the old saying, if you don’t have anything to hide, don’t hide stuff.”

The Congressman said he doesn’t know what the final outcome of the articles of impeachment will be, but he added, “From my limited information, I can’t imagine obstruction not being a part of any impeachment efforts” as well as quid pro quo and maybe receiving emoluments from a foreign government.

Trump versus Clinton

Thompson was elected to Congress in November 1998 and didn’t take office until after the House had impeached President Bill Clinton. Today, he said, “It’s pretty interesting. If you look at somebody who lied about quid pro quo, now it becomes pretty obvious there’s a quid pro quo, to withhold congressionally appropriated funding for defense purposes to an ally.” Juxtapose that, he said, with Clinton, who lied about having sex with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. Clinton flat out said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

When Thompson was first running for Congress, Texas Governor Ann Richards hosted a party for him in Santa Rosa. People there were upset with Clinton, and Richards addressed the audience. She said, “Women in this room, raise your hands if you have never been lied to by a man about sex.”

Every Republican voted to impeach Clinton and he was impeached, but he wasn’t convicted in the Senate, so he wasn’t removed from office.

Although it’s not a tough sell to impeach President Trump in Thompson’s 5th Congressional District, which is largely Democratic, there are 434 other Congressional districts, a bigger audience all across America, that need to decide the issue of the president’s impeachment. “Even now with clearly an impeachable violation, still the American people are split on this,” Thompson said.

The vote to impeach in the House needs to be taken sooner rather than later, the congressman added, but, “We need to bring this to the American people and it needs to be done soon.”

Firehose of incidents

Thompson also spoke of the federal role in power shutoffs, fire funding and continuing wildfires, and the Kincade Fire.

To Thompson’s knowledge, the only federal government oversight of PG&E is approval of PG&E’s license for its big transmission lines. Thompson believes that the renewal process may be a hammer to get PG&E to install better equipment or underground wires where they can. Thompson’s staff is looking at that right now. His staff is also considering legislation to require utility companies to house people in hotels if their utilities are shut off.

In October, many residents in Lake County had eight consecutive days with no power. Because many rely on wells, they had no water, either. Thompson said, “I rattled PG&E’s cage about it. I appreciate the fact that they brought thousands of blankets to give to Lake County,” but, he added, “I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know if you’ve ever slept in a 30-degree house with no heat. All the blankets in the world will only help so much.”

On fighting fires, Thompson said, “We do a lot in regard to monies for California in fighting the fires. I think we need to do more in preventing fires. We made some major gains after the 2017 fires in doing that.

“We don’t manage the federal forests, but as we all know, these weren’t forest fires that hit us. These were urban interface oak woodland fires,” Thompson said.

It’s important to point out that private property is burning, he said, but there’s another problem. Some property owners don’t keep their land cleared of weeds and shrubs, producing easy fodder for wildland fires.

On Pacific Gas & Electric

Thompson also addressed PG&E’s efforts in cutting down trees and clearing their power lines. “Cutting down trees caused a regular shitstorm,” he said. “We got calls in our Napa office, people demanding that PG&E had no right to cut down these trees.” Those people told Thompson’s staff they didn’t want to look at barren land around the wires. “People were hot. They didn’t want this stuff done. It was a mess,” the Congressman added.

Another mess was when PG&E shut off the power in October prior to the Kincade Fire. Tons of people were calling Thompson’s office and people were stopping him in the stores, telling him there was no wind in their area. “Maybe not,” Thompson responded, “but that power has to come to your house over high lines at the top of the mountains.”

What most people in the Napa Valley can’t understand is that if the winds had gone a different direction during the Kincade Fire, there would be no St. Helena and no Calistoga today, Thompson said. “Spring Mountain is terribly overgrown, it would be a funnel right into St. Helena.”

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David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, Gail Showley serves on the Star’s editorial board.

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st