In last week’s cover story on Darrell Issa, the conservative California Republican who’s become D.C.’s surprising best friend in Congress, I highlighted the good rapport between Issa and Mayor Vince Gray—-the two even watched a hockey game together in Gray’s suite at the Verizon Center. But when it comes to nongovernmental D.C. voting rights advocates, Issa’s been less chummy. While Issa’s Republican predecessor as House Oversight Committee chairman, Tom Davis of Virginia, and his staff met regularly with the group DC Vote, for instance, Issa has never met with the group. And according to DC Vote spokesman James Jones, discussions with Issa’s staff “have not proven to be very productive,” although DC Vote appreciates Issa’s “sincere” work on behalf of the District.
So how do you gain access to the man with tremendous power over the District if you’re not, say, the mayor or Council chair? The answer appears to be: by being Republican.
D.C.’s most active Republican these days, Pat Mara, who serves on the State Board of Education and is running in the April at-large Council election, has had several lengthy meetings with Issa and emails and texts regularly with his staff.
“I’m obviously not the mayor of the District, but I can get meetings with Republicans on the Hill,” Mara says. “The advantage I have on the Hill is, I can meet with anyone up there and say what virtually everyone in the District would want me to say, because I can come at it from the perspective of a Republican.”
In his meetings with congressional Republicans, Mara is sure to couch his appeals for D.C. rights in terms favored by conservatives, and to stay from hot-button social issues that could turn Republicans off.
“As soon as budget autonomy becomes like abortion or some other issue, we’re going to lose. That’s why we have to make it about federalism,” Mara says. “My general message is that message of ‘leave us alone,’ which is a fairly Republican or libertarian message.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery