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Controversial House Resources chair loses seat

Jerry McNerney was an unlikely candidate to take down a powerful GOP committee chairman, but Rep. Richard Pombo had lots of enemies, especially among environmentalists.
First lady Laura Bush had helped campaign for Rep. Richard Pombo a week before the election.Ben Margot / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jerry McNerney was an unlikely candidate to take down a powerful GOP committee chairman.

He has never held elected office. He has written novels and a satire diet book, and is a wind energy consultant who named his daughter Windy. He started several companies that haven't gone anywhere, has almost no income and lives off a family trust.

McNerney did not even have the support of Democratic Party leaders in the primary, and he lost badly two years ago to the man he soundly defeated Tuesday: House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy. He beat Pombo 53 percent to 47 percent.

The unconventional resume didn't matter as national environmental groups made the race a referendum on Pombo, angry over the incumbent's support for energy and gas drilling, privatizing public lands and rewriting the Endangered Species Act to add protections for landowners.

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups spent more than $1 million to defeat Pombo and declared victory when they succeeded.

McNerney, on the other hand, admitted he had to get used to the win. Addressing jubilant supporters early Wednesday he promised to fight for clean air and clean water. "We won!" he announced.

"Before I got up on stage, I hadn't gotten used to the title (congressman), but now I feel a lot of responsibility," McNerney, 55, told The Associated Press later. "It's definitely an honor, and know I have the people to answer to."

McNerney, who was born in Albuquerque, N.M., has a doctorate in math from the University of New Mexico. He worked at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque and later at a wind power company.

From his California home in Dublin, he founded a company called HawtPower with hopes of manufacturing wind turbines. But he had trouble attracting capital and abandoned the venture to run for Congress.

McNerney says he was inspired to run two years ago by his son, Michael, an Air Force officer who suggested McNerney could serve his country in office. He ran in the 2004 primary as a write-in candidate, losing badly to Pombo 39 percent to 61 percent.

After Tuesday's victory was secured, McNerney got a congratulatory call from former President Clinton. His son, Michael, also spoke briefly with Clinton.

"We don't come from a political family at all," said Michael. "I was on the phone with him (Clinton) and thinking, 'How did we end up here?'"