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Published 2/20/2008 on the District Weekly  

Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook’s just-announced candidacy for Dana Rohrabacher’s 46th District seat in Congress could translate into some long-awaited movement for the Long Beach Breakwater.

“I was one of the original supporters of the effort to reconfigure the breakwater,” says Cook, who has distinguished herself as a practical environmentalist during two terms on the Huntington Beach city council and decades as a community activist. “I’ve been on board with this for 15 or 20 years, since [former Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club official] Gordon LeBedz was getting it started.”

Although Rohrabacher likes to call himself “The Surfin’ Congressman,” he has consistently rejected pleas from his Long Beach constituents to propose a reconnaissance (read: feasibility) study of breakwater reconfiguration to the Army Corps of Engineers. Those requests include two from the Long Beach City Council, the latest last July when it even voted to pay for the study with $100,000 of local money.

Instead, Long Beach has tried to proceed with a reconnaissance study of its own, only to discover that it is impossible without the participation of the Army Corps of Engineers, which will not even consider participating without a request from the local congressman, which brings the whole thing to full-and-frustrating circle.

Rohrabacher’s disinterest in Long Beach — so complete that some people suggest he doesn’t even know where the city is located — boils down to the simple fact that he doesn’t have to care. His political and geographic base is Orange County’s conservative Republicans; Long Beach is just a fragment of the creatively-drawn 46th district, which is dominated by Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa, but snakes along the local coastline — including the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — and up into Rancho Palos Verdes.

His manners blunted by nine terms in congress, Rohrabacher barely makes a secret of his apathy toward Long Beach, anymore. Fifth District City Councilmember Gerrie Schipske can attest to that after traveling with a Long Beach delegation to Washington, D.C., to meet with Rohrabacher last year .

“He told us, ‘Don’t expect me to carry your water,’” recalls Schipske, who went public with the dis on her blog. Rohrabacher quickly denied making the statement, but Schipske is adamant. “He denied he said it — but he said it.”

Cook, who has often dealt with Rohrabacher in the course of her work with the Huntington Beach City Council, is not surprised by the story.

“That’s the experience we’ve had with Dana, too — whether in local government or just as citizens in his district,” Cook says. “He’s got his … his … whatever he believes in … and if you fall outside that he doesn’t have time for you, doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t know how to collaborate.”

Cook is a graduate of Long Beach State and believes she can reintegrate the city’s issues into the 46th district by using the same approach that has enabled her to build consensus, win elections and accumulate a list of quality-of-life achievements for constituents who are mostly not of her political party.

“Local issues don’t know political parties,” she says. “Wasn’t it [legendary New York City Mayor] Fiorello LaGuardia who said there is no Democrat or Republican way of filling potholes? We need help in Congress because this area does not get its fair share of federal dollars. We are a donor region — we pay more in taxes than we receive — and it is a major complaint of local governments.”

If elected, Cook would take the request for a reconnaissance study of the Long Beach Breakwater to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“What’s the harm of studying the issue,” she wonders, “if its going to help Long Beach and the economy?”

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