Congressman Christopher Cox is reportedly on his way to San Francisco, and no, despite persistent, longtime rumors, his first stop won't be the Castro district.
President George W. Bush is expected to soon formally nominate the natty Newport Beach Republican to a lifetime appointment on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in the City by the Bay.
The conservative politician's new job would put him in a position to influence major court decisions for decades. The 9th circuit is the nation's largest and most influential federal appeals panel, weighing legal matters in nine Western states.
It is unknown how Cox fits into Bush's promise to appoint the most qualified candidates to high judicial positions. Cox—a corporate securities lawyer before he went to Congress in 1989—has never worked as a judge. He did, however, give legal advice during the 1980s to his buddy William E. Cooper, Orange County's most notorious convicted securities swindler of senior citizens.
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Reporters at the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register routinely depict the seven-term congressman as a thoughtful, nonpartisan sophisticate who shuns the media spotlight in favor of long nights working in his Capitol Hill office with milk and cookies. (This is not an exaggeration. See my story "Cox and Bull" in the Weekly's new "Cox in a Box" web archive at www.ocweekly.com.)
While Cox is undoubtedly intelligent, he is also one of the more ruthlessly ambitious and egotistical members of Congress. He has craved a seat in the U.S. Senate but withdrawn from three races at the first sign of opposition. After Newt Gingrich resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1998, Cox unsuccessfully worked behind-the-scenes for the job. Last year, the Minnesota native hoped to become Bush's vice presidential running mate, but early on, a Bush insider rejected him as "politically tone deaf." In 1999, Cox touted himself as an international statesman while—as we would later learn—shamelessly smearing Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee with unfounded espionage charges. He managed to grab a few more headlines during the episode by hysterically claiming that Americans should be worried about Chinese missile attacks. Cox hoped to parlay the China debacle into a post as the No. 1 man in Bush's Central Intelligence Agency. That, too, was a no-go.
Cox's policy stances are as notable as his personality. He is known for his near-obsessive desire to restrict the ability of injured citizens to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing. In the early 1990s, Cox's pro-corporate stances were considered so extreme that even fellow Republicans asked him to tone down his anti-consumer rhetoric. You wouldn't know it from reading the Times or Register, but shortly thereafter, local residents formed the "Chris Cox Cruelty Society" to honor the congressman's callous, pro-corporate stances in medical malpractice cases.
News of Cox's expected departure for San Francisco put his 47th Congressional District—California's most Republican—into a political tizzy. Possible replacements for Cox include Tustin millionaire businessman Mark Chapin Johnson; former Assemblyman Scott Baugh; state Senator Dick Ackerman; Santa Ana City Councilman Brett Franklin; Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer; former Glendale Congressman James Rogan (of Clinton-impeachment fame); retired mobile-home tycoon John Crean; and bitter, defeated ex-Congressman Bob Dornan.