Wanted to be sure you saw this scathing editorial from today’s Fresno Bee that excoriates Congressman TJ Cox for breaking ethics rules to get himself tickets for a family vacation in Yosemite.
“It looks like a congressman using his office to personal advantage. That is no way to represent the people.”
In case you missed it…
EDITORIAL: Want Special Tickets To Get Into Yosemite? If You’re Not TJ Cox, You’re Are Out Of Luck
August 7, 2020
It should have been a highlight of Rep. TJ Cox’s first term: President Trump this past week signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a measure the Fresno Democrat co-authored to give badly needed funding to national parks for deferred maintenance.
But instead, Cox was scrambling to answer questions about why he pushed to receive special entry passes for two vehicles into Yosemite National Park on the Fourth of July — one of the most popular days of the year to enter one of America’s most favored parks. The matter was brought to light by McClatchy reporter Kate Irby, who works in the D.C. bureau.
It was the latest in what has become a series of missteps that have marred Cox’s first two years in the House of Representatives. The Bee has taken Cox to task previously for improper business and tax practices, and has strongly urged him to clean up his act. Despite a legislative agenda that shows focused concern on issues important to his 21st District, Cox keeps stubbing his toe with mistakes.
Now he is locked in what might be the nation’s toughest congressional campaign in the November election, facing off against the man he barely beat in 2018, Republican David Valadao of Hanford. If Cox wants to win a second term, he cannot afford any gaffes. In several months the voters, not just The Bee, will be judging his behavior.
PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL
Congressional representatives can get access to federal facilities, including national parks, when needed in the scope of their professional duties. Otherwise, according to Park Service ethical guidelines, they are to be treated like the public.
Yosemite, like other popular national parks, is open but under restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Access under normal summers is tight given Yosemite’s popularity; it is even more limited this year.
National Park Service officials told Cox’s office that a lottery was to be held for vehicle entry tickets for the Fourth of July. The Park Service’s initial determination was that Cox’s visit would be personal and thus he would need to enter the lottery for the tickets. Only a few hundred per day are issued.
This despite the fact that Cox sits on the House’s Natural Resources Committee. (Ironically, he is part of the panel’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.)
But Cox made a follow-up phone call that changed how the Park Service viewed his trip. It became a professional venture that would allow him to enter the park on the holiday.
Typically, when congressional representatives visit a park, it is for fact-finding or self-education purposes, and involves park personnel who provide information on a tour. It is unclear whether that occurred when Cox went to Yosemite.
In a statement emailed to The Bee late Thursday, Cox defended the trip as following “proper procedures and protocols.”
“Like the president himself, and countless other elected officials and government employees who visited public lands over the July 4th holiday, Congressman Cox’s travel was entirely proper,” the statement from the campaign office said.
When Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, asked about Cox’s visit, Park Service officials said Cox wanted to use it for a video that would showcase the Great American Outdoors Act.
“But none of Cox’s official pages, like his congressional website or official Twitter or Facebook accounts, show a video or pictures from Yosemite after July 4,” notes Irby in her story. “When McClatchy asked Cox’s staff to provide any information about a video, they didn’t respond.”
However, Amanda Sands, Cox’s campaign manager, was quick to label Gosar’s inquiry. “This is a meritless partisan attack by the Trump administration and other desperate Republicans,” she said, without any elaboration or willingness to answer more questions.
There probably is some truth to her broadside. Gosar has asked the Park Service for correspondence with Cox that would show the justification for giving him the entry passes. Clearly, the GOP sees a chance to blast Cox in campaign ads over his trip.
DO THE RIGHT THING
Earlier this year the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien against Cox for $145,000 in unpaid taxes from 2016 and 2017. That was in addition to a lien filed by the state of California for $30,000 in back taxes.
Previously Cox had to pay $58,000 in back wages to some workers at a Canadian company where he had been a director. He also did not follow congressional rules for reporting holdings in companies he was involved in.
And shortly after entering Congress, The Bee learned that he wrongly had listed two homes — one in Fresno, the other in Maryland — as his primary residence, which is against federal tax rules.
When it comes to policy, Cox has been active in trying to secure new water supplies and clean drinking water for his Valley constituents. He helped get funding to set up “telehealth” clinics for those without good access to doctors. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, he has argued for better loans for small businesses and supported the emergency funding bills that were intended to help businesses, front-line emergency workers and the public.
But then he asks for special treatment to enter Yosemite on a high holiday. Maybe Cox will explain better why exactly he had to go that very day, instead of a week later, when it was calmer.
Otherwise, it looks like a congressman using his office to personal advantage. That is no way to represent the people.