0

Pelosi names Garamendi to Agriculture Committee

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today named Rep. John Garamendi to the House Agriculture Committee for the final few weeks of this 112th Congress, even as the House might take up a big farm bill during the lame-duck session.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Garamendi, D-Fairfield, expect approval of the assignment at Wednesday’s House Democratic Caucus meeting. This is a committee seat that was left vacant in August by the sudden retirement of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.

John Garamendi“I didn’t enter Congress to twiddle my thumbs and sit quietly in the background. I must be where the needs of my district are and that’s in the final negotiations for the five-year farm bill,” Garamendi said in a news release Tuesday. “I want to thank Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi for giving me this opportunity to serve where I am needed.”

He said passing a good farm bill is important to the family farmers in his newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, where he won re-election this month by turning away a challenge from Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, a Republican. But the food aid contained in the bill will provide vital help to struggling families across the state, he added.

“As a farmer and rancher, I know we need to get this done, and I will work around the clock to make sure California specialty crops and commodity programs are protected,” he said.

House rules dictate that joining the Agriculture Committee requires Garamendi to resign from the House Natural Resources Committee, which he did today; he’ll continue serving on the Armed Services Committee in this lame-duck session. Committee assignments for the new 113th Congress, which begins at noon on Thursday, Jan. 3, have not been announced yet.

1

Pete Stark must close his office this Friday

Rep. Pete Stark, defeated in this month’s election by a fellow Democrat after 40 years in the House, must close his Capitol Hill office Friday.

Debbie Curtis, his chief of staff, said House rules require lame ducks to be out of their offices by Dec. 1, and Stark’s shutdown is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday. The computers there are networked to those in Stark’s district office, so those will go offline, too.

Stark, D-Fremont, is being assigned a cubby in the Longworth House Office Building with a computer, two chairs and a phone forwarded from Stark’s existing office line, she said.

“We will still be checking our voice mail,” Curtis said, and should Congress be ready to act on the so-called “fiscal cliff” in the next few weeks, “He’ll be there and he’ll vote, he’ll just go to the floor and work from there … He can absolutely vote without having his office.”

The House’s calendar shows the week of Dec. 3 is a D.C. work week, with votes possible from 6:30 p.m. Monday through 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6; the following week can see votes from 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11 through 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14.

Stark’s staff has posted this notice to some of the constituent service sections of his website:

I’ve been honored to represent the East Bay in Congress for the last 40 years. As you may know, I was not re-elected. My office will be closing on November 30th.
[snip]
The 13th Congressional District will be divided among Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Congressman-elect Eric Swalwell. You should ascertain which district you now reside in and reach out to the appropriate office based on that information. Please visit: http://www.acgov.org/ms/addresslookup/ to verify your new district.

Curtis said constituents with current case work have been contacted, and if they so desire, their information is being passed along to Lee, Honda or Swalwell; also, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are helping 15th Congressional District constituents during the transition.

“We’re trying to make it the least inconvenient for people that we can,” she said.

Stark was defeated by Eric Swalwell, a Dublin city councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, who is still attending freshman orientation and hiring staff but has not yet been assigned a permanent office. The new, 113th Congress takes office at noon on Thursday, Jan. 3.

0

West Coast Senators urge probe of gas prices

The West Coast’s U.S. Senators today asked the Justice Department to do a refinery-by-refinery investigation into why gas prices spiked to more than $4 a gallon during May and October.

The letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder from senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash., asks that the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group probe any possible market manipulation or false reporting.

“A McCullough Research report released Nov. 15th in conjunction with a California State Senate hearing on California gas prices revealed information that showed that the price spikes in May and October occurred while crude oil prices were declining, inventories were increasing, and possibly in conjunction with misleading market-making information,” they wrote.

The report they cited found that some West Coast oil refineries may have been producing oil last May despite public reports that they were shuttered for maintenance. For example, McCullough’s analysis found that the Chevron refinery in Richmond emitted byproducts of petroleum production throughout May – yet public reports claim the refinery shut down production from May 12 to May 26.

The report found the October price spike added up to a 66 cent-per-gallon windfall profit for oil companies—or about $25 million a day. The difference between what drivers actually paid and what they should have paid exceeded $1 billion.

“West Coast families and businesses are reeling from elevated and extremely volatile prices at the pump, impacting family budgets, inflation levels, and overall economic activity,” the senators wrote. “We believe this situation demands the attention from the Working Group established in April 2011 specifically to ‘monitor oil and gas markets for potential violations of criminal or civil laws to safeguard against unlawful consumer harm.’ ”

The working group includes representatives from the Department of Justice, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and Energy.

Feinstein in August had urged the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation of the sudden rise in case prices.

Read the full text of the senators’ letter, after the jump:
Continue Reading

5

Pete Stark to speak at American Atheists meeting

Rep. Pete Stark is on the verge of leaving the House after 40 years, but that doesn’t mean he’s not in demand.

Stark, who had been Congress’ only avowed atheist, will be a featured speaker at the 2013 convention of American Atheists, the group announced today.

“Congressman Stark proved that the assertion that one needs to be religious to be elected is false – atheists CAN and DO get elected to Congress – we just need to do it more often,” American Atheists President David Silverman said in a news release.

Stark, D-Fremont, announced his atheism in 2007, and in early 2011 introduced a resolution designating February 12, 2011 as Darwin Day. H.Res. 81 stated, “Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity.”

Pete Stark (photo by Aric Crabb) “Congressman Stark has never apologized for being nonreligious, and was re-elected again and again, as an atheist, based on the issues and his record,” American Atheists Managing Director Amanda Knief said in the news release. “His speech, which will focus on atheism and politics, will surely be an exciting and unique experience, well suited to our 50th Anniversary Convention.”

About 1,500 people are expected to attend the convention March 28-31 at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas, the city in which Madalyn Murray O’Hair founded the organization in 1963.

Stark was unseated in this month’s election by fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor.

1

Eric Swalwell hires chief of staff

Congressman-elect Eric Swalwell has hired another Bay Area lawmaker’s aide to be his chief of staff.

Ricky LeRicky Xuan Le currently works as deputy chief of staff and counsel for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and as a staffer with the House Administration Committee, handling federal election and House oversight matters.

“Ricky brings more than six years experience working on Capitol Hill and has strong ties to the Bay Area,” Swalwell said in a news release. “He understands the needs of the district and my desire to have an office operation focused on our district and being accessible to constituents.”

Le earlier served for three years as executive director of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation, advising the state’s 34 Democratic House members on statewide policy. He also has worked on various local, state and federal campaigns.

Born in Da Nang, Vietnam, Le came to the United States as a political refugee at age five, and became a U.S. citizen in 2002. He grew up in San Jose, and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, earlier this month indicated he’s hiring Shannon Fuller of Orinda as his district director.

4

Feds seek eight years for campaign embezzler

Federal prosecutors say Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee should serve eight years and one month in federal prison for having embezzled more than $7 million from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other prominent California elected officials.

Durkee, 59, of Long Beach, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in Sacramento.

“Over the course of approximately 12 years, the defendant misappropriated millions of dollars from clients, used the money for her personal and business expenses, and prepared false campaign disclosure reports to hide the theft,” says the sentencing memo prosecutors filed last Wednesday. “This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence.”

A restitution figure should be ready by Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors wrote.

Durkee pleaded guilty earlier this year to five counts of mail fraud. Her plea agreement noted that the sentencing range would be from 11 years and three months to 14 years, but also that prosecutors would recommend the low end of whatever range federal probation officers came up with.

Besides Feinstein’s campaign, other victims included the campaigns of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove; Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos; state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana; and Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim. There were at least 50 victims in all, prosecutors said.