8

A few more thoughts on Pete Stark’s defeat

We’ve posted my story for tomorrow’s print editions on how Rep. Pete Stark’s defeat marks both the end of an era and, probably, the start of another Democrat-on-Democrat race for the 15th Congressional District in 2014. Here’s a few final thoughts for which there wasn’t room in that story, but which seem noteworthy nonetheless.

This was a contest for which our editors wanted election-night photographs, but Stark’s campaign refused to tell us Monday and Tuesday where he would be Tuesday night; I still don’t know where he watched the returns.

I take this as a sign that his campaign staff knew there was a pretty good chance he would lose. I’d bet their final internal polling showed a tight race, perhaps with Stark holding a small lead, but with many last-minute “undecided” voters likely to break against the incumbent. Apparently they did.

San Jose State University political scientist Larry Gerston said Stark’s “quirky political behavior and a dramatically changed district” fueled his downfall at least as much as the top-two primary system. That is, Stark’s loss necessarily doesn’t mark a sea change in how future campaigns will be run, and other Bay Area House Democrats need not look over their shoulders.

“This was the exception to the rule – I don’t know any other elected official in Congress who had the reputation Stark had,” Gerston said. “It’s a shame. He’s a man who at one time had an impeccable reputation, a liberal icon. This is more a story of ‘his time had come.’”

7

Your state and Bay Area House-race roundup

All in all, it was a dismal night for Republicans in California House races.

Of the 11 California House races deemed competitive by the renowned Cook Political Report, Democrats won seven outright and are on top in two too-close-to-call other races. Another way of slicing and dicing it: All of the three endangered Democratic incumbents in these races won re-election, but only one of the four Republicans might’ve. And of the new or open seats, Democrats won three of the four.

More specifically:

    The battles to unseat Reps. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, remain too close to call with some mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted, but both trail their Democratic challengers by narrow margins.
    Reps. Jerry McNerney; John Garamendi, D-Fairfield; and Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara all turned away their Republican challengers to win re-election. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, is the only Republican incumbent definitely left standing in these competitive races.

Not than anyone considered it competitive, but Democrat Jared Huffman trounced Republican Dan Roberts to succeed Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-San Rafael, in the North Bay’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which reaches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.

In the Bay Area, as usual, the only question for most Democratic incumbents (with the exception, of course, of Pete Stark) was by how enormous a margin they would dispatch their challengers. See how that all stacks up as of this hour, after the jump…
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3

Pete Stark issues statement on loss to Swalwell

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, who lost his seat in this election to fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell, issued this statement by e-mail a few minutes ago:

Pete Stark (photo by Aric Crabb)“It has been my honor to serve the people of the East Bay for the last 40 years. I have worked hard to deliver results: accomplishments like writing the COBRA law to make health insurance portable between jobs, bringing the first computers to schools, and crafting President Obama’s groundbreaking health care law.

“I went to Washington by running against an unpopular war and for women’s rights, opportunity for children and dignity for seniors. I leave knowing that the landscape has changed, but the needs of my constituents remain.

“I congratulate Mr. Swalwell on his victory. I am happy to be of assistance in the future.

“I want to thank all the wonderful people I met along this fabulous journey and I will remember them fondly. Together, we have made a real difference.”

We’ll have a big story later today following up on Swalwell’s victory, and what comes next.

33

Is Eric Swalwell a Tea Partier? Um, no.

Supporters of Eric Swalwell, the Democratic insurgent who’s challenging Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, are up in arms about a recent Stark mailer which depicts Swalwell in a cup of tea – a la the Tea Party. Here are some excerpts:

“Who is really behind Eric Swalwell? On the doorstep, at meetings, driving this rookie city councilman’s campaign? Tea Party supporters. They’ve given money, given energy and given life to the Swalwell campaign – and they’ll succeed unless we stop them.”

“Campaign finance reports show that over $86,000 of Eric Swalwell’s contributions come from Republicans. Swalwell claims he’s no conservative, but the evidence speaks for itself. Republicans and their corporate allies in the pharmaceutical world like Amgen and Pfizer are excited about young Swalwell because they think he’s their cup of tea.”

“As reported in a respected East Bay newspaper, Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell took over $15,000 from a contractor and voted to give them a no-bid contract. Swalwell’s actions would have been illegal in some East Bay cities.”

Ellis Goldberg, president of the TriValley Democratic Club, is incensed. “I have not endorsed either candidate nor has the club, but I feel this defamation of one of my club members has to be answered,” he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday night. “Both candidates are TVDC members, Eric has been active for many years.

Aside from being a long-time Tri-Valley Dems member, Swalwell interned for former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo – a Blue Dog, but certainly no Tea Party darling; also, he chaired the 2008 TriValley United Democratic Campaign to get Democrats elected to local and state offices. Nothing he has said on his website, in interviews or elsewhere indicates Tea Party policies. He is a Democrat, not some zombified “Manchurian Candidate” for conservatives.

But that’s not exactly what Stark’s mailer said. And without a doubt, there are conservatives who want to see Swalwell beat Stark.

Put yourself in the shoes of any Republican – Tea Party-sympathetic or otherwise – living in this district: Who would you vote for, with only these two candidates on the ballot? Stark and his supporters are proud that he’s one of the most doggedly liberal members of Congress, and it’s safe to assume anyone with even a streak of conservatism would vote against him. That’s been part of Swalwell’s campaign strategy from the get-go – appealing to a broader spectrum of voters than Stark can. If anyone to the right of Pete Stark is deemed a Tea Partier, there are a whooooooole lot of Democrats and independents out there who’ll cry foul.

And wouldn’t out-of-district and out-of-state conservative interests who want to see Stark gone contribute to the campaign of anyone who could make that happen? Of course they would. Swalwell, at a significant fundraising disadvantage to the incumbent, would be a fool to turn that money away.

As for the pay-to-play accusation, we’ve discussed that East Bay Express story here.

Swalwell’s campaign also noted today that a photograph included in the mailer – depicting Swalwell holding up an Etch-A-Sketch on which a GOP elephant has been drawn – was doctored. Here’s the original:

Lisa Tucker, Swalwell’s campaign manager, said they believe Stark’s campaign took it from a Facebook page.

“It just misrepresents, it implies Eric drew that elephant on the Etch-a-Sketch and he did not,” she said. “There was no reason to take a personal photo of Eric and doctor it like that.”

10

Eric Swalwell courts GOP voters against Pete Stark

Eric Swalwell, the insurgent Democratic challenger to Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, is courting Republican votes in the final days of the campaign.

Voters have been receiving a recorded call former Republican Assemblyman Guy Houston. Here’s a transcript of the call:

There is no Republican on the ballot for Congress against Pete Stark, and I believe our best and only choice for Congress is Eric Swalwell on Nov. 6. I’ve known Eric for 12 years – he is an Alameda County prosecutor, a Dublin city councilman. Eric is a moderate and his top priority is to stabilize our economy, fight for great jobs here locally in the growing alternative energy sector, and reduce our national debt. Pete Stark has one of the worst voting attendance records in Congress. He lives in Maryland and is one of the most liberal members of Congress. Eric Swalwell will live in our community and has the energy and new ideas to work with people of any political party to solve our problems. Please vote for Eric Swalwell for Congress on Nov. 6.

This message is paid for by Swalwell for Congress, 925-924-0084.

Color me unsurprised – I’ve been saying for months that Swalwell would actively court the anybody-but-Pete-Stark vote, and the district’s GOP minority – 23.2 percent, as of early September – is a significant part of that. From a campaign standpoint, he’d be a fool not to seek those votes.

Sure, some diehard Dems might find this offensive, but if they’re completely toeing the party line, they probably weren’t voting for Swalwell anyway.

11

Swalwell denies claim of ‘pay-to-play’ in Dublin

Steven Tavares has an interesting story on the 15th Congressional District race in today’s East Bay Express:

On June 5, just hours after casting a vote for himself in the East Bay’s 15th Congressional District primary against incumbent Congressman Pete Stark, Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell voted to approve a no-bid, monopoly contract to a local garbage company while members of that firm’s upper management sat in attendance. Swalwell, however, never publicly disclosed that those four top-level employees of Amador Valley Industries were large contributors to his congressional campaign in the months before the deal. Also in attendance was a consultant for the garbage company who not only had recently donated to Swalwell, but also has a history of violating campaign finance laws.

[snip]

In some cities, including Oakland, what AVI and Swalwell did would have been illegal. It’s unlawful in those cities for a prospective government contractor, such as AVI, to make donations to councilmembers’ political campaigns in the months before those councilmembers vote on the actual contract. Good government advocates throughout California have pushed hard over the years to eliminate this type of pay-to-play politics.

Dublin, however, has no such prohibition. The city allows councilmembers to take donations from government contractors and then vote to award public contracts to those companies, said Jim Bakker, Dublin’s city attorney.

“A respected regional newspaper is raising new and troubling questions about Eric Swalwell’s role in pay-to-play for municipal contracts,” Michael Terris, Stark’s campaign consultant, said today. “Swalwell has thrown a lot of mud in this campaign, but he owes voters real answers to these serious allegations. An unregistered lobbyist for garbage contractors, whose owners and employees have donated $15,000 to Swalwell’s campaign, even raises questions about Swalwell’s integrity for failing to disclose major contributions while voting on no-bid contracts.”

Eric Swalwell Swalwell campaign manager Lisa Tucker, when asked today if there was any connection between the contributions and Swalwell’s vote, replied, “Absolutely not.” She noted that the agenda item on which he voted was initiated by the city’s staff, not by any member of the council, and that the vote was 4-1, so Swalwell’s wasn’t the deciding vote.

“Every contribution Eric received was disclosed properly to the public prior to the meeting,” she said, referring to Swalwell’s mandatory campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission.

Asked whether Swalwell had any ethical obligation to verbally disclose the contributions before casting that vote, Tucker noted that Swalwell is an Alameda County prosecutor and insisted he “has followed every ethics and disclosure law before taking the vote. Eric is proud that his support comes from individuals, compared to 65 percent of Congressman Stark’s contributions come from PACs, including almost $200,000 from health professionals with issues before his subcommittee.”

“Every claim Rep. Stark has made against Eric has resulted in him apologizing or has been debunked by a third-party media source,” she said. “This claim, by a blogger with a demonstrated bias on his blog for Rep. Stark, is an extension of Rep. Stark’s efforts to deceive voters.”

Tucker was referring to Tavares’ East Bay Citizen, where he has covered this race extensively both through news articles and pro-Stark opinion pieces.

Tavares’ story today in the Express notes that Stark in April – two months before Swalwell cast this vote – had gotten into hot water for claiming at a debate that Swalwell had accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes,” a claim he later acknowledged was unsubstantiated and for which he apologized.

Here are the AVI-related donations I’ve been able to find at a glance, some that occurred before the June 5 vote and some that occurred afterward:

  • Robert J. Molinaro, Pleasanton, president, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 9/27/11, $2,500
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, VP, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 9/27/11, $2,500
  • Gina Cardera, Livermore, manager, Amador Valley Industries, 9/27/11, $250
  • John R. Repetto, Pleasanton, route manager, Amador Valley Industries, 9/27/11, $250
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 11/30/11, $1,000
  • Gina Cardera, Livermore, manager, Amador Valley Industries, 12/30/11, $1,000
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 1/31/12, $250
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 3/21/12, $250
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 3/28/12, $1,000
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 5/9/12, $500
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 5/10/12, $250
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 5/22/12, $250
  • Robert J. Molinaro, Pleasanton, president, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 6/27/12 $2,500
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 6/30/12, $2,500
  • (Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 7/2012, refund $250)
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 9/29/12, $250
  • The Express story also included this:

    Even a paid consultant for AVI, Gordon Galvan, who also donated to Swalwell, distanced himself from Swalwell’s failure to disclose his ties to AVI. “If he didn’t disclose it, I think that is wrong. It’s all on him,” said Galvan, who gave Swalwell the legal federal limit of $2,500 in successive years totaling $5,000. “The ethical thing to do is — I would have said, ‘These are people who have contributed to my congressional campaign and it has nothing to do with the City of Dublin or my vote.'”

    Nonetheless, Galvan, who is also a lobbyist and a former San Leandro councilman, characterized what Swalwell and AVI did as being no big deal. “It’s a dynamic that happens all the time,” said Galvan, adding that he believes Swalwell has been at a financial disadvantage during the campaign because of Stark’s political connections. “[Swalwell] can’t get PAC money because it’s a good ol’ boys’ network. If you’re a forty-year incumbent you have access to all that money. To me, that’s a lot dirtier.”

    Galvan today said he had told Tavares that if Swalwell was legally obliged to report the contributions and hadn’t, then that would be on him – but that’s not the case here.

    “I’m supporting Swalwell, so why would I say something that calls into question his ethics?” Galvan said. “It makes it sounds like I’m questioning Swalwell’s ethics or I think he did something illegal, and that’s not true at all … I didn’t say anything like that.”