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Pete Stark gets down and dirty on Social Security

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, is hitting back against his Democratic challenger by accusing him of “opening the door to massive changes” in Social Security, threatening “millions of seniors and their beneficiaries.”

But it seems he’s playing it a bit fast and loose with what his opponent, Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell, actually said.

This dustup began in August Swalwell’s call for “closing a loophole” in Social Security that lets children collect benefits even if their parents are age-eligible but still working and collecting salaries in excess of the earning cap – like Stark’s kids do.

The San Francisco Chronicle in August reported that Stark’s minor children – he has a 16-year-old and 11-year-old twins – collect benefits. Stark, 81, collects a $174,000 annual salary as a congressman, but his kids remain able to get the payments.

“Every person should receive the benefits to which he or she paid into and is entitled,” Swalwell had said at the time. “But, just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right. The purpose of granting Social Security benefits to children of retirees is to stabilize the family’s income – the only income of the family – and ensure the minor children are receiving the necessities they need. Clearly, the situation in the Stark household is not the intended purpose of this benefit and he’s diverting government money to his kids.”

“Minor children should only be allowed to collect Social Security benefits if their parent is collecting benefits earned because they are retired, not working and not earning other income above the earnings cap,” Swalwell had said.

The Stark campaign responded that Stark’s children were benefiting from a system into which Stark had paid all his life, just like anyone else’s kids could, and that to change the system would amount to means testing to determine who does and doesn’t get benefits.

Now Stark’s campaign has posted this video, the second entry in his “Pete Stark Answers the Tough Questions” series:

But at no point has Swalwell said he “would support the Romney-Ryan plan to undo Social Security and Medicare,” as Stark claims.

Stark’s campaign also this week sent out a mailer with a kindly-looking elderly couple on the cover and the caption “Putting Seniors At Risk.” Inside, the mailer trumpets “Congressional candidate Eric Swalwell: Ending Social Security as we know it.”

“The Romney-Ryan plan puts seniors’ financial security at risk,” the mailer says. “Instead of standing up to the Romney-Ryan plan, Eric Swalwell has joined them in attacking Social Security. Swalwell proposed a plan for Social Security that would cut guaranteed benefits, opening the door the massive changes that would threaten millions of seniors and their beneficiaries who rely on Social Security as a source of income. Swalwell’s plan would break the promise that is at the heart of Social Security: all Americans pay into it and all Americans benefit from it.”

The mailer also details Stark’s opposition to efforts to change or cut Social Security and Medicare, which is accurate. But nowhere does the mailer describe the specific loophole Swalwell chose to cut.

It quotes a subsequent Chronicle story as reporting that “Social Security experts, liberal and conservative, agreed that Swalwell’s proposal would require some form of means testing.” But the mailer doesn’t quote that same story’s next line: “They also said families in Stark’s position – a wealthy senior with minor children – are rare.”

The Romney campaign’s website describes the GOP ticket’s Social Security platform thus:

First, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that the retirement age should be slowly increased to account for increases in longevity.
Second, for future generations of seniors, Mitt believes that benefits should continue to grow but that the growth rate should be lower for those with higher incomes.

Romney also has discussed means testing for ALL seniors, not just for those with kids receiving benefits, as well as adding individual retirement accounts as an option.

At a meeting with the Bay Area News Group editorial board in May, Swalwell called stabilizing Social Security “a big problem, it’s a big concern” best addressed by raising the payroll tax cap from its current level of $110,000. He also called for building into the system an index that would automatically raise retirement ages in proportion to life expectancies.

Stark also called for raising the tax cap and said he would be willing to scale up the retirement age; he said that to guarantee current benefit levels indefinitely, the payroll tax would need to be increased by 3 percent – 1.5 percent for the worker, 1.5 percent for the employer. “It’s a strong social program that I think has been the backbone of protecting the less fortunate in this country, and I think we can make it work.”

See photos of the Stark mailer, after the jump…
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Posted on Friday, October 5th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 23 Comments »

Pete Stark ‘answers the tough questions.’ Sort of.

Rep. Pete Stark, facing one of the toughest electoral challenges of his 40-year House career, is launching a video series called “Answering the Tough Questions.” The first one, “Why do you have a reputation for having a sharp tongue?”, rolls out today:

This seems to raise more questions than it answers.

It’s not Stark’s “sharp tongue” that 15th Congressional District voters, and national pundits, have been buzzing about this year – it was his series of outlandish, unfounded allegations that later had to be retracted. To recap:

    April 10: At a candidates’ forum in Hayward, Stark says that Swalwell accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” from Dublin-area developers, and that Swalwell has a spotty voting record.
    April 18: Stark issues a statement apologizing for having “misspoke” in making the April 10 allegations, but voicing “concerns about my opponent’s behavior” including Swalwell’s votes for projects “by developers who have been raided by the FBI” and “have plead guilty to destroying natural habitats.”
    May 1: At a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting, Stark accuses a columnist of having contributed to Swalwell’s campaign; pressed for evidence, he flips through a folder of information he said was compiled by his 16-year-old son, finds nothing to back his claim, and apologizes. In the same meeting, he confuses defunct Fremont solar manufacturer Solyndra with electric-car manufacturer Tesla.
    May 3: At a Bay Area News Group editorial board meeting, Stark acknowledges he lacked evidence to back his April 18 claims: “I’ll concede to that, apologize for it, and let’s get back to issues.”

I asked Sharon Cornu, Stark’s campaign manager, about this today.

“The video is Pete answering the tough questions, the fair questions that have been raised, and communicating with voters the way he has through his town hall meetings over the years,” she replied. “We’re past the distraction part of the campaign, and it’s time to look at the issues that really matter.”

I also asked her whether “answering the tough questions” begs the question of why Stark won’t hold any public debates this general-election season with challenger Eric Swalwell, a Dublin councilman, Alameda County prosecutor and fellow Democrat.

“Put a fork in it, it’s done – we’ve had debates. Now’s the time to be talking with voters, not with the small number of people who attend debates,” Cornu said today. “This campaign is really about the direction of the country, this campaign is about President Obama and Mitt Romney, this campaign is about Social Security, Medicare and implementing the Affordable Care Act, and Pete Stark has the experience to represent the district.”

At a July event in Union City, Stark had grown angry as reporters asked whether his age is an issue in this race; asked why he won’t debate Swalwell, Stark replied it’s because “we’d only get stupid questions like you’re asking that have nothing to do with issues.”

There’s that sharp tongue again.

Posted on Friday, September 28th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 28 Comments »

Swalwell wants new CA-15 debate, but host balks

15th Congressional District candidate Eric Swalwell today urged the Eden Area League of Women Voters not to give incumbent Rep. Pete Stark “a free pass” by failing to hold another debate in this race.

Eric Swalwell“Voters deserve to hear from Congressman Stark and me on the issues that impact their lives,” Swalwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, said in a news release. “The voters expect debates. It’s time to come out of hiding. As a 40-year incumbent, Congressman Stark should be prepared to face his constituents and explain himself. The League of Women Voters should not give Congressman Stark a free pass from the time-honored tradition of debate and dialogue.”

But league president Nancy Van Huffel said it’s nothing personal – she just sees no point in it given that the league had sponsored a pre-primary debate for this race in April.

“We are sponsoring probably 12 or 14 candidate forums and we are a small league, so I did not schedule another debate for Pete Stark and his opponent because we had a debate and it is online,” she said today. “We didn’t see where it would be any kind of new thing.”

Van Huffel said she was unaware when this fall’s debates were scheduled that Stark, D-Fremont, had already publicly refused to debate Swalwell again. “He was not invited, he did not refuse, it was just a matter basically of timing.”

She acknowledged, however, that the league is holding a second debate for at least one East Bay race: the 20th Assembly District contest between Hayward councilman Bill Quirk and Hayward optometrist Jennifer Ong, which like the Stark-Swallwell race is a Democrat-on-Democrat smackdown made possible by the state’s new top-two primary system.

Three other candidates were eliminated in the 20th Assembly District primary so the dynamics have changed considerably, Van Huffel noted; only one candidate was eliminated in the 15th Congressional District primary.

“Certainly that race is important but I’m not sure there would be any further information that would come of it (a debate),” she said. “We try to do the best we can.”

With or without a new debate, the race continues to be noticed outside the Bay Area: Daily Kos’ David Nir today named CA-15 the only “tossup” among California’s six same-party House elections.

The league’s pre-primary CA-15 debate was the forum at which Stark accused Swalwell of having accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” from Dublin-area developers – an accusation he later retracted, and the first of several allegations Stark made this spring which proved to be untrue.

Follow after the jump for complete video of that April forum, broken into four parts…
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Posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 8 Comments »

Stark targets Medicare glitch for same-sex couples

A bill introduced today by Rep. Pete Stark aims to close a loophole deep in Medicare’s rules that has been costing seniors who are in same-sex marriages.

Medicare’s secondary payer rules generally let someone maintain employer-sponsored coverage after they’ve obtained Medicare eligibility. They don’t have to join Medicare Part B (covering certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies and preventive services) and pay its monthly premium as long as they maintain that workplace insurance as their primary coverage and Medicare Part A (covering inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and some home health care) as their secondary coverage.

The law also protects people in this situation who later transition to Medicare Part B when they lose that employer-sponsored coverage: They don’t have to pay a late enrollment penalty, as would someone who simply waited to obtain Part B coverage until they got sick.

But Stark, D-Fremont, said constituent Joseph Goleman of Newark was told he would have to pay that late-enrollment penalty because he disclosed that he was in a same-sex marriage.

“The practical effect of my legislation is to provide people over age 65 in same-sex marriages the choice to remain on their spouse’s employer health coverage as their primary insurance, without facing significant financial penalties from Medicare in the future,” he said. “Regardless of one’s position on same-sex marriage, this small change in law makes financial sense for Medicare and will ensure consistent treatment of people regardless of their age.”

Current law has different definitions for family depending on whether one becoming eligible for Medicare through disability or through age. The definition is “family member” for people with disabilities includes legally-recognized same-sex marriages, but for those turning 65, the term is “spouse” – and the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits that term from including state-recognized same-sex marriages.

“Joseph knew what happened to him when he visited the local Social Security office didn’t feel right. Thankfully, he immediately reached out to my office and we were able get him the benefits he was due,” Stark said in a news release. “The confusion in current law is likely denying eligible beneficiaries the benefits they are due today – as it would have Mr. Goleman if he’d not reached out to me.”

Stark is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee that oversees Medicare.

Posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
Under: Pete Stark, same-sex marriage, U.S. House | No Comments »

Pols decry voter ID laws on Constitution Day

Two Bay Area members of Congress used the Constitution’s birthday today as an occasion to decry voter ID laws – which they call voter-suppression efforts – in some crucial presidential swing states.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, issued a statement noting that the U.S. Constitution, at 225 years old, “is the most enduring government charter in world history.” It laid out our national ideals including the right to vote, and that right has been expanded and protected since then, he wrote.

Pete Stark (photo by Aric Crabb)“Unfortunately, voting rights are now at risk due to a series of discriminatory and restrictive voter identification laws enacted at the state level,” Stark said. “If these un-American laws stand, they will impede the democratic process and prevent many Americans from exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

Republican-led legislatures in more than a dozen states have enacted strict new voter ID laws since 2008, claiming they’ll crack down on fraud; Democrats say the laws aim to keep millions of minority, elderly, poor and other voters from casting ballots.

Stark said he’s a proud cosponsor of HR 5799, the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2012” by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., which he said “would protect voters’ rights and ensure the integrity of our electoral system. I will continue fighting to protect the right to vote and work to ensure that all eligible citizens are able to participate in our democracy.”

HR 5799 among other things requires states to offer online voter registration; promotes same-day registration; creates requirements for states to promote registration and voting access for the disabled; and prohibits state and local officials from preventing a person from registering or voting in any federal election, or from allowing certain kinds of formal challenges to someone’s registration or eligibility to vote.

Also among that bill’s 140 cosponsors is Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, who had an op-ed piece published today on the Huffington Post and The Hill taking Republicans to task for attacking constitutional voting rights.

honda.jpg“The Republican attacks on these amendments, and their attacks on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, aim to cut the legs of citizenship from beneath us. Republicans are prohibiting access to the ballot for minorities, the elderly and young people who have been, and continue to be, historically disenfranchised,” Honda wrote. “We have fought these fights before, and it’s shameful that we have to still fight for these rights today. But fight we will. If we can vote, then we must register. If we can share time, then we must volunteer. If you believe in preserving access to our democracy, then we must speak out.”

Congress and state lawmakers should be educating citizens “instead of road blocking citizenship rights for which thousands have fought and died. We must be educating on pathways to citizenship, not restricting individuals from access to our democracy. Early voting, absentee ballots and in-language assistance are all key pillars of voting, and it is unfortunate that Democrats have to fight tooth and nail to retain them.”

Posted on Monday, September 17th, 2012
Under: Mike Honda, Pete Stark, U.S. House, voter registration | 3 Comments »

Stark and Swalwell lay it out for Dem lawyers

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and his Democratic challenger, Alameda County prosecutor and Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell, have written to seek a local Democratic club’s support, and their requests very neatly encapsulate what their respective campaigns are all about.

Pete Stark (photo by Aric Crabb)The Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club meets Friday in Oakland to decide its endorsements. Stark’s letter to club, dated Tuesday, notes he has “enjoyed a long and beneficial relationship with the legal community in Alameda County and worked with you to protect consumers, homeowners and tenants, patients, children with special educational needs, workers, women, and our environment.”

After rattling off some names from his list of endorsements, Stark, 80, noted he “worked with the Obama Administration to craft the Affordable Care Act, and with prior Administrations to create COBRA and ensure care is not denied at emergency rooms. As we fight increasingly deceptive attacks against Medicare and Social Security, I am committed to using my experience and seniority to protect benefits people have paid for, and prevent insurance companies and Wall Street from taking over Medicare and Social Security.”

Swalwell, 31, received the club’s primary-election endorsement, and in seeking it again today he played up his prosecution of hundreds of cases with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

Eric Swalwell“Congress is a mess. And, we have a Congressman representing us who does not live here – he lives in Maryland – and does not vote there, in Washington, DC – he has one of the worst career voting records of any Member of Congress. I think you deserve better. And, so do the voters,” Swalwell wrote. “In Congress, I promise to bring new energy to Congress and show up to work every day. I will fight for our Democratic principles and will never take my constituents for granted.”

UPDATE @ 12:10 P.M. SATURDAY: Though it had endorsed Swalwell before the June primary, the club chose Friday to endorse neither candidate now. Only Swalwell had attended the club’s endorsement meeting in May; both Stark and Swalwell attended Friday’s meeting.

Read the two letters in their entireties, after the jump…
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Posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 24 Comments »

Don Perata endorses Eric Swalwell for Congress

Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, today announced he’s endorsing Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell in his campaign to unseat Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

Don Perata“It is time for new energy and true leadership from the next Representative in Congress for the 15th District, and Eric Swalwell is the right person for the job,” Perata said in a news release.

Swalwell, in the same release, said Perata “is known for getting results and I admire that. I respect his willingness to work across the aisle to get things done for his constituents and the State, most notably when he worked with then-Governor Schwarzenegger to place and successfully campaign for five infrastructure bond measures on the ballot in 2006 to improve roads and mass transit, build more affordable housing, repair levees, and upgrade educational facilities.”

Perata is a longtime East Bay political figure who always has been tight with the organized labor community, and so his endorsement of Swalwell might mark a chink in the union armor Stark has tried to don (pun intended) since June’s primary election – most notably with his hiring of former Alameda Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Cornu to run his campaign.

Perata’s endorsement of Swalwell comes about a week after that of former Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, who reportedly got quite an earful from Stark about it. Maybe Perata should screen his calls for a while.

And he might not be the only one. Rumor has it another influential and labor-friendly politician from the East Bay – this one still in statewide office – is about to give a dual endorsement in this race. Stand by for more info on that…

UPDATE @ 6:16 P.M.: It’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

“We need a leader in Congress who understands the immediate need to support our education system and to invest in our public school students so they are ready for the jobs of the future. We need to empower educators to teach not to tests, but to individual needs,” Torlakson said in a statement emailed this evening. “I see Eric as a tireless advocate for our children in Congress. I look forward to having him as a partner at the federal level committed to delivering our children a high-quality 21st Century education.”

Torlakson already had endorsed Stark earlier; Stark still has way more endorsements from public officials and unions than Swalwell.

To me, getting a dual endorsement is a little like kissing your sister – a tie nobody wants, about as useful as staying out of it completely and giving no endorsement at all. That said, Torlakson is a longtime East Bay Democratic player who has worked closely with labor unions and won a statewide campaign, and the fact that he’s not standing solely by Stark in this race probably says something.

I managed to get Torlakson on the phone a few minutes ago to clarify why he added this endorsement. He said he’s seen Swalwell’s “depth of knowledge and energy to tackle the issues that will support our schools and children … emerge as the campaign has gone forward.”

Asked whether he would consider helping out with fundraising or campaign appearances for either campaign, he replied, “It remains to be seen, I haven’t been asked.” Pressed on whether he would do so for one campaign over the other, he replied, “We’ll see as it moves along.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Don Perata, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 38 Comments »

Miller leads Dems in pushing minimum wage hike

Rep. George Miller led more than 100 House Democrats today in introducing a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80 per hour.

The minimum wage was last increased in 2009, but this would be the first increase for tipped-workers in 21 years. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is expected to introduce companion legislation today.

“Raising the minimum wage at its core is about respecting and valuing work. No one who works hard every day and plays by the rules should live in poverty,” said Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat.

“Increasing workers’ paychecks will help millions of working families make ends meet and help the nation’s economy grow,” he said in a news release. “It is time for Congress to stand up for working people for a change and for Washington Republicans to stop using their position in Congress only to benefit wealthy special interests. They should join Democrats in ensuring a well-deserved raise for millions of honest, hardworking Americans.”

Miller was the House author of the 2007 bill that increased the minimum wage to $7.25 following 10 years without any increases.

Miller’s new H.R. 6211, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, would increase the minimum wage in three 85-cent steps, over three years, from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour; after that, the rate would then be indexed to inflation each year. The bill also would increase the required cash wage for tipped workers in annual 85 cent increases, from today’s $2.13 per hour until the tip credit reaches 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Among the bill’s 104 original cosponsors are Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-Campbell; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Expect this to be dead on arrival in the Republican-run House; many conservatives believe requiring employers to pay higher minimum wages makes them less likely to hire or retain less-skilled workers, thus increasing unemployment.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in January said his preference would be “to allow the minimum wage to rise with the CPI or with another index so it adjusts automatically over time” – much as these Democrats are now proposing after the initial three-step, three-year increase. He seemed to walk that statement back a bit in March, when he said he favors reviewing the minimum wage periodically but there’s “probably not a need to raise” it now.

Posted on Thursday, July 26th, 2012
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Pete Stark wants Olympic uniforms made in USA

Rep. Pete Stark is helping to leading House members from both sides of the aisle in a hearty chant of “USA, USA, USA” over the issue of where U.S. Olympians’ uniforms should be made.

Stark, D-Fremont, along with Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Me., led 59 members in sending a letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee today urging that Team USA’s uniforms be made in the United States from now on. This year, the athletes’ couture was designed by Ralph Lauren – an American-based company – but manufactured in China.

“We don’t outsource the athletes who represent the United States in the Olympics and we shouldn’t outsource the manufacturing of Team USA’s uniforms,” Stark said in a news release. “The fact that our American uniforms were made in China is a glaring reminder that we’ve gotten away from a core value: our country’s success is built on the innovation and industriousness of the American worker. When we deviate from that, we fail. That is why we’re calling on the U.S. Olympic Committee to reflect these values and ensure that Team USA’s uniforms are made in America.”

The letter is supported by the AFL-CIO and the National Council of Textile Organizations. Among House members signing the letter were Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

But it seems the lawmakers’ request was already granted before the letter was sent.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun issued a statement Friday saying his organization takes seriously the concerns it has heard from Congress and the public.

“With athletes having already arrived in London, and the apparel distribution process beginning this weekend, we are unfortunately not able to make a change for London,” he said. “We are absolutely committed, however, to working with our sponsors to ensure that the concerns voiced are addressed. To that end, Ralph Lauren has agreed to domestically manufacture Team USA’s apparel for Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.”

UPDATE @ 2:44 P.M.: This just in from Stark’s Twitter account: “We’re calling on USOC to implement Make it in the USA policy. USOC’s Friday statement doesn’t reflect policy change”

Posted on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
Under: Barbara Lee, George Miller, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Thompson, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Ellen Tauscher endorses Swalwell over Stark

Former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, has endorsed Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell – her former intern – in his bid to unseat her longtime colleague, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

Ellen Tauscher“Eric represents the best and brightest in the next generation of leadership needed in Congress,” Tauscher said in Swalwell’s news release. “Eric understands the importance of Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories to our national defense and energy security and the unique role they play in the research and development of cutting-edge technologies that are important to the local economy.”

Tauscher represented parts of what’s now the 15th Congressional District, including the Tri-Valley and Castro Valley, during her more than twelve years in Congress. She was unanimously confirmed as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in 2009, where she served until February. She’s now a State Department special envoy on strategic stability and missile defense issues.

“I have known Eric since he interned in my Congressional office in 2001 and watched as he worked his way through college and embarked on a career in law,” she said. “Eric is an incredibly hard worker and I know he will be an effective and conscientious Representative for the constituents in the new 15th Congressional District.”

Swalwell said he’s honored by the endorsement and hopes to emulate Tauscher’s attentiveness to her constituents and hard work on their behalf.

Swalwell earlier this week announced his dual endorsement by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who earlier had endorsed Stark.

Posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 17 Comments »