Bipartisan effort paves way for Tracy solar project

Two Central Valley congressmen from opposite sides of the aisle agreed on something and got it done.

Stop the presses!

Both Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, issued statements today praising a bill that President Obama signed into law Tuesday to grease the wheels for a solar-energy project in Tracy.

Jerry McNerneyTracy wanted to buy 200 acres of government land on Schulte Road as the site of a solar electricity-generation project, but Congress had conveyed the land to the city with the condition that most of it be used for recreational or educational purposes – a provision that held up the solar project for years. McNerney’s bill waived any remaining restrictions on the land’s use once it’s bought by the city.

“The City of Tracy will now be able to build a solar energy project that will create nearly 200 local jobs,” McNerney said today. “I welcomed this opportunity to reach across the aisle to pass this commonsense bill, especially in the current climate in Washington. I have been fighting for the City of Tracy on this issue from the beginning, and I am proud that we were able to come together to pass this bill.”

Jeff DenhamDenham noted the bill, which he cosponsored, passed unanimously through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and, Emergency Management, which he chairs.

“Investing in this type of job creation project is key to the Valley’s economic recovery. It’s not a Republican issue, it’s not a Democrat issue – it’s an American jobs issue,” Denham said. “Today’s accomplishment is the result of a collaborative effort by a bipartisan group of members who worked hard to see this bill become law. I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues in the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle to put people back to work. I’ll keep fighting for jobs in the Valley as the solar project continues to advance.”

In fact, it was actually the Senate version of the bill – introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and cosponsored by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. – which made it to the president’s desk. Boxer last week said she’s pleased that Tracy officials “will now be able to move forward with their plan to develop land that has been vacant and unused. This is a wonderful economic opportunity that will bring needed jobs to the area.”


CD19 a potential Dem pickup? Not so likely.

So Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, announced last month that he’ll step down at the end of his term, and endorsed state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater – first a candidate for lieutenant governor, then for the Assembly – to succeed him in the 19th Congressional District.

But former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson may be in the GOP primary for that seat as well, and former Secretary of State Bill Jones of Fresno is reportedly considering a run, and today we learn that former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, is launching a campaign as well. It’s looking to be a crowded Republican field.

All this in a district in which Republicans lead Democrats in voter registration by 6 percentage points (after a 5-point decline in GOP registration since early 2004) and in which President Barack Obama lost to Republican presidential nominee John McCain by 6 percentage points in 2008.

So could a divisive, costly primary splinter the GOP base enough to let a Democrat pick up this seat? Not likely, by most accounts.

The Democrats don’t have much of a bench there, and the DCCC seems more likely to be spending its resources to protect endangered Democratic incumbents this year rather than waging uphill pickup battles. Despite the GOP’s slowly waning registration numbers, Radanovich has won his last five elections handily, with more than 60 percent of the vote; there wasn’t even a Democratic candidate opposing him in 2008.

And, whoever emerges from the GOP primary – however ugly it gets – is likely to have great name recognition in the district: Denham survived a Democrat-led recall effort in his overlapping state Senate district; Jones is a longtime state elected official who challenged U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2004; and Pombo already has been to Congress as a committee chairman.

Taking a quick turn around the progressive netroots, James L. at the Swing State Project doesn’t seem to think the district is in play; Steve Singiser at Daily Kos doesn’t mention Democrats at all; and Robert Cruickshank at Calitics seems to think the district is in play only if Pombo is the nominee, letting Democrats re-use the 2006 playbook.

Nevertheless, expect some jockeying for position among local Democrats in coming weeks, and after a Republican wins this seat next November, watch carefully to see how the district’s lines are redrawn in the 2012 reapportionment.


Ellen Tauscher introduces anti-foreclosure bill

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, introduced a bill Wednesday that would let the California Housing Finance Agency issue an estimated $10 billion in new bonds to help refinance “underwater” mortgages and jump-start growth in neighborhoods devastated by home foreclosures.

The bill also would grant CalHFA the power to use Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) money to help families refinance their homes at a price they can afford in order to avoid foreclosure.

“Foreclosures are decimating neighborhoods from Fairfield to Antioch and Oakley,” Tauscher said in her news release. “This legislation will help families in the hardest hit areas get the additional resources they need to stay in their homes and keep these vibrant communities from disappearing.”

Tauscher’s co-authors on the bill are Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater; Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.; and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Cardoza’s Central Valley district includes more than half of the city of Stockton, which has been rocked by one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates. “As I have continued to say, the foreclosure crisis remains at the heart of our nation’s economic crisis. It is imperative that we pursue all means to address this problem and ensure that taxpayer funds are being used in the most responsible way,” he said.

UPDATE @ 8:36 A.M. THURSDAY: Click here for a copy of the bill.


Following the money on the auto bailout

House members who voted for the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act last Wednesday averaged a lot more in campaign contributions from the auto industry in the past five years than those who voted against it, according to those wonderful number crunchers at Berkeley-based MAPLight.org.

But the industry’s contributions to most of the Bay Area’s House contingent — most of whom voted for the bailout — fall well below the averages, those statistics also show.

From January 2003 through October 2008, auto manufacturers, auto dealers and labor unions gave an average of $74,100 in campaign contributions to each Representative voting in favor of the auto bailout, compared with an average of $45,015 to each Representative voting against the bailout–65% more money, on average, given to those who voted Yes. The final vote to pass the bill was 237-170, with 26 not voting and one voting “present.” Senate Republicans immediately scuttled the bill, and the White House is now talking about finding money from the already-approved $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to bail out Detroit.

“Big-money interest groups investing in political influence see sky-high returns, while ‘we the people’ foot the bill,” MAPLight.org executive director Daniel Newman said in a news release. “Votes in Congress once again align with the river of money that flows through our broken political system.”

Among House Democrats, the 205 “yes” voters received an average of $74,846 each, about 19% more than those 20 voting “no,” who received an average of $63,140. The 32 House Republicans voting “yes” received an average of $69,323 each, 63% more than the 150 voting “no,” who received an average of $42,598.

In the greater Bay Area, only Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, voted against the bill; Stark’s auto-industry contributions over the past five years totalled $36,500, while Cardoza’s totalled $53,700. As for the rest of the local delegation:

  • Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto — $32,000
  • Mike Honda, D-San Jose — $42,100
  • Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — $46,700
  • Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose — $22,500
  • Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton — $48,500
  • George Miller, D-Martinez — $122,800
  • Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco — $127,500
  • Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough — $11,000
  • Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo — $22,050
  • Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma — $70,750
  • No big surprises here. House Speaker Pelosi and Education & Labor Committee Chairman Miller are magnets for contributions from any industry, and McNerney managed to outstrip most of his other peers here because he was a freshman incumbent fighting what was supposed to be a competitive challenge this year. And in all these local cases, most of the money came from unions, not manufacturers.


    Medical marijuana backers sue DMV

    Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles today on behalf of Rose Johnson, 53, of Atwater. The Merced County Superior Court lawsuit claims that despite Johnson’s clean driving record — not having caused an accident in 37 years of driving — the DMV refused to renew her license in July after finding she’s a medical-marijuana user and deeming that she had an “addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug” that renders her unable to safely operate a car.

    “The only evidence introduced by the DMV to support this conclusion is the fact of Johnson’s medical marijuana use pursuant to state law,” the lawsuit says. “The DMV abused its discretion by suspending Johnson’s license on this basis.”

    ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford issued a statement this afternoon saying when California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, “they never intended to authorize the DMV to strip medical marijuana patients of their drivers’ licenses. The DMV should not be in the business of revoking the licenses of drivers like Ms. Johnson simply because she is a medical marijuana patient.”

    And ASA says this isn’t an isolated case: DMV has suspended or revoking licenses of medical-marijuana patients in other counties including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma.

    Johnson’s case seems particularly ironic because Merced County, where she lives, last year instructed its sheriff’s deputies to respect state law and not cite medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine. Yet Johnson, never accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana or anything else, was denied her license renewal by a state agency for an activity allowed by state law.

    And as I write this item, having just finished an article on the state Supreme Court’s impending review of Proposition 8, I’m wonder how much longer we’ll have to keep litigating and re-litigating the effects of a medical-marijuana initiative approved by voters 12 years ago. It seems California just can’t find a way to stop stepping on its own toes.


    Dennis Cardoza flips from Clinton to Obama

    Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, today moved his support as a Democratic superdelegate from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama; Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno cast his lot with Obama today, too.

    The Obama campaign says these endorsements mean Obama has been endorsed by 310.5 superdelegates, and is 59 delegates away from clinching the Democratic nomination.

    Cardoza — whose 18th Congressional District touches five Central Valley counties including San Joaquin, where it encompasses more than half of Stockton and all of Lathrop — offered his rationale in a news release issued by the Obama campaign:

    cardoza.jpg“This is the most important election of my lifetime. While I continue to greatly respect and admire Senator Clinton and feel she has made history with her campaign, I believe that Senator Obama will inevitably be our party’s nominee for President. He has proven himself to be a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and inspirational leader and will take America in a new direction, which we desperately need.

    “The Bush Administration has been a huge disappointment. Mr. McCain, while certainly an American hero, represents more of the same failed Bush policies.

    “I am deeply concerned about the contentious primary campaign and controversy surrounding the seating of delegates from Florida and Michigan – two states Democrats need to win in November. I will not support changing the rules in the fourth quarter of this contest through some convoluted DNC rules committee process. Yet, we must find a resolution to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates so these states’ voters are represented at the Convention. I believe we need to avoid this potentially divisive situation by uniting behind one nominee and bringing the party together immediately. Therefore, I have made the decision to support Senator Obama at the Democratic Convention in my role as a super delegate.”

    Democratic voters in Cardoza’s district went 60.3 percent for Clinton, 33.2 percent for Obama in the Feb. 5 presidential primary; the district is registered 48.1 percent Democrat, 34.4 percent Republican and 13.7 percent decline-to-state.

    UPDATE @ 1:15 P.M. FRIDAY: It appears this could be the start of something big: Al Giordano’s The Field reports that Cardoza may be the first of several dozen Democrats to switch from Clinton to Obama in an effort to convince her the race is over.