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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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Boxer, Lee differ on Obama’s Libya policy

Even after President Barack Obama laid out his rationale for military intervention in Libya’s civil war yesterday, lawmakers from the Bay Area who are among the most liberal members of their respective chambers remain split on whether it was a wise move.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week said she felt the President had the Senate’s support in launching the air attacks, and had this to say after the President’s speech yesterday:

“President Obama reminded the country tonight of why it was critical for the international community to take action to prevent the mass slaughter of innocent men, women and children by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.

“I am pleased that NATO is now assuming control of the mission, and it is important that partners in the Arab League, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, continue to play an active role in enforcing the no-fly zone and ensuring the protection of the Libyan people.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, an early and ardent supporter of Obama’s candidacy who since has parted ways with him on many military matters, today said:

“The President’s speech yesterday was an important opportunity to address many of the unanswered questions about U.S. military involvement in Libya, and he was able to explain why his Administration felt compelled to intervene in Libya. Like the President, I am deeply concerned with the serious humanitarian crisis in Libya and Gaddafi’s reprehensible treatment of the Libyan people, and I believe that the U.S. should work with the international community to protect the well-established fundamental international recognition of civil and political rights. But I maintain my belief that an increased U.S. military presence in Libya could inflame the situation and, ultimately, prove counterproductive to the end goal of sustainable peace.

“I am pleased with the news that soon NATO will be leading the military effort in Libya, and I share the President’s praise for our courageous troops. But a more thorough discussion about the ramifications of U.S. military engagement in Libya should have occurred before the recent action was taken. Congress must have an opportunity for a robust debate on the risks associated with committing our military resources to Libya, especially with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still being fought.”

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Political statements on Japan quake/tsunami

From President Barack Obama:

“First and foremost, our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan. This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking. Japan is, of course, one of strongest and closest allies and this morning I spoke to Prime Minister Kan. On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.

“We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan and another is on its way. We also have a ship en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed. The Defense Department is working to account for all of our military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo have moved to an off-site location and the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens in the country.

“Tsunami warnings have been issued across the Pacific and we’ve already seen initial waves from the tsunami come across the shore in Guam and in other U.S. territories, in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as along the West Coast.

“Here, in the Unites States, there hasn’t been any major damage so far but we are taking this very seriously and we are monitoring the situation very closely. FEMA is fully activated and is coordinating with state and local officials to support these regions as necessary. And let me just stress, if people are told to evacuate, do as you are told.

“Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we are going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people in the aftermath of this morning’s earthquake. We do not yet know the full extent of the damage and casualties caused by this disaster, but the images from Japan this morning have been heartbreaking.

“We also must be vigilant about the possibility of aftershocks and tsunami waves extending from Japan all the way to my home state of California and the Pacific Coast of the United States. I encourage my constituents and all those in affected areas to take warnings and advisories seriously and follow the instructions of emergency management personnel and local officials.

“I echo the President’s commitment to stand with Japan as they begin the difficult task of recovering and rebuilding from this disaster.”

From California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom:

“I send my heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the people of Japan, especially those families that have experienced loss since the devastating earthquake and tsunami occurred. As a member of the California Emergency Council, I continue to monitor the situation closely and assure all Californians that we are prepared should our state face any disaster.”

From state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco:

“I extend my deepest condolences to the people of Japan and to all those in California who have loved ones living, visiting, or stationed in Japan. As we have often done with other international catastrophes, our community in the Bay Area and throughout the state stands ready to help. I have called the Consulate General of Japan to express my concern and willingness to provide any possible support in the days and months ahead.”

UPDATE @ 11:26 A.M.: From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“Our thoughts are with the people of Japan as they endure this tragedy. I have directed California’s Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) to make state resources available to the Japanese government, and we stand ready to assist them. Cal EMA has been on full alert since early this morning, and tsunami warnings were issued for the state’s coastal areas. I urge Californians living in affected areas to follow all instructions from state and federal response agencies.”

UPDATE @ 11:30 A.M.: From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., whose staff has reached out to officials at the Japanese Embassy in Washington and the Japanese Consulates in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as to Japanese-American community leaders to discuss ways to assist in the relief effort:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan and the Japanese-American community following this horrific tragedy. We stand ready to assist the Japanese people as they work to recover and rebuild.

“I commend federal, state and local officials for their vigilance in alerting residents along the West Coast to the threat of a tsunami and helping those in low-lying areas to evacuate to higher ground.”

More after the jump…
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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Jerry McNerneyMcNerney takes aim at gangs: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said he reintroduced legislation yesterday to create a National Gang Activity Database that will let law enforcement officials nationwide track and share information about gang members and their activities. The Justice Department-administered database created under his National Safe Streets Gang Crime Prevention Act of 2011, H.R. 928, would share data on gangs, gang members, firearms, criminal activities, vehicles, and other useful information so investigators can track movement of gangs and members throughout a region and coordinate law enforcement’s response. He first introduced a version of this in 2007. The new bill goes first to the House Judiciary Committee.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee highlights MS: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said she has introduced two bills to highlight multiple sclerosis – one, a resolution supporting the goals and ideals of Multiple Sclerosis Week, March 14-20; and the other, the Adult Day Achievement Center Enhancement Act, supporting adult day programs that serve younger adults suffering from a disability as a result of a neurological disease or condition such as MS, Parkinson’s disease or a traumatic brain injury. “Adult day programs provide a critical source of support, and my bill would ensure that these vital programs are strengthened while ensuring that the needs of young adults and veterans are taken care of,” Lee said, noting more than 400,000 people are estimated to be living with multiple sclerosis, nearly 1 million people live with Parkinson’s disease, and about 1.4 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries every year.

Miller v. Boehner on jobs report: Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, reacted to news that the economy created 222,000 private-sector jobs in February and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent by saying “our nation’s job market continues to improve, though we still have lots of work ahead of us. This progress is more reason why Congress must reject Republicans’ pink-slip legislative agenda, which analysts agree threatens economic growth and hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs.” But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that although it’s “welcome news,” unemployment remains “far above where the Obama Administration promised it would be when it forced our children to pay for the ‘stimulus’ fiasco, which accelerated a government spending binge that continues to block our nation’s path to prosperity.” Boehner called the improvement seen in this report “a credit to the hard work of the American people and their success in stopping the tax hikes that were due to hit our economy on January 1. Removing the uncertainty caused by those looming tax hikes provided much-needed relief for private-sector job creators in America. Now we must build on it by eliminating the job-crushing uncertainty being caused by excessive spending, borrowing, and regulating in Washington.”

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Catching up with Barbara Lee and Pete Stark

Having argued the budget all last week, Bay Area House members were pounding the local pavement today, and I got to spend some time chatting with Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Pete Stark.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, started her day by visiting with parents and teachers at the Early Head Start program at Oakland’s First Presbyterian Church, 2619 Broadway. That site serves 20 low-income toddlers and infants; it’s part of the city’s Head Start program, run in collaboration with the Unity Council and serving 1,374 three- to five-year-olds and 200 infants and toddlers.

The continuing resolution for the remainder this fiscal year passed by the Republican-run House late Friday would trim more than $1 billion from Head Start nationwide, reducing benefits to more than 200,000 children including about 27,000 in California.

From there, Lee came to the Oakland Tribune’s offices to meet with our editorial board; I sat in.

“For Head Start to be on the chopping block, to me, is mind-boggling,” she said, noting that with 100 families on the waiting list in Oakland, the program should be getting more funding, not less.

She also talked about how Democrats’ efforts to extend unemployment insurance benefits for “99ers” – long-term unemployed workers who’ve already exceeded the 99 weeks of benefits to which they’re now entitled – was excluded from this continuing resolution, just as it was excluded from the tax deal signed into law in December. Her own bill to extend the benefits, however, is far from dead, she vowed; she said she has 67 co-sponsors and will do whatever she can to bring it to a vote. “This has got to happen.”

Why fight so hard for these things when Democrats are in the House’s minority? “Why am I there? What’s the alternative?” she responded. “I can’t say I’m even cautiously optimistic, but it’s moving.”

She also renewed her defense of earmark spending, noting that in her 9th Congressional District, targeted budget lines have helped fund the Chabot Space & Science Center, the Cypress Mandela Training Center, Youth Radio, the Alameda County Office of AIDS Administration, the Oakland Unified School District, the Alameda County Library’s Castro Valley branch, La Clinica de la Raza, Asian Health Services, and sidewalks in the Ashland and Cherryland unincorporated areas.

“Earmarks are a good thing, and I am so sick of hearing bad things about earmarks,” she said, noting that President Obama’s State of the Union pledge to veto any bill containing earmarks led her to sign onto a “cordial” letter to the White House urging his reconsideration. “I’m going to fight this one to the end. I don’t know how and when we’re going to be able to restore this.”

Lee said she intends to keep pushing for defense budget cuts, at least to match those being made to domestic programs. She said she’s adamant about protecting Social Security against Republicans’ plan to partially privatize it. And she said she wants to do more to help homeowners facing foreclosure. All of this as she tries to balance Democrats’ efforts to get the President re-elected next year with the continuing pressure that she and other progressives want to exert upon him on issues from Afghanistan to earmarks.

Pete StarkStark, D-Fremont, started his day by visiting a government class at Fremont’s Mission San Jose High School, then meeting at his district office with a construction-workers union that’s concerned about who’ll be moving the assembly line equipment in the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant as electric carmaker Tesla Motors moves in.

Then he met with me for about an hour at San Leandro’s Paradiso restaurant. Accompanied only by his 15-year-old son, Fortney Hillman “Fish” Stark III, he sipped a diet soda while discussing his desire to cut defense spending while protecting some of the domestic programs on which some of his most vulnerable constituents rely.

We talked about how his 13th Congressional District is somewhat socially bifurcated, with a somewhat older, somewhat whiter constituency in its northern areas and a somewhat younger, somewhat more multiethnic constituency to the south. We revisited that theme again toward the end of our chat, as he said he’s waiting with great interest to see how the Citizens Redistricting Commission will redraw House district lines later this year. But he said there’s no truth to the rumor that at 79 – and as the House’s fifth-most-senior member and the dean of California’s delegation – he’s not planning on running next year.

Given Lee’s comments, I asked Stark about rebuilding support for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. “There’s been an amazing amount of progressive legislation that’s come out,” he said, from health care reform to the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay and lesbian servicemembers. The President will have to remain labor-friendly in order to put a lot of campaign boots on the ground in Alameda County next year, he said, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

On the situation in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker is trying to break the public employee union, Stark noted his native state is politically odd in that it’s split between a conservative farm belt in the west and labor-centric cities like Milwaukee and Racine in the east. National labor unions seem to see it as “a make or break contest,” he said. “I wish we weren’t trying to decide the outcome of public employee bargaining for the whole country based on what they do there, but that may be the case.”

We touched on other topics from the falling dominoes of regime change in North Africa and the Middle East to the ongoing threat of terrorism and how it’s balanced against preservation of our civil liberties. And, looking past the current budget battle, he predicted the rest of 2011 will be about Republicans trying to roll back last year’s health-care reforms and Democrats trying to preserve them.

Stark will meet with constituents in a town-hall meeting from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Fremont Senior Center, 40086 Paseo Padre Parkway.

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Barbara Lee, Ron Paul aim to end Afghanistan war

Rep. Barbara Lee joined with two House Republicans this morning to introduce a bill that they say would end the war in Afghanistan.

The bill that Lee, D-Oakland, co-authored with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, would require that any money appropriated for the war in Afghanistan “shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel.”

“It sends, really, a strong message that we’ve come together today to speak with one voice on this issue,” Lee said on a teleconference with reporters.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee noted her lone vote against authorizing the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and said her concern that it was a blank check for war hasn’t abated since. Had Americans known we’d still be in Afghanistan almost a decade later, she said, perhaps there would’ve been a more robust debate. “It’s costing us $100 billion a year and countless American lives.”

Lee said the bill already has about 46 co-sponsors, on both sides of the aisle.

Jones, whose district is home to military installations including the Marine Corps’ Camp LeJeune, has seen service members deployed repeatedly to Afghanistan, to little avail. He said he has been in touch with a retired general – whom he declined to name, although he said reporters would recognize the name if he did – who has advised him that the situation in Afghanistan is untenable, and won’t lead to a stable, democratic government there.

“It’s time to bring them home, the American people are fed up and tired of seeking the broken bodies,” he said.

Paul thanked Lee for “leading the charge” and said the war is a consequence of policy dating back at least to the Persian Gulf War, an American interventionist attitude intent on remaking the Middle East and South Asia. We should persuade and lead by example, not by gunpoint, he said.

Asked whether yesterday’s vote on defunding the development of an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter indicated House members are becoming more willing to cross party lines, Paul replied he found it “a bit encouraging” but said it wasn’t a great test vote because there were “a lot of parochial interests involved.” Although the new crop of GOP freshmen seem more inclined to vote independently, he said, “we still have a way to go.”