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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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Miller leads complaint about foreclosure aid

Rep. George Miller, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, led 18 House Democrats in complaining to the Obama Administration yesterday that not enough has been done to help distressed homeowners in the Bay Area and nationwide.

“We are writing to urge stronger and immediate actions by the Administration to help many of our constituents who are being routinely abused, lied to, and subjected to financial conflicts of interest by lenders and mortgage servicers, including those participating in federal programs,” they said in their letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

“Our constituents are running out of time. This Administration must stand up for America’s families caught in the housing crisis. The Making Home Affordable Program is simply not making sufficient progress to prevent unnecessary foreclosures. It has so far failed to ensure that mortgage servicers work with homeowners in good faith to achieve loss mitigation that works for homeowners, investors and our communities.”

With the $29 billion Home Affordable Modification Program having been pegged by the Government Accountability Office and other independent watchdogs as inefficient and in need of reform, House Republicans are targeting HAMP for elimination as part of their proposed budget cuts. Miller, D-Martinez, and his cohorts don’t support that, but rather are urging the program’s immediate improvement to crack down on mortgage servicers’ abusive practices.

Miller organized a meeting last week for more than a dozen of his colleagues with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to convey their concern over HAMP and their constituents’ mistreatment. Among the signatories of yesterday’s letter were representatives John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

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Dems warn of House GOP budget’s impact on CA

California Democratic Congressional Delegation Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, rallied her troops today for a conference call with at least eight members highlighting how House Republicans’ budget plan would impact California.

“While we know reining in our deficit is necessary for economic prosperity, there is a responsible way to do it,” she said.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said that “in transportation, we’re really talking about serious, serious job losses in California” as the GOP plan cuts funding for high-speed rail, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, and other programs adding up to at least $1.25 billion.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said she’s now circulating a letter to California House members asking Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect to California $2 billion in high-speed rail funds that Florida Gov. Rick Scott yesterday refused; senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent such a letter yesterday. Garamendi said unless California gets that money, the Republican budget will leave its rail project underfunded.

Speier was among several members on today’s call who voiced concern at the House GOP plan to cut Title X family planning funding; Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said Republicans are exercising their “vendetta” against family planning and women’s health.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, decried a potential $1.3 billion cut to community health care clinics; he said in a rural community like Watsonville where the clinic would lose $151,000 per year from its base grant, jobs would be lost and health access severely curtailed. “It really does have impacts on Main Street all over the United States.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said even to a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat like himself, a cut like that makes no sense.

“What they’re doing is a lot like waking up in the morning and finding you’ve put on a lot of weight and deciding you’re going to take care of it by cutting off your leg,” Thompson said, noting sick people cut off from community clinic care will instead seek higher-cost care with traditional family-practice physicians or, worse yet, in emergency rooms. “The cost of health care for these folks is going to go through the roof.”

Farr said addressing the nation’s debt is important, but House Republicans are blurring the distinction between long-term debt – which he likened to a home mortgage – and short-term debt – more like a credit card – in order to score political points.

“What the Republicans are trying to do is scare everybody with the long-term debt saying you have to pay it off right away,” he said, when in fact it’s better to approach that long-term debt with a deliberate, long-term plan rather than “a meat ax.”

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Lawmakers urge banks to allow aid for jobless

Five Northern California members of Congress are pressuring mortgage servicers to work with a new federally funded program in California intended to help unemployed homeowners pay their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

The Keep Your Home California Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program provides qualified unemployed homeowners up to $3,000 a month for up to six months to help pay their mortgage. But according to the office of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, if the monthly mortgage exceeds $3,000, the servicers won’t accept any payment at all, even if the homeowner could send a second check to cover the difference between what is owed and what the program covers. As a result, unemployed homeowners who could avoid foreclosure proceedings thanks to this program are instead at risk of failing to pay their mortgage and landing in foreclosure.

“If this program is to have meaningful success, mortgage servicers are going to have to get on board with processing these payments,” Miller said in a news release. “Refusing to accept dual payments is unacceptable and is a disservice to the homeowners who are doing everything they can to stay in their homes while they look for work. Homeowners shouldn’t have to forfeit their homes because of bureaucratic intransigence by banks and servicers.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, another of the letter’s signers, said “it’s time that banks and servicers become part of the solution and not the problem.

“It’s ridiculous that servicers and banks are unwilling to participate in a program that will help protect the value of the very asset on which their loan is based on,” she said. “I find it deeply troubling that servicers would have borrowers default rather than simply accepting payment.”

In their letter – also signed by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz – they wrote that, “we believe refusing to accept supplementary payments from homeowners is inexcusable and we strongly urge you to remedy this problem expeditiously… It is unacceptable that servicers in California are unwilling or unable to figure out a workable resolution to this problem, particularly given that two viable options to address the issue exist.”

Those options, they say, are either to accept two checks (one from the program and one from the homeowner) or to forebear the amount of the mortgage that exceeds the $3,000 program payment.

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Group knocks Lofgren, seeks ethics panel shakeup

The current lineup of the House Ethics Committee – chaired by a South Bay lawmaker – should be disbanded and the panel entirely repopulated in the next Congress, a progressive-leaning anti-corruption watchdog group said in a letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Speaker-Designate John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“The American people demand that members of Congress act with honesty and integrity,” wrote Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “It is unfortunate that some of those charged with investigating unethical conduct may themselves have handled those responsibilities in a manner allowing charges of misconduct, unfairness and partisanship to be leveled. As the likely leaders of the 112th Congress, it is imperative that you step in and take firm action to get the situation under control and instill confidence in the ethics process.”

CREW cited in its letter an alleged breakdown of relations between Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and committee staff; complaints and cross-complaints by Lofgren and Ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama; Bonner’s ordering the Capitol Police to block the doors of the committee offices for a week; reports that committee members and staff argued about what documents should be subpoenaed; the suspensions of two staff investigators; intimations that Lofgren undermined staff efforts to prepare a fair and thorough case; and what it called the committee’s failure to obtain and review clearly relevant documents from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and the House Financial Services Committee’s staff.

CREW also suggested the House leaders authorize an investigation into exactly what has happened during the inquiry into Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, including whether members or staff deliberately declined to obtain or produce either incriminating or exculpatory evidence.

“Confidence in the House ethics process already is historically low and the information slowly leaking out showing a dysfunctional committee in turmoil and disarray is sure to further diminish any remaining respect,” Sloan wrote.

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House members blast DiFi on water plan

Four Bay Area House members are among 11 who wrote to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., today to complain about her water proposal, which they say would lead to the extinction of Sacramento River salmon along with tens of thousands of jobs in California and along the Pacific Coast that depend on the fishery’s survival.

The lawmakers’ letter urges Feinstein to cancel her plan to introduce legislation to speed more water withdrawals out of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem.

Chinook_Salmon“Salmon may not have high paid lobbyists like the corporate agricultural interests in the Central Valley, but they are critical to our coastal economy,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who was among the letter’s signatories. “The Feinstein plan will put thousands of families out of work from the fishing industry and local economies of the Pacific Coast.”

Salmon runs of the Sacramento River and other Northern California river systems have suffered in recent years, leading to unprecedented closures of the fishing season with significant effects on the fishing industry and related businesses across the West Coast, according to Miller’s release. Estimates of the job losses from the salmon fishery closure range as high as 23,000.

Feinstein proposes to override salmon protections, requiring the export pumps in the southern Bay-Delta to run at higher speed regardless of their effect on the salmon population.

The letter’s other signatories include Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

In other water news, groups opposing the $11.1 billion water bond that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have put on November’s ballot are touting poll results indicating most voters oppose it, too.

Pollsters from Jan. 20 through 25 posed this question to 600 likely voters across the state:

Now I would like to ask you about a ballot measure on November’s ballot. The measure is titled, “Safe, clean, and reliable drinking water supply act of 2010” and reads as follows: To protect water quality and ensure safe, clean drinking water; meet the water supply needs of California residents, farms, businesses, expand water conservation
and recycling; restore fish and wildlife habitat; reduce polluted runoff that contaminates rivers, streams, beaches, and bays; and protect the safety of water supplies threatened by earthquakes and other natural disasters; the State of California shall issue bonds totaling eleven billion one hundred forty million dollars ($11,140,000) paid from existing state funds subject to independent, annual audits, and citizen oversight. The fiscal impact would cost the state about 22 billion dollars over 30 years to pay off the 11 billion dollars in principal and 11 billion in interest costs of the bonds with payments of 800 million dollars a year.

Would you vote “Yes” in favor of the measure or “No” against it if the election were held today?

The poll found only about a third (34 percent) of likely voters support the measure, while 55 percent oppose it – a decidedly weak start for a ballot measure. The opposition crossed party lines and extended to all regions of the state. The poll has a four-percentage-point margin of error.

Among the environmental, consumer, and environmental justice groups opposing the bond are the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of the River, Food & Water Watch, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Winnemem Wintu tribe, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network, Southern California Watershed Alliance, and Restore the Delta. They say it hands out billions to agribusiness corporations and other special interests at taxpayers’ expense.

“Voters recognize this bond as bad water policy and bad fiscal policy at a time when California is drowning in red ink,” Sierra Club Senior Advocate Jim Metropulos said in a news release. “We need clean water and we need a better water policy, but this bond is not going to get us there.”