The race for the valley’s new Congressional representative came to Dublin last week when incumbent Pete Stark faced off with challenger Eric Swalwell in front of the Tri-Valley Democratic Club.
Swalwell, a deputy district attorney in Alameda County and first-term Dublin City Councilman, is challenging the veteran (or is ancient more appropriate?) Stark in the June primary. Both are Democrats and, as I’ve long opined, given the registration in Alameda County, the only way Stark will ever lose is to a fellow Democrat. That Dem would argue that Pete is out-of-touch and distant from the residents of southern and eastern Alameda County.
Stark lives in suburban Maryland so he can commute to the Washington D.C. capitol and rarely returns to his district here in Alameda County. It’s better for his family life (he’s married to a former Congressional page many years his junior) and they have children. When I asked his office last year about his time in the district, you could count the appearances on one hand.
With the exception of a small slice of Pleasanton, Stark hasn’t “represented” the valley for two decades since he first won the seat in 1982. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, who knocked off Richard Pombo in the perfect Democrat storm of 2006, declined to mount a primary battle for the newly drawn 15th District and instead declared for an open seat that is primarily in San Joaquin County—an area he’s courted aggressively during his five-plus years in Congress. It made up 51 percent of his former 11th District.
Given his history, for the liberal folks in much of Stark’s district, they value his liberal credentials and defer to his seniority.
That’s not the case with his colleagues in Washington. Remember, after House Ways and Means Chairman Charley Rangel was forced to step down for failing to pay his taxes and other ethics violations as the ranking Democrat Pete held the chairmanship for just one day before his fellow Dems pushed him aside. That says volumes about how his fellow Dems regard him.
Swalwell is running the expected grassroots, shoe-leather campaign because he will not have the financing or the endorsements of fellow Dems who are careful not to cross the party leaders. Stark has been ensconced in a safe seat for 40 years—why not make it 42?
Incidentally, you could say the same for Rep. George Miller who is running for his 20th term just north of here. Collectively, they are a pretty good argument for term limits—although those have significant impacts on quality policy making as well.
For Swalwell, he’s taking a shot before the heavy hitters who are lined up for 2014 when Stark has said he will retire. It will be an interesting primary because this will be the first “open” election where registration will not matter and voters can cast their ballots for whomever they prefer with the top two voter-getters advancing to the November general election.