Saturday, May 5, 2012

Small Favors: Fortney "Pete" Stark's Re-election In Trouble

I always thought obnoxious East Bay Congressman Fortney "Pete" Stark (Burma is not Myanmar. Saigon is not Ho Chi Minh City. Fortney is not "Pete") was one of those unshakable incumbents who would go out on his shield, but maybe not. He's gotten a strong primary challenge from Eric Swalwell.  More important, the SF Chronicle is really going after him following a disastrous meeting at a meeting of its editorial board. 

California's perfect storm of political change - legislative districts were redrawn by a citizen's commission rather than political parties and a voter-approved new primary system sends the two candidates with the most votes to the November general election, regardless of political party - has made the seemingly invincible Stark appear to be a surprisingly vulnerable candidate. 
"The last time Pete Stark ran for office in a competitive race, they phone-banked with rotary phones," said Paul Mitchell, president of Redistricting Partners, a Sacramento political consulting firm. "He hasn't run a campaign since before 'The Candidate' was a movie," in 1972. 
Stark's old 13th Congressional District, which stretched down the East Bay shoreline from the city of Alameda to Fremont, was one of the state's most-liberal bastions. Now he's in the redrawn 15th District, which includes the more moderate cities of Pleasanton and Dublin, as well as parts of his old district. 
In addition, the state's new primary system makes Stark one of "the most endangered incumbents" in California's congressional delegation, said Larry Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State University
Stark's territory, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1, has become the "classic case of what people wanted in the 'top-two' primary," said political analyst Tony Quinn, co-author of the California Target Book, which studies state congressional races. "You have a virtually assured general election race between two Democrats in November."

For all the talk of "greenfail," you might not realize that the notoriously bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra's factory was located in Stark's district. It's as much a Stark scandal, as an Obama one. Here's what Stark had to say:

The 80-year-old Democrat, in a meeting with Chronicle editors and reporters this week, appeared to be confused about Solyndra, the Fremont solar power company whose collapse has fueled Republican criticism of the Obama administration's energy policies this election year. 
"I wish I had enough expense allowance to get one of those new S's that Solyndra's going to make down there - the electric car," Stark said, after being asked about the company. "They run $60,000 to $90,000." 
Solyndra doesn't make electric cars - or anything else. It declared bankruptcy and shut down last year after receiving $535 million in government loan guarantees. The electric car company in Fremont is Tesla Motors, which took over part of the abandoned Nummi plant and will release its next car, the model S, this summer.

Remember that mafia don who used to wander around Greenwich Village spouting nonsense in hopes of being declared too mentally incompetent to stand trial? Just sayin' 

Stark is walking disaster, and not because he's 80 years old. The guy was trouble the minute he walked up the steps of the Capital. In addition to being an enthusiastic spender of other people's money, he's also a repellent human being, insulting and demeaning to anyone who may disagree with him. Liberals love to moan about "incivility" but Stark is unquestionably a black hole of incivility whom Dems have happily returned to office 20(!) times. The guy has something, I guess, (one imagines his most eager supporters are the folks who line their pockets building the Solyndras of the world) but whatever that "something" might be is not obvious those on the outside looking in. 

This is not to say Stark is definitely on his way out. The Chronicle's declining to endorse Barbara Boxer last time around that proved to be little more than a speed-bump. More important, the voters in his district don't strike me as being geniuses. Redrawn boundaries or not, many people have been voting Stark back into office year after year for decades. This is also the same territory that voted the now-notorious Nadia Lockyer into office. And, it's not like Stark's district is paradise. It's mostly seedy with some of the worst traffic in the Bay Area. Integrity, accomplishment and temperament don't seem to count for much around there. 

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