In the wake of Charlie Rangel’s problems with the House Ethics Committee, Congressman Pete Stark (CA-13) was in line to temporarily head the House Ways and Means Committee. That won’t happen, unfortunately, but it was enough to get Daniel Weintraub, former columnist for the Sacramento Bee and now writer for the New York Times, to call Stark “his own worst enemy” in an article on the Congressman:
But 3,000 miles away, where his district is stacked with liberals who share his outrage, his words barely caused a ripple. A lack of respect for decorum when addressing Republicans is hardly the kind of thing to get a man in trouble in Hayward or Fremont.
And if Mr. Stark’s outbursts have made him less effective than he might otherwise be as a representative, his constituents have a hard time ever hearing about it. His district is in something of a news media vacuum, across the bay from San Francisco and squeezed between San Jose and Oakland. No major media outlet covers him closely.
Mr. Stark’s district is a mix of blue-collar workers and employees of the growing number of high-tech companies around Fremont. It is so heavily Democratic that Mr. Stark has never attracted a serious Republican opponent. For a Democrat to oppose him in a primary would take tremendous financial resources and, probably, greater sins by Mr. Stark than he has committed to date.
The problem is that Weintraub misses the point, almost entirely. Pete Stark represents his district quite well. CA-13 residents, like other Bay Area residents, aren’t interested in ridiculous DC concepts like “decorum.” They are left-of-center folks who expect their federal representatives to do the things Stark does: call out Republican bullshit when he sees it, and press strongly for progressive causes such as the public option.
CA-13 is not Marin County or the Berkeley hills. Cities like Hayward and San Leandro are working-class and very diverse, full of the kind of people who are the bedrock of Bay Area liberalism – working people who know that conservatism and Republicans are not on their side, despite the slick sales job the right puts on to convince working people that they are. Stark’s outspoken opposition to the right’s agenda is exactly what those residents want, and he delivers.
It’s also worth noting that House Democrats’ refusal to let Stark chair Ways and Means is more likely due to his own run-ins with the Ethics Committee than with any concern about his outbursts or his liberalism.
Weintraub’s trying to paint Stark as someone out of touch with his district and his fellow Democrats, but that just doesn’t hold water. But it is another example of the media treating left-of-center politicians who speak the truth as being somehow deviant or controversial. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, not an accurate reflection of reality.