Who Does Kevin McCarthy Represent?

Kevin McCarthy is a Republican Congressman from the 22nd district, which includes Bakersfield, most of Kern County, and most of San Luis Obispo County (except for SLO itself). Kern County voted for Prop 1A in November 2008 – it was a close vote, with about 1600 votes separating yes and no, but it IS a clear sign than Kern County residents want high speed rail.

And it makes sense that they would. Bakersfield is a fast-growing city, with population growth of 41% over the last decade. That’s faster than any other city in California. But Bakersfield is isolated. It’s not on the coasts and the economic powerhouse of Los Angeles is a long 2 hour drive away – and in the winter, storms sometimes make the trip a lot longer if the Grapevine is closed. With gas prices soaring, Bakersfield is going to find itself in dire economic straits if it can’t get itself better connected to the rest of the state.

That’s where high speed rail comes in. As most Bakersfield residents seem to understand, by providing fast and affordable service to Southern California, Bakersfield’s future becomes very, very bright. The city would be less than an hour from downtown LA, which is a far better commute than for many people even in the Los Angeles basin itself. Combined with affordable housing costs, Bakersfield could legitimately become a bedroom community for LA – or it could tap LA talent for businesses based in Bakersfield. As with other mid-size cities along HSR lines, such as Ciudad Real or Zaragoza in Spain, Bakersfield would be poised to experience significant economic growth from high speed rail. So it’s no wonder that residents and local elected officials support the project.

That also makes Kevin McCarthy’s denunciation of the high speed rail project all the more bizarre:

A fourth-generation Bakersfield native, McCarthy said Tuesday that California and the federal government would both be wise to avoid spending billions of dollars on a train he predicted would become a money sink.

“In today’s world, is that the best place to put the money? The answer is no,” McCarthy told reporters. “I don’t think it’s a smart investment.”

Echoing other critics, McCarthy on Tuesday characterized the initial planned 123-mile route from Bakersfield to tiny Borden in rural Madera County as a “train to nowhere.” He said the train would be poorly used and would inevitably leave taxpayers on the hook for endless subsidies.

“Look at where California is (financially),” McCarthy said. “They don’t have enough money to build it now.”…

“If you can’t prove it’s viable from a business plan, it’s not a (project) the government should be funding,” McCarthy said Tuesday.

All of this is ignorant nonsense. First, the initial construction segment would connect Bakersfield to Fresno, not Borden – a key detail both McCarthy and the reporter left out. More importantly, it starts the process of connecting Bakersfield to the Bay Area and ultimately to Southern California. Anyone in Bakersfield who doesn’t think that’s important simply does not have the best interests of Kern County in mind – and wasn’t paying attention when Kern County voters said yes to high speed rail in 2008.

Second, California does have enough money to pay for our portion of the train costs. In that same election that McCarthy apparently didn’t notice, Kern County voters joined the rest of the state in approving a $10 billion bond. The private sector has shown great willingness to fund it. So too has the federal government – except Congressional Republicans, and McCarthy just so happens to be the #3 man in the House GOP hierarchy. More on that in a moment.

Third, as I explained on Monday, the idea that high speed rail would be a “money sink” is a lie that has no basis at all in the evidence. The Amtrak Acela train, just barely a high speed system, isn’t a money sink at all – it covers its own costs. Same with virtually every other HSR line in the world.

Finally, McCarthy claims that the project doesn’t have a viable business plan, which isn’t true. But as we’ve seen with many other HSR critics and opponents, any business plan that the Authority publishes isn’t good enough for them. These opponents won’t be satisfied until the trains are actually showing a profit, and even then they’ll find some way to argue that they’re still a money sink.

And that gets us to what’s really going on here. McCarthy is not representing his constituents, who want high speed rail and the thousands of jobs and other economic benefits it will bring. No, McCarthy is representing the oil companies, including the notorious Koch Brothers, who are now calling the shots in national Republican politics. Charles and David Koch, not the people of the 22nd district, are McCarthy’s real constituents. They’re the ones he cares about.

And the Koch Brothers, along with the other leaders of the right-wing movement, have clearly set their sights on high speed rail. In the last couple of weeks the attacks on HSR from the right have been noticeably more intense, and the conservative pundit class have all been taking their turns attacking it, which suggests strongly to me that someone sent out a memo explaining that now is the time to attack high speed rail.

McCarthy is therefore just following orders – but they’re not the orders of his own constituents. If he were listening to Kern County, he’d know that they want this train badly, and they won’t be happy if he tries to kill it.

5 thoughts on “Who Does Kevin McCarthy Represent?”

  1. Kern County is owned & operated by oil companies. That McCarthy is their puppet should not be a surprise. Back in the day, Big Oil killed a functional public transit system in SoCal. Big Oil has kept public transit & passenger rail at arms length since the get-go. Now they are doing it again—it’s not news.

  2. And as an Amtrak hub.

    It’s not just jobs in LA, Fresno, and even the Bay Area, but also access to higher education. Bakersfield has a small CSU campus, but suddenly it could be practical for kids to live at home and commute by train to Cal State Fresno, and it would be easy for them to come home on weekends from UC Davis or USC or other universities. High school kids would have more access to special events in those places.

    There are so many possibilities that HSR opens for Bakersfield and Fresno in particular, two sizeable cities that are nevertheless fairly isolated and landlocked. It is hard to understand why even the oil companies and the Koch Brothers don’t appreciate a chance to increase commerce at the taxpayer’s expense. Money not spent on transportation is freed up to buy other things we want from them. Space on the highways makes it more attractive for other kinds of driving trips.

  3. This is a great example of a great American standing up for what is right and being trashed for it.

    I don’t know of a single public rail system anywhere in the world that operates in the black.  He is absolutely right that HSR will likely lose money and a lot of it.  Once again, the spending, construction, etc. will bring some jobs.  When those projects are done, we will be stuck with a large debt, higher taxes, higher maintenance costs and a money sink putting CA in worse shape than when we started.

    All the liberals will look at their new shiny train and feel happy, while ignore the peeling paint, inner city rot, a few more companies leaving the state for more sane financial climates.

    When things are financed with debt and the new shiny object cannot pay for itself — a larger amount of stuff is getting progressively less shiny and more difficult to care for.  The media just doesn’t focus on the slow rot.

    Ironically, in Japan they took the major HSR public system and made it private to save it from financial ruin.  It is half working now as hard core bosses pushed tons of cost savings through.  

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