Rep. Sam Farr (D)
California 17th District
The California coast around Monterey Bay is for many a working definition of paradise. This kernel of California, site of the first state capital, still makes a fine living off the land and sea, as it has for 150 years. The locale for The Grapes of Wrath and many other John Steinbeck novels, the fields around Salinas provide much of the nation’s lettuce and cauliflower. The area is often referred to as “the salad bowl of the world.” Nearby, the farmlands around Castroville supply the country with its artichokes, and the vast greenhouses around Watsonville produce a goodly portion of its roses. In 2007, Monterey County’s agricultural yield grew to $3.8 billion. The fishing fleet and the 18 now-closed canneries of Monterey (the last sardines were canned in 1964) have generated a new industry. Once described by Steinbeck as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, nostalgia, a dream,” Cannery Row now is refurbished with upscale shops and hotels. The magnificent Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of California’s top tourist destinations, and the National Marine Sanctuary holds more than 400 shipwrecks and ditched aircraft. The Monterey Bay area calls itself the world’s language learning capital, with the Defense Language Institute, Language Line Services, and Cal State’s Monterey Bay Center for Intensive Language and Culture on the site of Fort Ord, which was closed in 1994. Perhaps the main attraction of the Monterey peninsula is the lush 17-Mile Drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, with Pebble Beach’s golf courses, the Del Monte Lodge, and Carmel, whose restrictive laws—no house numbers, no door-to-door mail delivery, no live entertainment, no stoplights, no cutting trees without City Council permission—reflect an effort to maintain the atmosphere of nearly a century ago, when it really was an artists’ colony. Not immune to California’s propensity for destructive wildfires, the Big Sur area, heavily dependent on tourism, suffered major fire damage in 2008, including the loss of trees on more than 220,000 acres of national park land.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District of California includes the entire coast of Monterey Bay and follows the stunning Big Sur coastline south along the steep slopes almost to William Randolph Hearst’s castle, San Simeon, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in America. To the north along Monterey Bay, it runs past Watsonville to Santa Cruz. The district extends inland, into sunny valleys sheltered from ocean mists, and covers some of the nation’s richest farmland. Most of the farmworkers are Latino, mainly Mexican, and in the 1990s, the Hispanic population rose from 31% to 43%, the largest increase in any Northern California district; in 2007, the share grew to 47%.
The gap between rich and poor in Monterey County is wide. It has thousands of homes valued at more than $1 million but also usually ranks high in the share of households below the poverty line. Forty years ago, this was a solidly Republican area, dominated politically by the landowners in Salinas and the townspeople who sympathize with them, plus retirees in Santa Cruz and on the Monterey peninsula. But an influx of young people, attracted less by the economy than by the atmosphere, moved the coast to the left. Monterey and Santa Cruz counties have become steadily more Democratic than the nation, and each now exceeds the national Democratic presidential vote by more than 10 percentage points. A district that once consistently voted for Ronald Reagan gave Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry 66% of the vote in 2004 and Barack Obama 72% in 2008.
Rep. Sam Farr (D)
Elected: June 1993, 8th full term.
Born: July 4, 1941, San Francisco .
Education: Willamette U., B.S. 1963.
Family: Married (Shary); 1 child.
Elected office: Monterey Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 1975–80, chmn., 1979; CA Assembly, 1980–93.
Professional Career: Peace Corps, Colombia, 1963–65; staff, CA Assembly, 1965–75.
The congressman from the 17th District is Sam Farr, a Democrat first elected in June 1993. A fifth-generation Californian, he grew up in Monterey County, where his father was a state senator for many years. Farr signed up for the Peace Corps after college, learned Spanish at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and served two years in Colombia. He was a California Assembly staff member for a decade, became a Monterey County supervisor in 1975, and was elected to the Assembly in 1980. There, he wrote one of the nation’s strictest oil-spill liability laws. In 1993, when Democratic Rep. Leon Panetta resigned from the House to become director of the Office of Management and Budget, Farr ran for his seat. He entered the race as the overwhelming favorite, and won 26% of the vote in the all-party primary to defeat two other Democrats. But in the runoff, which came after President Clinton’s budget and tax increase had arrived in Congress, he had trouble against Republican Bill McCampbell, whom Panetta had defeated 72%-24% seven months earlier. Farr won, but by just 52%-43%.
|Sam Farr (D)||168,907||(74%)||($775,793)|
|Jeff Taylor (R)||59,037||(26%)||($41,568)|
|Sam Farr (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (76%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (59%), 1994 (52%), 1993 (52%)
In the House, Farr has a solidly liberal voting record. He is a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s. On the Appropriations Committee, Farr is a senior member on subcommittees dealing with two major local concerns: farming and military bases. He helped to negotiate the final agreement that conveyed the former Fort Ord to civilian hands, and he took the lead in transferring the lands to local governments and in refusing to permit the Navy to establish a practice bombing range near Big Sur. Working with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, he led a successful effort in 2003 to repeal a little-noted provision of an appropriations bill that would have allowed poultry and beef to be raised on non-organic food but still be labeled organic. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed Farr’s bill to add 55,000 acres to the Big Sur wilderness area. Farr has pushed a major proposal to overhaul ocean management, with national and regional governance. He helped to write the 2006 law revising rules for offshore fisheries, and he also has a bill to encourage research on sea otters.
After the local spinach crop was affected by an E. coli outbreak in 2006, Farr held a press conference to urge constituents to “go Popeye” and eat spinach. He pushed for $25 million to aid producers, a provision that generated controversy after it was added to the emergency war spending bill, and it was stripped from the measure that passed in April 2007. “It’s easy to make fun of spinach,” Farr said in defense of the subsidy. “But if we had eaten more of it, we would be a stronger society.”
Nationally, Farr gets attention for some of his relatively extreme liberal positions. In 2007, he co-sponsored a resolution calling for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney. While most Democrats had a hearty dislike for Cheney, few thought that impeachment was the solution. At a February 2008 hearing, Farr compared U.S. immigration agents to the Nazi Gestapo, explaining that his constituents had “a very ill will” toward the agents.
Farr has been re-elected easily.