Rep. Barbara Lee (D)
California 9th District
On the East Bay opposite San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley stand today on one of the lushest sites in America, overlooking the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and basking in the sunshine that is more common here than across the bay. Both cities host great institutions, but in different ways they are also museum pieces, antiques from a moment in the 1960s when both, especially Berkeley, gained identities that became hard to shake.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Berkeley was founded as a university town, named after the 18th-century Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley for his proclamation, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Famous for years as the home of first-rate scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley became famous politically in 1964 as ground zero of student rebellion when an administrator’s refusal to let students set up a table to sign up volunteers for Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign led to months of riots, student strikes, and classroom confrontation. In 1969, students led protests at “People’s Park,” a lot owned by the university, and Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan sent in the National Guard to protect state property: an episode in which both sides relished the confrontation. Berkeley gave birth to a street culture that still exists. Its denizens made common cause with the quasi-political Black Panthers from nearby Oakland, and smoked marijuana with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. With its view of the bay, the campus is beautiful, and old buildings like the shingled Claremont Hotel are grand, although construction of new offices and apartment buildings created a more modern feel by 2008. All of those yoga classes, bean sprouts, and healthy lifestyles led in 2007 to a life expectancy in Berkeley of 83 years, five years longer than the national average.
Oakland has a different history, centered on commerce and building its own civic institutions. (Gertrude Stein was wrong: There is a there there.) It became the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad in 1870 and was connected by ferry to San Francisco. It has always had heavy industry, and its port today is the busiest on the bay. The docks attracted young roustabouts like the writer Jack London, after whom a downtown square is named. Civic affairs were run by the local elite, like the Knowland family who owned the Oakland Tribune. With the Bay Area’s largest black community, Oakland spawned the Black Panthers. African-American leaders began to dominate city government in the 1970s and the Tribune in the 1980s. Then Jerry Brown came on the scene. Governor of California 20 years earlier and an unsuccessful presidential candidate several times over, he ran an unorthodox campaign for mayor, and won. Brown irritated local factions by firing department heads and ignoring long-standing alliances, but he seemed to take seriously his mission of propelling Oakland to prominence. With his tough talk on crime and advocacy of big commercial-development projects that drove up rents, he sounded like a conservative. He even set up a military high school. Crime rates dropped, and the local economy thrived, partly with the growth of middle-income refugees from the exorbitant housing costs of San Francisco. But many longtime residents, especially African-Americans, complained about rising costs, and they in turn moved to the outskirts. The black population fell from 47% in 1980 to about 30% in 2007. In 2006, Brown was elected state attorney general. His successor as mayor was former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums.
The 9th Congressional District of California consists of Oakland and Berkeley, plus Castro Valley. It has the largest African-American percentage of any northern California district (22.1% in 2007), and also has high percentages of Hispanics (21.5%) and Asians (16.2%). Politically, it may be the most left-wing district in the nation. It voted 86%-13% for John Kerry in 2004 and 88%-10% for Barack Obama in 2008.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D)
Elected: April 1998, 6th full term.
Born: July 16, 1946, El Paso, TX .
Education: Mills Col., B.A. 1973, U. of CA-Berkeley, M.S.W. 1975.
Religion: no religious affiliation.
Family: Divorced; 2 children.
Elected office: CA Assembly, 1990–96; CA Senate, 1996–98.
Professional Career: Chief of staff, U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, 1975–87.
The congresswoman from the 9th District is Barbara Lee, a Democrat who won an April 1998 special election. Lee spent her childhood in Texas and says her political thinking was shaped by her early exposure to race discrimination. While in labor with her, Lee’s mother was at first denied treatment at an El Paso hospital. Lee attended a segregated school in that city until her parents sent their children to a Catholic school. In 1960, the family moved to Southern California, where Lee was the first black cheerleader in her high school, a distinction she won after enlisting the help of the local chapter of the NAACP. In 2008, Lee authored a memoir, Renegade for Peace and Justice, in which she discussed her experiences as a single welfare mother raising two children while attending college, and her early days of social advocacy. “In order to go the policy front, I had to do the personal,” she said. Lee graduated from Mills College in Oakland and got a degree in social work at the University of California at Berkeley. She started a community mental health center in Berkeley and then worked as a staffer for 12 years for Rep. Dellums, who chaired the House Armed Services Committee. She was elected to the California Assembly in 1990 and to the Senate in 1996. After Dellums announced he was resigning, he endorsed Lee as his successor, and she won the special election with 67% of the vote.
|Barbara Lee (D)||238,915||(86%)||($1,048,228)|
|Charles Hargrave (R)||26,917||(10%)|
|James Eyer (Lib)||11,704||(4%)|
|Barbara Lee (D)||80,466||(100%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (86%), 2004 (85%), 2002 (81%), 2000 (85%), 1998 (83%), 1998 (67%)
In the House, Lee is at the far left of the ideological spectrum. She wants to reduce the nation’s weapons stockpiles and cut Pentagon spending sharply. She supports increased funding for international AIDS programs, and after a visit to Cuba, called for steps to end the 40-year trade embargo; the House accepted her amendment to lift restrictions on education travel to Cuba. As co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, she laid out an agenda with three priorities: economic justice and security, protection of civil rights and liberties, and promotion of global peace. She was a founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, a group of the most vocal anti-war House members.
Lee has consistently opposed military action to the point of being a lonely but principled voice. She criticized President Clinton’s bombing of Iraq in 1998. As most Democrats voted to authorize bombing of Serbia in 1999, Lee was the only House member to oppose a resolution supporting U.S. troops. In September 2001, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the resolution authorizing the use of force in response to the terrorist attacks. “If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children, and other noncombatants will be caught in the crossfire,” she said at the time. Her vote brought a torrent of national attention. Lee received threats of violence, and the Capitol police provided her with 24-hour protection. But there were supportive rallies in her district. During debate in October 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, Lee offered an alternative calling for diplomatic action; it was defeated 355-72.
In 2008, Lee became chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, with plans to “really continue to be the conscience of the Congress.” In February 2009, she criticized Senate cuts in the House-passed version of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill. When Obama named conservative Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as Commerce secretary, Lee was among the African-American leaders who complained about his past failure to support a full census count, especially of racial minorities. Gregg later withdrew as a nominee.
In 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave Lee a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee. She was the only Democrat on the panel to vote against the withdrawal timetable assembled by Democratic leaders; then she was one of 14 Democrats to vote against the funding bill on the House floor. “My conscience is that we can’t put up more money to fund this war,” said Lee, who supported what she called “a fully funded withdrawal.” In July 2008, the House passed, 399-24, Lee’s bill to prevent permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or U.S. control of Iraqi oil. The House also passed her bill to encourage states to divest from companies that do business in Sudan, as a protest of the genocide in the Darfur region.