Rep. Jerry McNerney (D)
California 11th District
California is often defined by its cosmopolitan cities, its gorgeous Pacific coastline, and its world-class vineyards, but beyond Beverly Hills and Nob Hill, there is another California that likes to get its hands dirty. This is an old part of the state, settled in the 1840s beginning with the Gold Rush. When the fortune seekers departed, the land was left to a determined population of farmers. Crisscrossed with railroads and canals, the Central Valley became one of the world’s greatest agricultural regions. The San Joaquin River channel was deepened to 37 feet, and Stockton today is the Central Valley’s ocean port. (The city is named after Robert Stockton, the second U.S. military governor of California, who captured Santa Barbara and Los Angeles from Mexico and proclaimed California U.S. territory.) The rich land attracted immigrants from all over: Mexicans came up Route 99 and joined North Dakotans flocking to the town of Lodi. Italian and Yugoslav immigrants brought their Old World crops. Yankees and Okies brought their distinct churches and beliefs. Later, Southeast Asian refugees crowded into the older streets of Stockton.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
More recently, Stockton has positioned itself to take advantage of the region’s economic strength by turning into a warehouse and distribution center for Northern California. This growth came even though the farm economy was threatened by actions to reduce water subsidies, the growing difficulty of attracting migrant workers for harvests, and a devastating drought that began in 2007 and has reduced the acreage of useable land. Many of the valley’s crops, especially fruits and vegetables, are not subject to the vagaries of federal controls, though the area is still a big cotton producer. And the Central Valley has also become a suburban zone. Because of the high cost of living in San Francisco, Bay Area workers with modest incomes are increasingly buying lower-priced houses around Tracy and Stockton and commuting to work on Interstate 580, past the windmills of Altamont. While the Bay Area’s population rose only 1% from 2000 to 2007, the population in Stockton’s San Joaquin County increased 18%. In that period, Hispanics grew from 30% of the population to 36%. Stockton, now a growing urban center, is in the midst of a $125 million waterfront renovation project. The city’s diversity led to its selection as a site for early testing of methods for the 2010 census.
The 11th Congressional District of California includes much of this area plus the Bay Area suburbs of San Ramon Valley in Contra Costa County. The central part of Stockton is in the 18th District, connected by a thin corridor to the valley further south. But the 11th does include northwest Stockton and most of the rest of San Joaquin County—Tracy, Lodi, and the almond center of Manteca. It also takes in the adjacent town of Brentwood in Contra Costa County, the fastest-growing city in the Bay Area in the 1990s and early 2000s. Brentwood nearly doubled in population from 2000 to 2006, but growth slowed considerably after the housing bust in 2007. The farm town of Morgan Hill anchors the far southern edge of the 11th in Santa Clara County. The San Ramon Valley towns—Danville and San Ramon in Contra Costa County, and Dublin and Pleasanton in Alameda County—are much more affluent than the Central Valley parts of the district. The district has moved cautiously toward Republicans on cultural issues and on the strength of farmers’ hostility to environmental restrictions that impede their livelihoods. The San Ramon Valley is the most Republican part of the Bay Area, but that is not very Republican by national standards; it is fairly liberal on cultural issues and conservative on economic issues. This district, whose odd lines were drawn by Republicans in 2001 as their only Bay Area district, voted 54% for President George W. Bush in 2004. But Democrat Barack Obama carried it with 54% in 2008.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: June 18, 1951, Albuquerque, NM .
Education: Attended U.S. Military Academy, 1969-71, U. of NM, B.S. 1973, M.S. 1975, Ph.D. 1981.
Family: Married (Mary); 3 children.
Professional Career: National security contractor, Sandia National Laboratories, 1979-85; Engineer, U.S. Windpower, Kenetech, 1985-94; Energy consultant, 1994-99; CEO, start-up wind turbine manufacturer, 2000-06.
The congressman from the 11th District is Jerry McNerney, a Democrat who won in one of the most hard-fought contests of 2006. McNerney’s father was a union organizer in the 1930s and later worked for the U.S. Geological Survey in Albuquerque, where Jerry McNerney was born. Along with his twin brother, McNerney was sent to a military boarding school in Hays, Kan., and he later won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He left West Point after two years because he opposed the war in Vietnam and transferred to the University of New Mexico, where he eventually earned a doctoral degree in differential geometry. He spent several years as a contractor for Sandia National Laboratories, working on national security programs. In 1985, he moved to the private sector with U.S. Windpower. He later consulted for several utility companies that built windmills in the Altamont Pass. He became chief executive of a firm that planned to manufacture wind turbines. McNerney, who named his daughter Windy, claimed that his work contributed to saving the equivalent of 8.3 million tons of carbon dioxide. Before running for Congress, he had never held elected office.
|Jerry McNerney (D)||164,500||(55%)||($2,957,100)|
|Dean Andal (R)||133,104||(45%)||($1,406,404)|
|Jerry McNerney (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (53%)
McNerney was an unlikely winner against Republican Rep. Richard Pombo, a local rancher in an area where he was so well known, it was dubbed “Pombo Country.” As the chairman of the House Resources Committee when the chamber was controlled by Republicans, Pombo was the leader of the property-rights movement backed by ranchers and farmers. When McNerney first challenged Pombo in 2004, he was crushed, 61%-39%. In the 2006 primary, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee endorsed another candidate because party officials didn’t think McNerney could win. The DCCC unsuccessfully urged local legislators to run and then endorsed Steve Filson, an airline pilot and political neophyte who turned out to be a disappointment. McNerney, endorsed by the state party and by local organized labor, soundly defeated Filson, 53%-28%.
In the general election, Pombo outspent McNerney by nearly 2-to-1. McNerney managed nevertheless to turn the election into a referendum on the controversial seven-term incumbent. Pombo had attracted a withering assault from national environmental groups, which referred to him as an “eco-thug” and “Wildlife Enemy No. 1.” The campaign contributions he received from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff also came under close scrutiny. Over the summer, McNerney captured the imagination of liberal Internet activists and got a boost from the Net-roots. Democracy for America, a political action committee inspired by 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, endorsed him, triggering a wave of campaign contributions from around the country. As McNerney inched closer to Pombo in the polls, the DCCC began to air ads against the Republican. McNerney emphasized his background as an energy consultant and focused his attacks on Pombo’s environmental voting record. The two candidates disagreed on virtually every issue, including the Iraq war, the partial privatization of Social Security, and oil exploration in Alaska. But Pombo was running against a strong anti-Republican wind. McNerney won 53%-47%. In San Joaquin County, which cast a bit more than half of the vote, Pombo led 51%-49%. But McNerney won comfortably in counties closer to the Bay Area, with 54% in Contra Costa, 63% in Alameda, and 61% in Santa Clara.
In the House, McNerney established a moderate voting record, especially on cultural issues. Democratic leaders gave him an early opportunity to sponsor a bill that won House passage—-a pilot program to help communities with endangered water supplies to find alternative sources. In the 2007 energy bill, he added a provision to promote research and development of geothermal energy. And in 2009, with crucial help from Bay Area neighbor Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, McNerney got a coveted slot on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee.
In February 2007, he joined senior Democrats seeking an August 2008 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, but he made liberal activists unhappy by saying he was willing to compromise with Republicans on the timing of a troop withdrawal mandate.
Widely viewed as one of the rare vulnerable Democrats in 2008, McNerney worked the district aggressively with “Congress at Your Corner” events and citizen advisory panels for issues such as agriculture, health care, and small business. He was also able to tout the $15 million for asparagus growers that he inserted in the final version of the 2008 farm bill, an earmark of great interest to Central Valley’s asparagus farmers. Pombo announced in May 2007 that he would not try to win back the seat, and California Assemblyman Dean Andal became the Republican nominee. The GOP sought to tie McNerney to the more-liberal Pelosi, calling him a “Pelosi clone.” Andal’s campaign highlighted his reputation as a budget hawk in the Assembly, including his opposition to tax increases. He said he supported opening up more protected areas to oil drilling and that he would not support the effort in Congress to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
But some Republicans said that Andal’s campaign was poorly-financed and disorganized. Democrats criticized his conservative record in the Assembly, including his opposition to a bill that would have prevented employers from requiring women to wear dresses to work. Andal said the bill was a government intrusion on business, but Democrats dubbed him “Radical Andal.” McNerney wound up winning re-election handily, 55%-45%. He led in each of the four counties. The closest outcome was in San Joaquin, where McNerney won 52%-48%. If he wins re-election in 2010, Democrats likely would seek to give McNerney more friendly district lines in the 2011 redrawing of the congressional map.