Rep. George Radanovich (R)
California 19th District
The city of Fresno started as a farm-marketing center—one high-income neighborhood is called Fig Garden because that’s what it used to be—and as a tourist rest stop on the way to Yosemite National Park. But it has long since grown out north, east, and west from its old downtown, and its economy has diversified. Like all of the Central Valley, Fresno has always been ethnically diverse, with a telephone book that reads like the United Nations directory. It is home to the second-largest Armenian community in the U.S. (only Los Angeles surpasses it). Its already large Latino population has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and Fresno County was 48% Hispanic in 2007. Asians, including Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Hmong, were 9% of the county’s population. The city has grown 10% since 2000, despite some serious problems: high unemployment, violent teenage gangs, and air pollution that made the Sierra Nevadas invisible on many days. Fresno has had some success addressing those problems, but the poverty rate remains high. Among the nation’s largest cities, it ranks 16th in poverty level. Tighter border patrolling has encouraged illegal Mexican immigrants to remain in Fresno County year-round, even during the off-season for farmwork. Migrants have been crowding into trailers and makeshift homes on formerly vacant farmland. The growing Hispanic presence has increased the popularity of the Spanish charreadas, which are part-rodeo and part-fiesta and are not advertised to the general public. Historically, Fresno was a Democratic town, the prime Democratic bastion in the Central Valley south of Sacramento. Since the 1990s, it has moved toward the Republicans. It voted for George W. Bush twice and for Republican gubernatorial candidates in 1998 and 2002. But in 2008, Barack Obama narrowly won the county, 50%-48%.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 19th Congressional District of California includes nearly half of Fresno, the relatively affluent north side of the city, and the farm towns of Madera County. This area is one of the two heavily populated parts of the district. The other, nearly 100 miles away, is the northern and eastern half of Stanislaus County, including the northern edge of Modesto and towns like Turlock, Riverbank, and Oakdale. These two areas are linked by mountainous Mariposa and Tuolumne counties, which include the Sierra foothills, the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, and Yosemite National Park.
Rep. George Radanovich (R)
Elected: 1994, 8th term.
Born: June 20, 1955, Mariposa .
Education: CA Polytechnic U., B.S. 1978.
Family: Married (Ethie); 1 child.
Elected office: Mariposa Cnty. Planning Comm., 1982–86, chmn., 1985–86; Mariposa Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 1989–92.
Professional Career: Farmer; founder & owner, Radanovich Winery, 1986–2003.
The congressman from the 19th District is George Radanovich, a Republican first elected in 1994. He will leave Congress at the end of his current term, in early January 2011. In announcing his plans to retire, Radanovich on December 29, 2009 said that he wants to spend more time with his wife, Ethie Radanovich, as she battles ovarian cancer.
|George Radanovich (R)||179,245||(98%)||($712,277)|
|George Radanovich (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (61%), 2004 (66%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (65%), 1998 (79%), 1996 (67%), 1994 (57%)
Radanovich is the son of Croatian immigrants and has relatives all over the Valley. His parents owned a clothing store and ran a small ranch. After college, Radanovich worked on the ranch and, in 1986, after studying local microclimates, opened the first winery in Mariposa County. At one time, the Radanovich Winery shipped 4,000 cases annually of sauvignon blanc, merlot, zinfandel, and cabernet sauvignon. (The business later faltered, and Radanovich closed it in 2003.) He served on the Mariposa County Planning Commission in the 1980s and won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1989. In 1992, he ran for Congress, losing the primary 33%-30% to 28-year-old Tal Cloud, who lost the election to Democratic Rep. Richard Lehman. In 1994, Radanovich ran again and was an easy winner in the primary. In the general election campaign, he attacked Lehman for supporting the Clinton administration and California Democratic Rep. George Miller’s efforts to raise the price of Central Valley water. Radanovich won 57%-40%.
In the House, Radanovich has been among the most conservative members from California. One of his major interests over the years has been a resolution requiring Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915. In 1996, his measure passed, but Turkey spurned U.S. aid under such conditions. In 2000, Radanovich secured $90 million in aid for Armenia, one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. But Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert acceded to President Bill Clinton’s appeal to abandon another resolution that recognized the Armenian genocide. In 2004, the House initially approved a similar resolution, but it was dropped from the final version of the foreign aid bill that year. With Democrats in the majority in 2007, the resolution appeared to have better prospects. After the House Foreign Affairs Committee narrowly approved the resolution in October 2007, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the bill from the floor in response to pleas from President Bush and some Democrats.
On the Natural Resources Committee for several years, Radanovich chaired the National Parks Subcommittee. He was able to pass proposals to improve the remote schools serving families that work at Yosemite National Park, but he encountered opposition from conservatives to his plan designating the 318-mile Highway 49 as a National Heritage Corridor. Property owners complained about losing rights to use their land as they pleased, and Radanovich modified the plan. He also is the sponsor of an ambitious plan to restore the San Joaquin River, which began drying up when Friant Dam was built decades ago to irrigate San Joaquin Valley farms. Downstream sections of the river are sometimes completely dry because of the dam. Radanovich and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein have sponsored a bill that would settle a long-standing lawsuit by environmentalists over the decline of the river and its salmon population. New canals would be built to continue to supply water for irrigation, but farmers represented by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes in the adjacent 21st District remain skeptical.
In 2009, Radanovich became the became ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, where his priority is legislation to protect privacy and ward off identity theft.
After pledging to serve only 10 years in the House, Radanovich broke the promise in 2004 to stay in Congress, saying he needed “some flexibility” to accomplish his goals. That year he explored challenging Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, but decided to hold on to his safe seat in the House. He suffered a black eye in July 2004 when the Fresno Bee published a lengthy report about the collapse of his winery, which left several investors short hundreds of thousands of dollars while Radanovich continued to own the land and other assets. The story questioned whether the investors’ losses amounted to a gift to Radanovich, which House rules would prohibit. He said that the newspaper was representing the views of “unhappy investors.” The controversy has not caused him problems at election time.