Rep. Pete Stark (D)
California 13th District
The East Bay is the workaday, unglamorous side of the San Francisco Bay Area—a narrow strip of land between the bay and the surprisingly high mountains that rise just to the east. The shoreline is not picturesque, with its closed-down Navy bases and its docks, airports, and salt evaporators. The Bay Bridge, bisected by Yerba Buena Island, cuts an inspiring figure, though it requires constant patching; work is under way to add a new span, with completion scheduled in 2013. The San Mateo Bridge to the south is at best utilitarian. In World War II, when the shipyards of Richmond were buzzing, the East Bay south of Oakland was still largely uninhabited farm fields. After the war, the area filled up, south along old Route 17: San Leandro, originally settled by Portuguese; Hayward with its California State University campus and seafood industry; Union City with its rail yards; Fremont, home of a General Motors/Toyota joint-venture auto plant; and Newark, with dozens of industrial plants ranging from salt processing to computer network servers. Hit hard by the dot-com bust, the East Bay revived with biotech, construction, and health care. Underneath the East Bay is the Hayward Fault, not as famous as the San Andreas, but just as dangerous. An earthquake there in 1868 registered about 7.0 on the Richter scale.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 13th Congressional District of California is made up of this string of East Bay towns in Alameda County. The district is racially and ethnically mixed in the California manner. Fremont is home to the Little Kabul neighborhood of Afghans. Koreans and other Asians have moved in large numbers to Fremont and Hayward. In 2007, the district was 35% Asian, 23% Hispanic, and 7% African-American. This has long been a Democratic area. Democrat John Kerry got 71% of the vote here in 2004, and Democrat Barack Obama won it with 74% in 2008.
Rep. Pete Stark (D)
Elected: 1972, 19th term.
Born: Nov. 11, 1931, Milwaukee, WI .
Education: MIT, B.S. 1953, U. of CA, M.B.A. 1960.
Family: Married (Deborah); 7 children.
Military career: Air Force, 1955–57.
Professional Career: Founder, Beacon Savings & Loan Assn., 1961; Founder & pres., Security Natl. Bank, Walnut Creek, 1963–72.
The congressman from the 13th District is Pete Stark, a liberal Democrat first elected in 1972. Stark grew up in Wisconsin, served in the Air Force, got an engineering degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1963, he started a bank in Walnut Creek, which he later sold. An early opponent of the Vietnam War, he attracted attention, and accounts, all over the Bay Area when he put a giant peace symbol atop his bank headquarters and peace symbols on all of the checks. In 1972, he ran for Congress, spending his own money freely and beating 81-year-old incumbent George Miller in the primary 56%-22%. Stark held on in the George McGovern undertow that year to win the general election with 53% of the vote. By his third term, he had a safe seat and was on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he is now the second-ranking Democrat, and chairs the Health Subcommittee, which has a large role in setting health care policy.
|Pete Stark (D)||166,829||(76%)||($659,570)|
|Raymond Chui (R)||51,447||(24%)|
|Pete Stark (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (75%), 2004 (72%), 2002 (71%), 2000 (70%), 1998 (71%), 1996 (65%), 1994 (65%), 1992 (60%), 1990 (58%), 1988 (73%), 1986 (70%), 1984 (70%), 1982 (61%), 1980 (55%), 1978 (65%), 1976 (71%), 1974 (71%), 1972 (53%)
In the House, Stark is a vocal advocate for the liberal wing of his party. For many years, his major focus has been using the power of the federal government to make health care more affordable and more broadly available. His record of legislative success is mixed. He has been effective in expanding Medicare benefits and making sure younger workers have continued coverage under COBRA health insurance plans. His major achievement was the Catastrophic Health Care Act of 1988, which created a new benefit for Medicare recipients. But it was overwhelmingly repealed in 1989 after an outpouring of protest from the elderly, who didn’t like its tax on high-income seniors and thought that the benefits were insufficiently generous. He has supported universal health insurance bills in various forms.
During a dozen years in the minority, Stark mostly criticized Republican policies, found few areas of agreement with the opposing party, and had testy personal dealings with his GOP counterparts. He was one of two House members to vote against the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, on the grounds that it did not include mental health coverage and extended patent protection for a drug. Much later, when President George W. Bush presented his proposal for prescription drug coverage for seniors, Stark countered with a plan that would guarantee affordable and comprehensive coverage for all seniors under Medicare. But other than voicing criticism from the sidelines, he had little role in the debate on the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. When the projected 10-year cost of providing the new benefit ballooned to $720 billion, Stark sniffed, “I told you so. We can’t trust numbers provided by administration officials.” He continued to push for the importation of U.S. prescription drugs from other countries, where they are sold more cheaply, and opposed trade agreements with nations that wouldn’t allow the practice. When AARP, the venerable advocacy group for the elderly, offered its own prescription drug plan, he attacked the group for seeking to “leverage a trusting membership of America’s seniors to pass legislation that you know will do little more than line your own pocket.”
Once Democrats gained the majority, Stark in 2007 played a central role in pushing the bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. After Congress failed to override Bush’s veto of the legislation, Barack Obama in early 2009 enacted the SCHIP legislation with his first signature as president. And Stark went to work on a bill to provide universal health insurance in the United States, which he predicted would become law during Obama’s first term.
Stark has a distinct maverick streak. He was one of two House members, for example, to vote against repeal of the 3% telephone excise tax. His willingness to go his own way extended to cultural issues when he was one of three House members who opposed the resolution denouncing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. In 2003, he called the bombing of Iraq “an act of extreme terrorism.” Stark co-sponsored a plan to reinstate the military draft as a way of criticizing what he viewed as the disproportionate burden the war placed on the poor and minorities. The House defeated the measure 402-2. During the debate on SCHIP, he harshly chided Republicans who opposed the bill, saying they preferred to spend government money “to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq, to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.” Angry Republicans filed a resolution to censure Stark, which 173 House members, including five freshman Democrats, supported; Stark apologized.
Known for his incendiary debating style, he concedes that his remarks are sometimes “unnecessary.” At a 2001 Ways and Means subcommittee hearing, he referred to Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who is African-American, as the “current Republican Conference chairman, whose children were all born out of wedlock.” In 1995, he called mild-mannered Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut a “whore for the insurance industry.” And after Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., told him to “shut up” in 2003, Stark replied, “You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp. Come over here and make me, I dare you. You little fruitcake.” The San Francisco Chronicle then reported “rumblings that it might be time for the veteran congressman to retire.” But Stark said he had no intention of leaving Congress. “I’ve got to keep running,” he said. “I’ve got 2-year-old twins and I’ve got to get them through college. Our retirement plan is good, but it ain’t that good.”
In March 2007, he again attracted attention for describing his religious affiliation as “a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.” Atheist groups then claimed that Stark was the first member of Congress and the highest-ranking American politician to say he does not believe in God.
Stark is next in line to head Ways and Means after current Chairman Charles Rangel of New York. Some have speculated that if Rangel retires, another committee Democrat might challenge Stark for the chairmanship. It seems more likely that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would protect her Bay Area colleague but also keep a tight leash on him. Despite occasional talk of a serious primary challenge against Stark, well-known local politicians have shown no interest in running.