Rep. Mike Thompson (D)
California 1st District
The North Coast of California is unlike any other place in America. It is the only part of the lower 48 states first settled by Russians, who built Fort Ross in 1812. They sold it in 1841 to a Swiss named John Augustus Sutter, whose discovery of gold near Sacramento eight years later started the Gold Rush. It is the only part of the world with large numbers of redwood trees, shooting up hundreds of feet in the drizzly air. It is wet country, and for years it was one of America’s prime lumbering areas. Eureka and smaller lumber towns are filled with filigreed Victorian houses and old mills, but also art galleries, hiking trails, pubs, and waterfront hotels. The region has moved on to other crops. In sunny valleys sealed off from the Coast Range, some of the nation’s premium wine grapes are grown on ridges. Humboldt County is known for its quality marijuana fields, and the local economy relies heavily on the product, as depicted in the 2008 movie Humboldt County. Local voters that year in next-door Mendocino County pulled back from the nation’s most liberal marijuana law by falling in line with the state limit of six plants per resident—instead of 24, which had been the county law since 2000—because of concern about nonmedical abuses of the crop. Thirty years ago, there were only 20 wineries in Napa Valley. Today, there are several hundred, with more just west of the ridges in Sonoma County. Wineries were a favorite investment for Silicon Valley millionaires until the recession caused production cutbacks and thousands of job layoffs in 2008. Olive trees are also grown here. Some of California’s earliest literary haunts were in the valleys. Robert Louis Stevenson took his honeymoon near Calistoga in Napa, and Jack London owned a giant house in Sonoma that mysteriously burned down in 1913. Along the coast, a 2006 law designated 273,000 acres of wilderness and restored the rights of commercial fishermen to drive trucks on the beaches of the Redwood National Park.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District of California consists of the North Coast from Mendocino County to the Oregon border. To the south, it includes Napa County and the eastern edge of Sonoma County—Healdsburg, the Alexander Valley, and part of Sonoma Valley—plus part of the Yolo County flatlands, including the University of California at Davis and industrial West Sacramento. The North Coast lumbering area, from Mendocino on north, was once filled with rough-hewn working men, and was historically Democratic. But the timber business was hurt in the 1980s by environmental protections for the northern spotted owl, and the local backlash prompted more interest in Republican politics. Now, the focus is on sustainable forestry. And the area remains largely Democratic. The Pacific Lumber Company, the longtime landlord of the town of Scotia, one of the last company-owned towns in the United States, sold all of its 275 houses in 2008 and planned to continue limited timber production. Inland, the wine-growing country around Healdsburg and in Napa County, was Republican in the 1970s, but now partakes of the San Francisco Bay Area’s liberal consensus. This district changed partisan hands four times during the 1990s, thanks largely to splits among Democrats, but redistricting in 2001 made it solidly Democratic.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Jan. 24, 1951, St. Helena .
Home: St. Helena.
Education: CA St. U., B. A. 1982, M. A. 1996..
Family: Married (Janet); 2 children.
Military career: Army, 1969-73 (Vietnam).
Elected office: CA Senate, 1990-98.
Professional Career: Supervisor, Beringer Winery; CA Assembly fellow, 1982-83; Chief of staff, CA Assemblyman Lou Papan, 1984-87; Chief of staff, CA Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, 1987-90.
The congressman from the 1st District is Mike Thompson, a Democrat first elected in 1998. Thompson grew up in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, dropped out of high school, served in the Army in Vietnam, and earned a Purple Heart. Later, he got a bachelor’s and master’s degree from what is now California State University at Chico. He owned a vineyard and worked as a maintenance supervisor for Beringer, a big winery in the valley. From 1984 to 1990, he was the chief of staff to two Bay Area Assembly members. In 1990, he was elected to the state Senate, where he chaired the Budget Committee. In 1998, he ran for the U.S. House seat of Republican Frank Riggs, who planned to challenge Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer that year. Thompson faced only weak opposition and had support from almost every interest group that matters in the district: unions, medical providers, vintners, oil and timber interests, environmental advocates, law enforcement groups, and fishermen. His issue stands—opposition to oil drilling off the California coast, support of abortion rights and the death penalty—were broadly popular. He won the primary 78%-22% and the general election 62%-33%. He has not been seriously challenged since then.
|Mike Thompson (D)||197,812||(68%)||($1,391,605)|
|Zane Starkewolf (R)||67,853||(23%)|
|Carol Wolman (Green)||24,793||(9%)||($6,428)|
|Mike Thompson (D)||69,622||(88%)|
|Mitchell Clogg (D)||9,752||(12%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (66%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (64%), 2000 (65%), 1998 (62%)
In the House, Thompson is a moderate Democrat whose voting record is among the least liberal of coastal Californians. He joined both the New Democrats and the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats. With Republican Rep. George Radanovich of California, he started the Congressional Wine Caucus. The group lost a battle with conservative senators, allied with beer and alcohol wholesalers, on a bill giving states new power to restrict sales over the Internet. He joined California GOP Rep. Jerry Lewis on a proposal to create a $1 billion fund for making buildings more resistant to earthquakes. After a massive fish kill caused by flooding of the Klamath River in 2002, he won $60 million in emergency aid for fishermen and businesses. And his legislation for a salmon recovery plan in California and Oregon passed the House in December 2006.
Thompson has been a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., which gives him influence among House Democrats. But his ambition to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after the 2002 election was dashed by an ill-timed visit to Iraq. Thompson traveled to Baghdad in 2002, before the United States went to war with Iraq, with Reps. David Bonior, D-Mich., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash. While there, Bonior criticized President Bush, and McDermott suggested that Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein was more credible than Bush—statements that could be deemed impolitic with tensions running high on the sensitive issue of Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction. Although Thompson did not make controversial comments and later conceded it was a bad idea to criticize the president from Iraq, the trip dashed his chances of assuming a high-profile party role at that time.
As consolation, Thompson was asked to lead the DCCC’s incumbent protection program, and got a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. On the powerful panel, he was able to enact a tax break for landowners who place their land under conservation easements, a way to preserve farmland. In 2007, Thompson sponsored the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which requires airlines to provide basic necessities, like food, water, and well-ventilated facilities, when flights are delayed for long periods. The House passed his bill in 2007 when it reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration.
Thompson also chairs the Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis, and Counterintelligence. The 2008 defense bill contained his provision cracking down on abuses of private contractors in Iraq and expanded the authority of a special inspector general. Thompson said that inspectors had found that “contractors in Iraq charged $45 per case of soda and $100 per 15-pound bag of laundry.… $8.8 billion was handed over to Iraqi ministries with virtually no tracking of what it was spent on.”
Following the 2008 election, he was mentioned as a contender for Interior secretary in the Obama administration, a position that ultimately went to then-Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.