Rep. Ken Calvert (R)
California 44th District
Riverside was a sleepy town of 34,000 people, a couple hours’ drive from Los Angeles, when Richard and Pat Nixon were married there in 1940 at the Mission Inn, originally built in 1876 and adorned with bell towers, fountains, rotunda, and stained-glass windows. Riverside was not much larger, with 46,000 people, when Ronald and Nancy Reagan spent their honeymoon at the Mission Inn a dozen years later, in 1952. Riverside then was a citrus center, a market town amid orange groves, where the local agricultural college developed, among other things, the navel orange. Today the Mission Inn is again doing business, after being closed from 1985 to 1992, but Riverside has changed completely. The city has grown to 294,000 people, and Riverside County, now has over 2 million, more than double its population in 1980. Much of that growth came in the Inland Empire around Riverside, where the flat Los Angeles Basin plains are interrupted by oddly shaped hills and ridges. This has been a boom part of California, where modest-income families found new houses in inexpensive developments and small businesses expanded mightily. After being hit hard by the recession of the early 1990s, it rebounded strongly. Near Moreno Valley, the former March Air Force Base became a business park and regional hub for shipping giant DHL. But the recent recession has halted that progress. The region’s unemployment rate in November 2008 was the highest in the nation among large metropolitan areas, and it had a high level of home foreclosures during the housing-credit crisis. DHL announced in 2008 that it was closing its domestic-delivery business and leaving Riverside. On the upside, the University of California announced plans that year for a new medical school in Riverside.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 44th Congressional District of California, which covers much of this area, has been one of the fastest-growing congressional districts in the nation in the past two decades; from 2000 to 2007, it grew another 26%. Much of the increase was in the Hispanic population, which went from 35% to 42% of the total. Some 40% of district residents live in the city of Riverside and most others in nearby towns like Corona and Norco, the self-proclaimed Horsetown USA and the home of a Naval Surface Warfare Center, which evaluates weapons systems. In 2005, the Pentagon recommended closing the base, which would have resulted in a loss of 3,300 local jobs. But the base-closure commission decided to save the base and build a new lab there. The district includes the eastern edge of Orange County all the way to the ocean, much of it uninhabited mountainsides. But it also takes in San Clemente, where President Nixon lived after he resigned the presidency, and half of San Juan Capistrano, to which the swallows famously return every March. This has been a solidly Republican district, where President George W. Bush won 59%-40% in 2004. However, Democrat Barack Obama did unexpectedly well in 2008, edging out Republican John McCain in the presidential contest, 49.5%-48.6%. Obama won the Riverside portion of the district by more than 13,000 votes, while McCain led in Orange County by nearly 11,000 votes. Local Republicans blamed the shift on the region’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: June 8, 1953, Corona .
Education: Chaffey Col., 1972-73; San Diego St. U., B.A. 1975.
Professional Career: Restaurant owner, 1975–80; Real estate broker, 1980–92; Chmn., Riverside Cnty. Repub. Party, 1984–88.
The congressman from the 44th District is Ken Calvert, a Republican first elected in 1992. Calvert grew up in Corona. While in college, he was a congressional intern at the Senate Watergate hearings of 1973. Later, he ran the family restaurant back home and in 1980, got into the commercial real estate business. In 1982, at age 29, he ran for Congress in a district that included almost all of Riverside County and lost a nine-candidate primary to Al McCandless by 868 votes. In 1992, he ran in a new district and won the primary with 28% of the vote. His Democratic opponent was Mark Takano, an eighth grade teacher who had the support of teachers’ unions and Japanese-Americans. In a district where George H.W. Bush beat Bill Clinton by 797 votes, Calvert beat Takano by 519 votes. Calvert ran into trouble at home soon after he was elected, when the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that he had been stopped by police with a prostitute in his car. Calvert apologized and said that he was upset because his wife had divorced him the month before and his father had recently committed suicide. His opponents in 1994 used the incident against him. Calvert won the primary 51%-49%, with only an 884-vote margin, against business Professor Joseph Khoury. Takano, running again in the general election, ran an ad with the song “The Liar” and accused Calvert of “flagrant womanizing.” But with the Republican tide that year, Calvert won 55%-38%.
|Ken Calvert (R)||129,937||(51%)||($1,150,432)|
|Bill Hedrick (D)||123,890||(49%)||($191,461)|
|Ken Calvert (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (60%), 2004 (62%), 2002 (64%), 2000 (74%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (55%), 1994 (55%), 1992 (47%)
In the House, Calvert has compiled a moderate-to-conservative voting record. He has usually been a Republican team player. In 2001, Calvert took over as chairman of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Resources Committee, which distributes public works projects. He focused intensively on building support for reauthorization of the vital water-supply program (CALFED) for California’s Central Valley. In the middle of the water fight, Calvert was one of several contenders seeking to chair the Resources Committee in 2003, but he lost to fellow Californian Richard Pombo, who was backed by then powerful Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Calvert kept the Water and Power chairmanship, and with Pombo’s help, negotiated a compromise with the Senate and among the competing users, ending up with a plan that called for new levees and recycling projects.
With the water issues largely resolved, in 2005 Calvert became chairman of the Science and Technology Committee’s Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. That year, he enacted a reauthorization of NASA programs, which included the goal of returning a man to the moon by 2020 and incentives for private entrepreneurs to develop space technologies. He aggressively sought spending earmarks for his district, claiming credit for more than $42 million in the 2009 omnibus spending bill alone. He then accused the majority Democrats of increasing spending by “epic and historic proportions.”
In 2003, Calvert abandoned his 1992 pledge to serve only 12 years. But he was re-elected easily anyway. In recent years, his ethics have been called into question, which could hurt him in future elections and hurt efforts to move up the ladder in the House. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that he and his real estate partner had bought a four-acre tract of land for $550,000, then sold it less than a year later for $985,000, after Calvert secured an $8 million spending earmark for the overhaul and expansion of a nearby freeway interchange. Calvert described the story as “scurrilous” and denied wrongdoing. “They still haven’t passed a law that you can’t make personal investments,” he said. But a year later, when Calvert was tapped to replace the ethically tainted Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., on the Appropriations Committee, the story came back to haunt him. Conservative bloggers reacted angrily to his selection in the wake of other Republican ethics scandals. The popular redstate.com blog wrote, “We must scalp one member. That member’s name is Ken Calvert.” The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has Calvert on its list of the 20 “most corrupt members of Congress.”
In 2008, Calvert had a close contest against Democrat Bill Hedrick, a Corona-Norco school-board member who was poorly funded and had no national party help. Hedrick seemed to benefit not just from Calvert’s ethics problems, but also from Obama’s success in the district. Calvert won by only a little more than 6,000 votes, 51.2% to 48.8%. He was rescued by his nearly 15,000 vote lead in the heavily Republican Orange County portion of the district. Calvert’s weak showing placed him on the GOP’s vulnerable list for 2010. If he survives, shifting demographics could make him a prime target for Democratic redistricters in 2012.