California: Forty-Second District|
Rep. Joe Baca (D)
Last Updated October 18, 2000
The gateway to the Los Angeles Basin for decades was San Bernardino, situated on flat land where the route through the twisting, windy El Cajon Pass took passengers on the Santa Fe Railroad and motorists on U.S. 66 from the hot and dusty desert to the greener, tree-lined Los Angeles basin. There were orange groves around the little railroad towns and vineyards to the west; this was an agricultural zone until World War II, when Henry J. Kaiser built the West Coast's first major steel mill between the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific lines in Fontana, just west of San Bernardino. Today, these lands have largely filled up. This Inland Empire, as it is called, may be where the smog piles up against the mountains, but it also has some of the lowest real estate prices in the Los Angeles Basin and an energetic small business economy.
The 42d Congressional District consists of most of San Bernardino and the towns running west--low-income Rialto, Fontana with many other businesses replacing the closed steel mill (the blast furnaces were dismantled in 1994 and reassembled in China), fast-growing Rancho Cucamonga. Politically this area trended Republican in the 1980s, as the cultural liberalism of California Democrats repelled family-oriented residents, but when the economy slowed and real estate prices plummeted in the early 1990s, it swung toward Bill Clinton and the Democrats.
The congressman from the 42d District is George Brown, a Democrat serving his 18th term, the oldest member of the House. He is one of only two congressmen (John Dingell is the other) who served in the House when John Kennedy was president. Brown grew up in the Imperial Valley, served in the Army in World War II, and got a degree in physics from UCLA. An engineer with a Quaker upbringing who has long cared about arms control issues, Brown worked for many years for the city of Los Angeles. In 1958 he was mayor of Monterey Park and served on the council, far to the west of his current district; in that banner Democratic year, he was elected to the California Assembly and served on the redistricting committee. Lo and behold, he got one of California's eight new House seats in 1962. He ran for the Senate in 1970 and almost beat John Tunney in the primary; if he had, he might well have won the general. Brown found a new district in 1972 in the Inland Empire, and Phil Burton redrew the lines in 1982 to help him through another decade. But Brown has not won by landslides: Against a religious fundamentalist, a small town businessman and a San Bernardino County supervisor, he won between 53% and 57% in the 1980s. His military dovishness over the years has moderated into support for local defense installations, and he has long been a supporter of space exploration. In 1990 he became chairman of the House Science Committee. There he supported both manned and unmanned space exploration, backing a new space launch vehicle and the space shuttle. He worked to restructure the national weapons laboratories and maintain the Landsat remote-sensing system. He supported federal aid for emerging technologies and development of electric vehicles and solar energy. He looked forward to working with Vice President Albert Gore, a former Science Committee member, as ''heaven on earth,'' and he had the pleasure of seeing Science become a sought-after assignment in 1993. In July 1995, fearing the overall space budget was getting out of control, he voted against the space station. Since then, Brown has supported the station and continues to advocate a vigorous national science and technology focus in Congress.
Brown continued to have serious challenges at home in the 1990s, as the new district lines became less favorable. In 1992 he faced Dick Rutan, pilot of the Voyager plane which circled the earth without refueling in 1986; with gobs of PAC money, Brown outspent him 2-1 and won 51%-44%. In 1994 he was opposed by Rob Guzman, owner of a workplace training business called Templo Calvario Legalization & Education; Brown outspent him by a narrower margin and won 51%-49% in a Republican year. Then came the closest race yet, a 996-vote win in 1996 against Linda Wilde, a Superior Court Judge on leave of absence to run. But in pro-incumbent 1998 he rebounded to a 55%-40% victory over real estate developer Eliz Pirozzi, who criticized Brown's liberal voting record, office perks and congressional pay. It was Brown's biggest margin since 1978 when he won 63%-37%. There has been talk that Brown would retire, but with his larger margin of victory and the possibility of gaining a chairmanship if Democrats retake the House in 2000, he is looking favorably on seeking a 19th term. He has been under pressure from San Bernardino Democrat Joe Baca, who had served the three terms allowed in the Assembly and wanted to run for the House in 1998; instead he was elected to a four-year term in the state Senate, and so can run for the House in 2000 without losing his seat. But Brown's wife Marta, who also serves as his press secretary, has not ruled out an effort to succeed her husband. And there could easily be a serious Republican candidate in this district which has seen so many close contests.
Brown, meanwhile, plans to pursue his continuing interest in a vigorous national science and technology policy, including improved high-tech schools and internships with computer companies. He also has teamed up with neighboring Republican Jerry Lewis, a senior appropriator, to promote local projects and to reduce HUD foreclosures, which were common in the recession of the early 1990s.
Competitive. Few members in modern history have held onto highly competitive districts with as many tough races as has Brown. But the Republican effort to drive Brown out in 1998 lacked the enthusiasm of past efforts and it would seem that they have decided to just wait the 79-year-old incumbent out. As presently configured, a sharp Republican in a good year could win the district, though it seems more likely that their best shot will be when Brown eventually steps aside.
Update: October 18, 2000
George Brown died on July 15, 1999, at the age of 79 at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland due to an infection he contracted after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery in May.
The two front-runners in the open special primary were both Hispanic Democrats: Brown's widow Marta Macias Brown, who had served in a wide array of positions in her husband's congressional office since 1980, and state Senator Joe Baca, a well-known local politician who had impatiently been waiting for Brown to retire. Prior to this election, widows of sitting members had won 35 of 36 congressional races, according to the Congressional Research Service. But House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt refused to honor Marta Brown's request to clear the Democratic field.
Republican leaders had urged the party to unite behind state Senator Jim Brulte, but Brulte declined to run. The party's next choice--state Superior Court Judge Linda Wilde, who lost to Brown by just 996 votes in 1996--also declined. After attorney Elia Pirozzi, who lost to Brown in 1998, won the endorsement of the San Bernardino County Republican Committee, Rob Guzman--the 1994 nominee who narrowly lost to Pirozzi in the 1998 primary--withdrew his candidacy.
Gun control emerged as the major issue in the primary. Brown, who many analysts considered to be the weaker candidate, highlighted Baca's support by the National Rifle Association and his opposition to a gun-control measure that overwhelmingly passed the state legislature this summer. But Baca benefited from the support of organized labor.
Twenty days before the September 21 primary, Brown led in fundraising with more than $227,000, while Baca had raised almost $122,000 and Pirozzi raised more than $95,000.
Baca won the primary with 32% and Brown finished second with 30%, losing by 518 votes. Pirozzi's 28% showing put him third, but was somewhat disappointing at less than the district's Republican registration percentage. Since no candidate won a majority, Baca and Pirozzi advanced to the November 16 runoff.
The two-month general campaign was characterized more by charges of ethics violations than debate over national issues. Republicans filed two complaints against Baca, alleging he violated federal election laws by failing to file a financial disclosure statement and for using a taxpayer-funded brochure to promote his candidacy. Baca had filed his financial report late and said his staff simply forgot to print on the brochure that it was paid for by his campaign committee. Pirozzi highlighted his opposition to abortion and support for school vouchers, aiding local businesses and the death penalty. Baca emphasized his centrist voting record, voicing support for targeted tax cuts, a minimum wage increase and abortion rights. Brown, apparently harboring bitter feelings from the primary, did not endorse Baca. During the general campaign, Baca raised an additional $450,000 while Pirozzi raised just less than $250,000. Baca won with a decisive 52% to Pirozzi's 44%. Turnout, as anticipated, was light at 18%.
Baca was born in Belen, New Mexico, the youngest of 15 children. His family moved to Barstow, California, in 1951, when he was four years old. His father worked as a laborer for the Santa Fe Railroad, and Baca followed his example even as a child, shining shoes at age 10 and later selling newspapers and working as a janitor. He served in the Army as a paratrooper during the Vietnam war, but did not see combat. After graduating from California State University at Los Angeles, Baca moved to the San Bernardino Valley, where he spent 15 years as a community affairs representative for General Telephone and Electric, and was elected four times to the San Bernardino Community College board.
In 1988, Baca challenged state Representative Jerry Eaves, a Democrat who had formed a coalition with Republicans to block the liberal agenda of House Speaker Willie Brown. Brown lost that race and a rematch in 1990, but won the seat when Eaves left the Assembly in 1992, beating out several other Democrats. Baca was quickly elected speaker pro tempore of the Assembly, becoming the first Latino to serve in this capacity in California since its admission to the union. When Republicans won control of the Assembly in 1996, he became assistant speaker pro tempore. Baca earned a reputation as a hard worker, introducing more bills than any other member his first year, but his aggressiveness rubbed some colleagues the wrong way. A moderate to conservative Democrat, Baca worked to reduce welfare rolls, lower taxes on middle-income earners, and increase penalties for drug dealers, and was a strong supporter of abortion rights.
Baca was twice re-elected to the Assembly, but facing a term limit in 1998, he threatened a primary against Congressman George Brown. Instead, Baca ran for the state Senate, spending $2 million to raise his profile in the district for an expected future congressional run. In the Assembly, Baca had consistently voted against legislation to ban assault weapons, but, facing a potential campaign issue in his primary against Marta Brown, he abstained on a bill to ban handguns that he earlier had opposed, and voted in favor of trigger-lock legislation. He was sworn in on November 18, just in time to vote with Democrats on the budget.
To the surprise and dismay of many Republicans, former Representative Jay Kim in December 1999 filed to run in the district. Kim represented the 41st District from 1993-1998 and was showcased by Republicans as the first Korean-American elected to Congress until becoming a political pariah after he plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges of accepting illegal campaign contributions in 1997. Sentenced to house arrest in 1998 and forced to wear an ankle bracelet for three months that prevented him from returning home to the district, Kim lost the primary to Gary Miller, who had the backing of the Republican National Congressional Committee. Kim then divorced from his wife and taught a political science course at a South Korean university before announcing he would attempt a political comeback in the 42nd District.
Local and national Republican leaders urged Pirozzi, who had earlier said he would not be a candidate for the seat for a third time in two years, to run again. Kim ran a low-profile campaign, without seeking donations or endorsements, which enabled Pirozzi to conserve his resources. Pirozzi won the Republican line easily, defeating Kim by 80%-20% among Republican voters. But overall, Baca won 56% to Pirozzi's 32%, holding out little hope for a Republican victory in November. In an interview with Roll Call just prior to the primary, Kim said he regretted undertaking the campaign, but said he was running to restore his honor and promised an aggressive race again for the seat in 2002.
- Pop. 1990: 571,595
- 0.5% rural;
7.5% age 65+;
- 66.1% White,
0.9% Amer. Indian,
34% Hispanic origin;
56.9% married couple families;
35.3% married couple fams. w. children;
45.7% college educ.;
median household income: $33,737;
per capita income: $12,308;
median gross rent: $496;
median house value: $127,000.
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