California: Twentieth District|
Rep. Cal Dooley (D)
Last Updated September 15, 2003
California's Central Valley by car seems a monotonous landscape: mile after mile of farmland with mile-square grid roads, cut across by diagonal railroads and canals, with an occasional cluster town. The land is hilly and gets more water near the Sierra Nevada, and this is where the larger cities cluster. On the other side is the Westlands, where the land is flatter and the water scarcer. Here the land was always developed and sold in large plots, and it has some of the world's largest farming operations today. And it produces plenty: alfalfa, cantaloupes, cotton, grapes, lima beans, olives, peaches, plums, raisins, sugar beets, tomatoes, walnuts, wheat. The owners are a hardy lot, but like most entrepreneurs they have been happy to have government help: crop price supports (in the case of cotton), agricultural research, exceptions to the immigration laws, irrigation systems and (most important) subsidized water. They have fought hard against liberals' efforts at change, from Governor Jerry Brown's attempts to encourage Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers in the 1970s to former House Natural Resources Committee Chairman George Miller's 1992 law to draw off more water to the Sacramento delta and charge higher prices for it in the Valley. But the greatest threats may come from conservatives: In a free market for water, Los Angeles users may outbid the farmers. And Congress has declined to approve guest worker programs pushed by Valley members.
The 20th Congressional District includes most of the Westlands of the Central Valley, from Bakersfield to a point northwest of Fresno. Its irregular boundaries were drawn to maximize the Hispanic population and Democratic percentage, so the 20th includes the old downtown neighborhoods of both Bakersfield and Fresno, but not their more affluent neighborhoods; it includes heavily Latino towns like Delano, long Chavez's headquarters and recently the site of a potentially large natural gas discovery, but the 20th does not include more Anglo places like Tulare. Just 36% of Fresno's population is included within the 20th and just 18% of Bakersfield; the district's Hispanic population is 63%, about double that in other Central Valley districts, but the share of voters who are Latino is lower, about 59%. This is the most Democratic Valley seat between Sacramento and Los Angeles; the Valley has been trending Republican, but redistricting reduced the Bush 2000 percentage from 49% to 44%.
The congressman from the 20th District is Cal Dooley, a Democrat first elected in 1990. He is a farmer, growing cotton, alfalfa and walnuts, as his great-grandfather did before him. In 1987 he became a staffer for Tulare state Senator Rose Ann Vuich. In 1990, he ran for Congress in a more Republican-leaning district. Luck was with him: The incumbent had accepted contributions from S&L operator Charles Keating and interceded on his behalf with regulators. Dooley won with a solid 55%. When new district lines were announced in 1992, Dooley and 10-year incumbent Democrat Richard Lehman both eyed the 20th, but Dooley staked it out quickly and Lehman ran in the more Republican 19th, where he lost in 1994.
Dooley's endurance has been partly a testimonial to his moderate voting record, which is the most conservative of California Democrats. On the Agriculture and Resources committees, he tended to district interests. He was one of three committee Democrats to vote for Richard Pombo's guest worker bill, and he supported lifting the ban on food sales to Cuba. He has co-chaired the Congressional Beef Caucus, the Western Water Caucus and the Biotechnology Caucus. He strongly backed PNTR with China and he worked closely with neighboring Congressman and Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas to get Democratic votes for trade promotion authority in 2001 and 2002. In 2001, he was one of 36 Democrats who voted for the Republican energy bill, including its provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. His independence caused some ill will among Democrats. In May 2002, he voted against the farm bill, which he criticized for putting "taxpayers on the hook for billions in questionable subsidies," especially for dairy and peanut farmers; most Central Valley crops are unsubsidized. He sided with most Democrats in opposing the increased work requirements in the Republicans' welfare bill.
Dooley is active on local issues, including flood control projects, increased dam capacity, and additional funds for farm workers. He supported the bill to waive the English language requirement for citizenship for Hmong and Lao veterans who were recruited by the U.S. military in the 1960s and 1970s. He organized in Fresno a bipartisan summit to seek solutions to the methamphetamine crisis, and in 2002 got the Drug Enforcement Administration to reassign four agents to Fresno.
Within his party, Dooley is a founder and past co-chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate House Democrats. After the 1998 election, he ran for vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and tried to assemble a coalition of conservatives and Californians. But he failed to lock up either group and lost 124-81 on the second ballot to Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He reportedly voted for Steny Hoyer against Nancy Pelosi in the October 2001 contest for Minority Whip. A year later, he supported her for Minority Leader, with the caveat that, "Nancy has a perception problem that she has to overcome." Dooley helped lead the New Democratic Network, a well-funded political action committee that promotes moderate Democrats.
Before redistricting made this seat more comfortably Democratic, Dooley had well-financed and competitive reelection challenges. The most serious came in 2000 from Rich Rodriguez, a former Fresno TV news anchorman, who was wooed by national Republicans especially keen that he is Latino, although he does not speak Spanish. Rodriguez made mistakes common for political newcomers; he was not always familiar with the issues. But he had high name recognition and won the endorsement from the California Farm Bureau Federation, whose members griped that Dooley appeared to give as much attention to Silicon Valley as to the Central Valley and had failed to establish a guest worker program. Dooley raised considerably more money than the challenger, much of it from leaders of agricultural enterprises like Sunkist and Blue Diamond and won 52%-45%. In 2002 he faced a Fresno physician and who had escaped from Latvia in World War II and who was now successful enough to spend $500,000 on his campaign. It was a great American success story, but Dooley won 64%-34%.
A greater threat to Dooley could come in the Democratic primary from a Latino challenger as more Latinos become registered voters. But for the moment Dooley seems safe.
Update: March 10, 2004
On September 2, 2003, Dooley announced he will not seek reelection in 2004.
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- Agriculture (3d of 24 D): Conservation, Credit, Rural Development & Research; Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition & Forestry (RMM); General Farm Commodities & Risk Management.
- Resources (7th of 24 D): Water & Power.
|Group Ratings (More Info)|
|National Journal Ratings
For National Journal's complete 2002 Vote Ratings, as well as previous ratings dating back to 1995, please click here.|
Key Votes Of The 107th Congress
|1. Approve Bush Tax Cuts
|2. Limit Patients' Bill of Rights
|3. Campaign Finance Reform
|4. Ban ANWR Development
|5. Faith-Based Charities
|6. Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
| 7. Ban Partial-Birth Abortion
| 8. Arm Commercial Pilots
| 9. Trade Promotion Authority
|10. Bar Funds for Intl. Court
|11. Authorize Force in Iraq
|12. Deny Home. Sec. Dept. Union
||Cal Dooley (D)
|Andre Minuth (R)
||Cal Dooley (D)
||Cal Dooley (D)
|Rich Rodriguez (R)
Prior winning percentages:
1998 (61%); 1996 (57%); 1994 (57%); 1992 (65%); 1990 (55%)
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in the Twentieth District, please see the Almanac 2000 online. Please note that these older returns reflect district lines as they existed prior to 2002 redistricting.
- Cook Partisan Voting Index: D + 5
- District Size: 4,989 square miles
- Population in 2000: 639,088; 91.2% urban; 8.8% rural
- Median Household Income: $26,800; 32.2% are below the poverty line
- Occupation: 27.2% blue collar; 37.8% white collar; 35.0% gray collar; 8.1% military veterans
- Race/Ethnic Origin:
0.7% Amer. Indian,
1.7% Two+ races,
63.1% Hispanic origin
- Click here for statewide demographic data.
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