Jerry McNerney

Oct 082013

Furloughed Federal Workers Protest Government Shutdown“In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will.”
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 79

There is a growing movement of people who are clamoring for members of Congress to forgo their pay checks during the shutdown.  Some (mostly wealthy) Congress members have heeded this call, loudly proclaiming they’ll refuse their paychecks or give them to charity.  At first glance, this call makes sense.  Why should members of Congress get paid when so many federal employees are not?  And shouldn’t we punish Congress for putting us in this situation and not passing the budget?  Congressional challenger Ro Khanna put it succinctly:  “There ought to be consequences for Congress’s inability to do its job.”

I suppose that you can say that Congress, as a whole, is not doing its job.  We are experiencing a fundamental failure of democracy and I hope that the powers that be can devise changes in Congressional mechanisms to not put us here again.  But can we fairly accuse individual members of Congress of the same?  After all, if the job of a Congress member is defined as “pass a budget”, then our Democratic representatives could easily accomplish this by giving in to Republican demands to curtail the Affordable Care Act.  As a Democrat and a citizen, however, that’s not what I want.   What I want is for my Democratic Congress members to stand firm against Republican blackmail.  Sure, I might want the guys on the other side to “do their job” and pass this budget cleanly, but I want it to be because they listen to their own constituents and realize that’s what they want as well.  The job of a representative is to represent.  The consequences of not doing so are felt, every two years, at the ballot box.

I am particularly disturbed by the implication that we should be blackmailing our own Congress members into doing something other than what people have elected them to do.  Ultimately, what Khanna and others are asking is that we put Congress members in a position of choosing between their duties to their constituents and their needs to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and keep their kids in ballet lessons.  That is a horrible choice, one that harms our system at the very core.  In this case, it’ll be a choice that could lead to the demise of Obamacare.

It is also an unfair choice, one that will ultimately lead to only those who are independently wealthy – or who have well off spouses – to be elected, as they would be the only ones able to resist the economic blackmail we’d have introduced.    We already have too many very rich people in Congress, and the wealthier get wealthier while the poor get poorer.

While nothing stops our Representatives from donating their paychecks to charity (though Christian ethics would have them do their charity quietly, rather than announcing them to the world), the XXVII amendment does stop Congress from passing any legislation to reduce Congressional pay until a new Congress is elected.  This is exactly to prevent dangerous demagogy from winning the day in situations like this.  That said, the pressure to give up salaries is very strong, particularly when fueled by challengers like Khanna that see it as an easy way to score political points.  It is important that our Congress members resist that pressure, not just for themselves but for their less-wealthy colleagues.

I am proud of Barbara Lee, Mike Honda, George Miller, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney,  Anna Eshoo,  Zoe Lofgren and Sam Farr and many other Democratic members of Congress for holding strong on the Affordable Care Act.  I’m also proud of them for keeping their pay.  I urge them to continue to do so.

Jun 112011

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission seems to have listened to us, and is keeping San Leandro whole in the new district maps.  However, they’re cutting our long association with Hayward and we will now be bunched with Oakland/Alameda for both the California Assembly and Senate districts.  This means that from a practical point of view it’s unlikely that any San Leandran politician will be able to be elected to the California Legislature – Oakland politicians are not only better known, but they are able to tap into deeper pockets for campaign contributions. But candidates for state office will still have to pay attention to San Leandro and our particular issues if they want our votes.  It’s not the ideal situation, we’d have more political clout if we were part of a district that included Hayward, but it’s better than the alternative of being cut in two, as the earlier maps suggested.

Sandre Swanson, who represents the 16th Assembly district that currently includes Oakland, will be termed out and several city council members from Oakland and Alameda are expected to run for his seat in 2012.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing them around these parts soon.   As for the Senate, we’ll be in a district that will now include both our current Senator, San Leandro native Ellen Corbett, and Loni Hancock of Berkeley.   At this point it’s impossible to know who will be our state senator come 2012.  Depending on what number the Redistricting Commission assigns to that senate district, there may be an election for that senate seat in 2012 or a senator may be appointed to the seat until 2014.

San Leandro will not be lumped with Oakland in the new Congressional district (sorry Barbara Lee fans), but rather we will be part of a new district that goes as far south as northern Fremont/Newark and that includes of all Livermore and areas further to the east. This is an area currently represented in congress by both Pete Stark and Jerry McNerney.  Stark is one of the most liberal members of Congress, while McNerney is a somewhat conservative Democrat.  This new district will be heavily Democrat, but with a strong conservative base.   It’s difficult to know what will happen if this district map is finalized.  Stark could chose to run against McNerney in a primary, or against Zoe Lofgren, who will take over the southern part of Fremont/Newark that Stark currently represents.  More likely, he’ll chose to retire. He’s 80 years old and in ill health, and still has a young family he could spend his last years with.   Ellen Corbett has expressed interest in running for Congress before, and she may be willing to confront McNerney in a primary election.  Indeed, this may be her only if not best chance to continue in politics.

Of course, the maps issued today are the first draft.  The Redistricting Commission will continue hearing testimony and may redraw the maps based on that.  For that reason, I think it’s still important to continue writing to the Commission and asking them to make sure that San Leandro is kept together in the final maps.