Congressional changes: Leaders change, but issues are the same

Congressional changes: Leaders change, but issues are the same

Michele Ellson
California Congressional map, from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission

Redistricting efforts mean that Alameda will have a new Congressional representative come November for the first time in two decades. So how different will the representation of our likely new rep, Barbara Lee, be from our current one, Pete Stark?

“I don’t think it will change that much,” said Elizabeth Bergman, an assistant political science professor at California State University, East Bay.

While their signature issues are different – Lee became famous for casting the sole vote against granting then-President George Bush the authority to go to war against suspected terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and Stark, for his decades of work toward universal health care – both legislators were identified by one website,, as being far-left Democratic leaders. Another site,, showed that over the past five years the pair cast the same votes 95 percent of the time.

“They’re very similar, as most members of the California Democratic delegation are going to be,” Bergman said.

Both reps have called for lower defense spending and have worked to improve health care and increase spending on social services, and each is a frequent co-sponsor of the other’s legislation, the representatives’ websites and The Library of Congress’ Thomas website show. But neither has had much success passing legislation under the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Lee, a onetime social worker who entered Congress in 1998, has so far sponsored 47 bills during the 2011-2012 Congressional session, including bills to pull the American military out of Afghanistan and Iraq; extend unemployment benefits; establish diplomatic relations with Iran; allow people convicted of drug crimes to be eligible for food stamps; and draw grant money to hire and train police to serve in high-crime communities, to create day programs for disabled adults, and to pay for school-based mental health services.

Just one of her bills – a bill requiring the President to report to Congress on aid and reconstruction efforts following a 2010 earthquake in Haiti – passed the House this session.

Stark, a former banker who joined Congress in 1973 (our district is his third, according to Govtrack), has penned 14 bills this session, including bills that would cap military spending, offer tax breaks on medical marijuana sales, eliminate a one-year time limit for immigrants to apply for political asylum, impose a tax on carbon emissions and exempt single parents from welfare time limits until their children are three years old. None of Stark’s bills has passed out of committee this session.

The leadership change comes in the wake of a redistricting effort that saw Lee lose the San Ramon Hills portion of her old 9th District and gain Alameda and San Leandro. If she wins in November, Lee will retain portions of Oakland as well as Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville and Piedmont, all of which are now the 13th Congressional District.

Stark, who has represented Alameda since 1993, would gain Lee’s old Castro Valley turf plus San Ramon, Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore if elected to serve the 15th District in November. He will retain Hayward, Union City and Fremont if elected.

Lee’s district will retain its urban and political makeup, while Stark – who faced stiffer competition than Lee for his new seat – is competing for his new seat in a much redder district than he represents now, interactive maps on the Sacramento Bee’s website show.

Lee bested second-place finisher Marilyn Singleton in Tuesday’s primary, earning 82.3 percent of the vote to Singleton’s 12.4 percent. They’ll face off in November’s general election. Stark edged out a victory over fellow Democrat Eric Swallwell, garnering 41.8 percent of the vote to Swalwell’s 36.2 percent. They, too, will face off in November.

Even in new districts, Bergman said she thinks the candidates will stick to the issues they have long championed. On their respective campaign websites, each touts their support for gay rights and an end to the Afghan war, health care and the environment. Lee’s campaign issues include equity in the criminal justice system and environmental justice, and efforts to fight poverty and AIDS. Stark’s campaign site notes his support for unions’ right to bargain and for money to prevent teacher layoffs, his support of the stimulus bill and opposition to the Patriot Act.

“I think they’re going to continue to work on the key issues they’ve been focusing on for a long time,” Bergman said.


Submitted by Irene on Fri, Jun 8, 2012

I welcome Barbara Lee back to our district. It's easy to take marching orders from your party leadership and vote accordingly, but Barbara has demonstrated she is ready to make the hard calls and part ways when necessary.

Pete Stark may not be returning to Congress. He has a formidable challenger, Eric Swalwell. Here is the Chronicle's editorial endorsing him: I heard the guy speak and was impressed!

It would be good for our area if Eric Swalwell works beside Barbara Lee.