WASHINGTON — The San Joaquin Valley’s congressional delegation has a new face.
It starts, but doesn’t end with freshman Rep. David Valadao, the Hanford-area Republican sworn in Thursday to his inaugural House term. Amid the traditional first-day celebrations, a heady time when everything still seems possible, the 35-year old dairy farmer and former state legislator is joining a seasoned, but shifting crew.
“I’m taking this all in, enjoying it with my kids,” Valadao said, about 90 minutes before taking his oath of office.
About 75 friends, family members and political supporters from California joined Valadao for a Capitol Hill reception that preceded the swearing-in. It was a lively affair, thick with Portuguese accents and the buzz of children, even as the serious business of the new 113th Congress was starting to shape up.
Some of Valadao’s new colleagues, like Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, have fresh committee assignments. In his second term, Denham has joined the House Agriculture Committee. Some, like Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, have many new constituents. McClintock, for the first time, now represents a swath of the central and southern Sierra Nevada mountains including Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties.
Some have new homes, like Rep. Jerry McNerney. The Democrat relocated his official residence from Pleasanton to Stockton after congressional district lines were redrawn. And some, like House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, will put their leadership muscle to work on behalf of more Valley residents. The Bakersfield Republican’s redrawn district drops San Luis Obispo County and adds part of Tulare County.
The start of the 113th Congress, though, also brings some familiar conflicts, unresolved problems and recurring interpersonal tensions.
Valley lawmakers tried pushing a number of bills that ended up stalling during the last Congress. Now, they must figure out whether to try again or take a different approach in an institution where partisanship often reigns supreme.
“It’s just so hard to get things done,” lamented Tulare dairy farmer Mario Simoes, a 77-year-old friend of Valadao
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, for instance, authored an ambitious bill to steer more water to Valley farmers and scale back a San Joaquin River restoration plan. It eventually made it through a water and power subcommittee chaired by McClintock, as well as through the House. Then, opposed by California’s two senators, as well as nearly all House Democrats, the legislation died in the Senate.
On a smaller scale, Denham in December 2011 introduced a bill to add 18 acres to Yosemite National Park. As a tactically bipartisan step, he joined the same day with a California Democrat who had a bill to change the 26,000-acre Pinnacles National Monument to a national park. Ultimately, the Pinnacles National Park bill passed both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate, while Denham’s Yosemite bill stalled.
For Valley lawmakers, as well as others, committee positions will continue to shape both priorities and power.
Valadao, for instance, landed a noteworthy appointment to the House Appropriations Committee. Though the individual members’ clout has been constrained with the House’s self-imposed prohibition on earmarks, the committee remains crucial for its power over federal spending. Valadao is the panel’s only representative from the region between Chico and Bakersfield.
Valadao said he hopes to focus his first legislative initiatives on hydropower and other energy issues. He also cited immigration issues as a priority.
“I’m a very optimistic person,” Valadao said. “As a business person, I know you always face new opportunities.”
On a panel that rivals the appropriations committee for power, the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Nunes continues to rise in seniority and has his eye on potential subcommittee chairmanships down the road. Denham, too, is looking at potential chairmanships. One possible opening this year is the subcommittee overseeing railroads, an intriguing position for anyone monitoring California’s high-speed rail program.
Minority members, likewise, look to their committee positions. Denham’s colleague on the House Agriculture Committee, veteran Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, could become a ranking member on a strong subcommittee, helpful in shaping an overdue new farm bill.
By happenstance, Valadao has taken over Costa’s old House office. By Thursday at noon, though the office walls remained bare, Valadao had hired most of his new staff, including chief of staff Tal Eslick and Hanford-based district director George Andrews. When this week’s festivities are over, Valadao’s wife and three young children will return to their California home while the freshman congressman will start the cross-country commute routine he’ll endure for at least the next two years.
“He is one of us, a regular citizen,” said Larry Serpa, a long-time friend and regional official with the Tulare office of Land O’ Lakes, Inc. “It just proves the American dream can still be lived.”