Bulletin to Fruit Pickers Union*

California's 21st Congressional District offers Democrats low hanging fruit, ready to be picked in November. In 2012, the voters in that district reelected President Obama by a margin of 11.1 percent at the same time that the same voters sent freshman Republican, David Valadao, to Congress. This post is the second in a series for the group, Low Hanging Fruit in the House - 2014, covering the House races for the 14 Republican held seats in districts carried by the President in 2012. Just as in the nearby California Tenth, covered earlier, this district can be won by the Democrat in November. Go out into the tall grass for a closer look.

*Join the Fruit Pickers Union at Low Hanging Fruit in the House - 2014

Part Two, California Twenty-First

The District

The district, dominated by agribusiness and populated by the sons and daughters of Hispanic field workers and their White bosses, lies in the Southern reaches of California's Central Valley. On the map to the left, it is the larger of the two pink blotches in the center of the State. That's pink for pickable. Here is a more detailed map of the district.

The Foe

Meet Congressman David Valadao, reputedly the poorest member of Congress. Your humble blogger would not care much to be represented by either the richest or poorest Member of Congress, regardless of party, given the greed, graft and

grift implications for either status, the likely choice being between a practiced crook and a parvenu.

It appears that Mr. Valadao, a College dropout, may not be a very good businessman and that appears to be is what has placed him in the financial straits that hound him as he completes his freshman term in Congress. He enters his first reelection campaign automatically vulnerable as a freshman, with a troubled business history in a heavily Hispanic district that went strongly for President Obama in 2012.

Mr. Valadao's business is a possible source of opposition research gold. We can only hope that Team Blue has cadres combing the records at the county courthouse and Secretary of State's Office to work out how the family farm partnership, Valadao Dairy, run by Mr. Valadao on 1000 acres in Hanford, CA, land worth maybe $9,000,000, ran up personal indebtedness as high as $37.9 million, almost $40,000/acre. It would be equally nice to know, and hopefully the FOIA requests are already in progress, just what government agencies and programs are underwriting Valadao Dairy's operations. In the Central Valley, Valadao won't be particularly vulnerable for farming on credit and the federal tit. Everybody does it. But he might be vulnerable for doing it badly, or, even better, dishonestly.

Some kind soul drove past Valadao dairy with a camera and posted it on YouTube. It's all very impressive: The hacienda style ranch houses and the huge piles of hay and the crops growing on $9,000/acre land; the giant, open sheds populated by endless lines of cows existing only to eat and have vacuum hoses attached to their udders so that Congressman Valadao can serve dairy products in his Washington office and protect the nation's dairy industry's interests in Congress. But $37.9 million can buy half a skyscraper in the Chicago Loop, prompting the question, where did all the money go, Mr. Valadao? Also note that the Congressman has come under question for a potential conflict of interest due to his opposition to a high-speed rail project that would affect the value of Valadao Dairy's farm land in the Central Valley. The Freshman Republican is carrying a lot of negative baggage for just a first term member.

In most ways, Mr. Valadao is a run of the mill, reliable Boehner vote on what ever the crazy du jour might be in the 113th Congress. But, like his near neighbor farther up the Central Valley in the CA-10, Mr. Valadao does split with national Congressional Republicans on immigration reform, up to a point. The son of Portuguese immigrants, Mr. Valadao seeks as much alliance with Hispanic interests as he can manage, as illustrated by his numerous Congressional caucus and conference affiliations. He has even joined the microscopic number of Republican Congressional sponsors of HB 15, which, if passed, would go to conference with the already passed Senate bill on immigration reform. But until he signs the HB 15 discharge petition, he can still be called out on failure to support reform by his opponent.

Our Hero
“Ya es tiempo — you have a voice,” Amanda Renteria, a Democratic candidate for Congress, declared one recent Saturday morning at a park in this little city southeast of Fresno. There was no need to translate the Spanish. The park was festooned with “Amanda Renteria para el Congreso” signs.

As she told her local-girl-makes-good story — daughter of onetime migrant fruit pickers, degrees from Stanford and Harvard, a job in Washington as a senator’s chief of staff — men in ranchero hats smiled with pride. Women choked back tears. Candidates like her, they said, do not come around often in places like this.

As reported by the New York Times, Ms. Rentaria's supporters make no secret of the deep ties they feel to this talented and accomplished Hispanic woman.
“We have been waiting, waiting,” said Diana Rodriquez, a retired teacher whose parents also worked the fields here in the agriculturally rich Central Valley, in a largely Hispanic congressional district. “We helped Obama win the election, and they still see us to be passed over. This is going to help the overall national cause — respect for our community.”
According to Stu Rothenberg, Ms. Renteria was a candidate deeply coveted by Democratic party recruiters. She has been promised full Party support by the DCCC against the RCCC in a district where the Democrat, in 2012, raised no money to speak of.

As a former chief of staff for Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Amanda Rentaria's years on Capitol Hill have given her the statewide and national connections to confront David Valadao with an opponent the likes of which Republicans have never seen in this district. She has never forgotten her roots in the Central Valley. She has already shown the ability to raise over a million dollars for her campaign.

The Pundits, Polls and Probabilities

When David Valadao first won election to Congress in the CA-21 in 2012, he did so by the smallest winning margin of any Republican victor in this district, going back in an unbroken line, all the way to 1990. Many of those Republicans won their seats with performances that bested Mr. Valadao's winning margin by double digits. Now that Mr. Valadao is an incumbent, he can suffer the wave of anti-incumbent fever that seems to be sweeping through the electorate if a number of polls are to be credited. Add this to Mr. Valadao's long list of weaknesses.

There doesn't seem to be any horse race polling on he CA-21, yet. Most analysts put the race in the mushy middle of leaning, tilting or otherwise seemingly unstable districts that the GOP should expect to have trouble holding in November. But, polls or no polls, Mr. Valadao is undeniably weak in a number of different ways and Democrats have recruited a splendid and particularly suitable opponent for November. Democrats need to pick this plum.  

The Ask

Every single one of the 14 districts, that this series of posts will cover, will more likely flip over to the Blue side if our Democratic candidates are well funded. Don't look for progressive perfection in these candidates, because we won't find much of that. But every Democrat doesn't have to be a progressive in order to put the Speaker's Gavel into much more progressive hands. The first order of business is to regain control of the House. So, for each race covered here, including Amanda Renteria's race in CA-21, if you can, send a couple of bucks along to help. If you can't, have a great day and maybe next time.
What's Next?

Coming next: A look at the California 31st Congressional District, an open seat held by a retiring Republican in a district that elected President Obama with a margin over Mitt Romney of +16.6% two years ago.

Originally posted to Low Hanging Fruit in the House - 2014 on Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 07:22 AM PDT.

Also republished by California politics.

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