Kossacks: Greetings from Northern California! Forgive me if I am bending the rules here, but I posted the original diary on Tuesday night, and it got lost in the Coakley shuffle. So I have edited some stuff out, put some stuff in, reposted it, and I hope some of you will find it interesting.
May I introduce Amerish Bera, MD, of Elk Grove (a southern suburb of Sacramento). Dr. Bera is District 3's Democratic candidate for Congress.
He is unopposed in the Democratic Primary; this fall he will take on Congressman Dan Lungren, a Bush/Cheney rubberstamper who is a poor fit for this politically moderate district--Pres. Barack Obama took the Third by a narrow margin in 11/08.
Read on for more info, links, and an account of my meeting with Dr. Bera at a coffee chat earlier this week.
First a disclaimer: I do not work for the Bera Campaign in any professional capacity; I am simply an enthusiastic supporter. I am posting this blog diary on my own, and this is not to be construed as an official communication from the Bera Campaign. Thanks!
First, some background on California's Third Congressional District:
CA-03 is a geographically large slice of NorCal, starting with the eastern and southern 'burbs of Sacramento and heading east through the Gold Country foothills, the High Sierra and ending up at the Nevada border. The Third was redrawn in 2001, but the population center of gravity for the district continues to be suburban Sacramento. The far eastern end of the district includes some of the most remote and strikingly beautiful parts of the Sierra Nevada. More demographic and geographic details can be found here.
The Third has a Cook Partisan Voter Index of +6 Republican, which makes it a "pink" district. When we spoke on Tuesday, Dr. Bera told me he had met with the Cook Report people the week before--"I was in DC, and they asked to meet me, to put a face to the name I guess," and he was told that CA-03 is the "19th most competitive house race in the country."
Now, a bit about Congressman Dan Lungren (R-Gold River):
Dan Lungren has a long career in California politics. He made his bones working on the RNC staff in 1971 and 1972 -- a time of big doings for zealous GOP operatives in Washington DC. His was elected to Congress for the first time in 1978, serving until 1989, representing CA-34 in Orange County.
Lungren was Attorney General of California for two terms, from 91-99. His official bio touts his championing of California's "three strikes" law, one of the harshest such laws in the nation. Three Strikes has packed California's prison system to the point that federal judges have had to intervene because of inadequate, inhumane health services for prisoners.
In 2004 he ran for Congress from his new home in the Third District. His latest stint at congressional service is notable mostly for his unapologetic support of torture, a wretched, extremist voting record, and doing stupid show-tune parodies from the well of the House.
Now, a little about Dr. Ami Bera and what I learned from our meeting Tuesday evening:
Dr. Bera would join a small group of medical doctors (there are 11 currently) serving in the House, and would be, as far as I can tell, the first Indian-American in Congress.
According to his campaign bio, Ami Bera is a first-generation American, born to Indian immigrants. As Kos noted in this diary, Dr. Bera has raised money from the Indian-American community nationwide, with notable success.
Dr. Bera told me in our chat tonight that he attended the University of California, Irvine for both his undergraduate studies and medical school. This is Ami Bera's first run for political office, but he is not new to public service; his campaign bio notes that he served as the "Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County, where he directed SacAdvantage, a program providing access to care for 200,000 uninsured Sacramentans." Back in 2002, the Sacramento Business Journal published this profile of Dr. Bera and his responsibilities as CMO for Sacramento County.
In person, Ami Bera comes across as friendly and open, and his knowledge of health-care delivery, economics, and policy is impressive and far-ranging, reflecting his experience as a physician and a public-health administrator. He seemed less than thrilled with the health care reform package that cleared the House, but added that he would have cast his vote for it at final passage time. "It does move the conversation forward for our country, which is hugely important, and the status quo is clearly unacceptable," was his summing-up comment.
I asked Dr. Bera about his strategy for winning in the Third District, and he said that while he sees his strong fundraising and lack of a primary opponent as very fortunate indeed, he is aware that this will be, under the best possible circumstances, a hard-fought campaign. He sees his "outsider" status as a clear advantage over career politician Lungren.
Dr. Bera also spoke of the need to first energize "the over 30,000 Obama supporters in the district," and make the case that "the way to keep change moving forward," is to support his candidacy. His research and general read on the district tell him that while a lot of independent voters have moved away from the Democrats in recent months, they haven't exactly rushed into the arms of the GOP either. He said it is his campaign's job, in large part, to see that they don't.
He will need indies to break heavily for him in November: "Something like 65 percent." He believes his newcomer/outsider status will help persuade this swing group of voters.
Dr. Bera's campaign puts great stock in the grassroots: organizers are already hired, and weekend canvassing is already under way in the Sacramento 'burbs--I will be joining in next week, and I am looking forward to hearing from some Democratic voters and activists who don't go to blog sites!
Also at the meet and greet was Mr. Stewart Smits , chief counsel of Green Citizen, and he and Dr. Bera discussed emerging public/private partnerships in green retrofits for commercial and residential buildings in Northern California. Dr. Bera was clearly engaged by the topic, and asked good detailed questions about the policy and technical aspects of it. Currently, California and the federal government offer subsidies and incentives for this kind of work, and more are in the pipeline.
According to Mr. Smits, the bottleneck, the only thing in the way of an employment boom in clean-energy retrofits across California, "is the L word: Leadership." Dr. Bera agreed that a congressmember could do much to bring interested parties together -- consumers, contractors, unions and financial backer -- to get more projects underway.
Dr. Bera readily agreed to a follow-up meeting with Mr. Smits to exchange more ideas and craft policy on this issue. I chimed in towards the end, noting that this issue could get a lot of traction here--in NorCal, even Republicans are engaged on environmental issues, and unemployment and underemployment are especially bad--the result of a double-whammy: big state government (Sacramento's largest employer) budget cuts on top of the Bush recession.
Regrettably, we had to wrap things up at this point, but I will be canvassing weekends and will report more on the campaign as we proceed.
Please consider offering your support! Here's another link to the Bera campaign website. Thank you!