Valley voice in nation's Capitol shifts a bit

Sun-Star Washington BureauJanuary 3, 2013 

— 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 backers 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 as the serious business of the new 113th Congress was starting to shape up.

Some of Valadao's new colleagues, such as Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, have fresh committee assignments. In his second term, Denham has joined the House Agriculture Committee. Some, such as Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, have many new constituents.

McClintock now represents a swath of the central and southern Sierra Nevada mountains including Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties.

Some have new homes, such as Rep. Jerry McNerney. The Democrat relocated his official residence from Pleasanton to Stockton after congressional district lines were redrawn.

The start of the 113th Congress 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 in which 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.

For instance, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, authored an ambitious bill to steer more water to valley farmers and scale back restoration plans for the San Joaquin River. It 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 bill died in the Senate.

Denham bill stalls

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 the House and Senate, while Denham's Yosemite bill stalled.

For valley lawmakers, as well as others, committee positions will continue to shape priorities and power.

Valadao, for instance, landed a noteworthy appointment to the House Appropriations Committee. 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.

On 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.

Sun-Star Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or (202) 383-0006.

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