Ashton: Labeled politicos carry it lightly

Being labeled a "carpetbagger," a 19th century political epithet, isn't holding back Republican candidates in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Tom Berryhill, Kurt Vander Weide, Jeff Denham and Richard Pombo are taking up new addresses to compete for different seats in the June 8 primary and none appears to be suffering as an outsider.

Assemblyman Berryhill has his party's support in his run for the 14th Senate District, even though it required him to move from Modesto to Oakdale. You can catch him tomorrow night at the DoubleTree Hotel, where GOP political guru Karl Rove will be the featured speaker at a Berryhill fund-raiser.

Vander Weide hails from Turlock -- the 26th Assembly District -- but got a Mariposa address to run for Berryhill's 25th Assembly seat. He's backed by the California Republican Assembly and a string of business and political leaders up and down Highway 49.

Neither state Sen. Denham nor former U.S. Rep. Pombo lived in the 19th Congressional District, but both have plenty of cash in the bank as they compete to take over for Rep. George Radanovich, who is not seeking re-election. Denham is one of the leaders in the four-way race, according to a poll last week from Fresno's KFSN-TV.

Political U-haul trucks make ripe targets for critics.

Take Dave Bowman, the conservative host of Modesto's KFIV's "Afternoons Live" radio show:

"I'm disgusted by the idea of moving from district to district to create a job. This is supposed to be about public service," he said.

Or Berryhill opponent Heidi Fuller, who never misses an opportunity to call him a carpetbagger. She's suing the secretary of state over the issue, trying to persuade a court to enforce a clause in the state constitution that requires candidates to live in a district a year before seeking office.

Fuller's losing on that front, with a judge at the Sacramento County Superior Court siding with legal opinions that call the residency requirement unconstitutional.

That decision, however, included a line that affirmed Fuller's argument:

"The residency requirement does not preclude Berryhill from running for Senate or from traveling intrastate; it simply requires him to have been a resident of the particular district in which he runs for at least one year," Judge Timothy M. Frawley wrote.

Along that line of thought, Berryhill could've stayed in Denham's 12th Senate District and competed against Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, who will be a well-funded and tough opponent in November. The GOP sees a winner in Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella and wants to give him a shot against Caballero.

Denham could've kept his Atwater ranch and challenged Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Merced for the 18th Congressional District. Denham, a prolific fund-raiser with a sharp tongue on the campaign trail, would be picking up more traction against the incumbent than former Turlock Irrigation District Director Mike Berryhill, who is Tom Berryhill's cousin.

"All these people talk about how they want to help their party," Bowman said. "So why aren't they running against the opposition to gain power for their party instead of running for easy seats? I think they're afraid of a fight."

More generously, the four candidates on the move are trying to take advantage of opportunities they didn't see last year.

Tom Berryhill backed Cannella early on. The assemblyman was planning to keep his seat until a few months ago, when Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, decided 10 years was enough time for him in the Legislature. That surprise announcement also led to Vander Weide's move for the 25th Assembly District.

Michael Fowler, a member of the California Republican Assembly and adviser to the Modesto Junior College Republicans, struggled with the carpetbagger charge in evaluating the candidates until he decided the district boundaries were drawn by political parties for political ends. The more important qualities for him were that the candidates came from the region and shared his values. He likes Vander Weide.

Also, the carpetbagger moniker might not stick because all four have records of public service in the valley.

"They have all been here for a long time," said Democratic consultant Mike Lynch. "The fact that legislative lines move doesn't mean that they are unfamiliar with the issues or the area they happen to be seeking office in."

Contrast that with the roots of the word carpetbagger. It refers to unscrupulous Northerners who muscled into Southern states after the Civil War and enriched themselves.

Fowler and Lynch think voters can decide for themselves who's a carpetbagger.

"If this were a problem for the voters, these guys wouldn't get elected," Lynch said.

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.