Water, tax cuts tops in 19th race

The Republican candidates in the 19th Congressional District do not differ much on the issues, so they are vying to show who would best advance conservative values.

Two are experienced lawmakers from the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The others are former or present members of the Fresno City Council.

They all have to introduce themselves in places they do not yet represent, as roughly a third of the voters are in Stanislaus County, a third in Fresno County and the rest in Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties.

The winner in the June 8 primary likely will win the seat, which will be left empty by the retirement of Mariposa Republican George Radanovich. The GOP has a edge in registration over Democrats -- 43 percent to 37 percent.

Here's a look at the candidates and the themes they're hitting on the campaign trail:

State Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater carries Radanovich's endorsement. He said he would fight excessive taxes and regulation in Washington, D.C.

He said voters showed their faith in him by soundly defeating a 2008 recall that was pushed by then-Democratic Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland. Denham says the recall was prompted by his opposition to a state budget crafted by the leadership of both parties.

Voters "know that I'm someone who is going to stand up for the community and not give in to political pressure," he said.

He said the district can recover from its severe unemployment through tax cuts, reduced regulation and boosting small business.

Denham supports new reservoirs and the Two Gates project, which aims to protect delta fish by blocking them from the massive pumps that send water south. He says he'd work across party lines for valley water.

Denham calls for a redo of the health reform package that would create competition for insurance companies across state lines.

He lives in Atwater, outside of the congressional district. He said there's plenty of overlap between the Senate district and the congressional seat he's seeking.

"People know me here," he said. "I have represented the valley for eight years now."

Jim Patterson, who served two terms as Fresno's mayor, said he takes his cue from "optimistic" conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill.

"They were able to see the traditions as being the pathway forward to progress," he said.

Patterson said he would respect property and gun rights and work to reduce taxes and regulation. He favors repeal of the estate tax, reduction in income taxes and instituting a flat tax.

"The pledge I have made is to cut taxes -- across-the-board, deep cuts in taxes" to spark spending and generate jobs, he said.

Patterson opposes efforts launched last year to restore the salmon population in the stretch of the San Joaquin River left dry by construction of Millerton Reservoir. He prefers to create a "warm-water" fishery, which would not require the volume needed by the cold-loving salmon.

Patterson calls for replacement of the recent health care reform with "conservative, common sense" solutions. These include interstate competition among insurance companies, purchasing pools for small businesses and expansion of medical savings accounts.

As mayor, he said, he helped to attract businesses to Fresno, improve its airport and increase the police force.

Former Congressman Richard Pombo, who lost a re-election bid in 2006 in his Tracy-area district, said he wants to renew his efforts in Washington.

"I think a lot of it is derived from just watching what's happened over the last four years," he said. "I feel an obligation to get back in so I can do something."

Pombo said the federal government needs to look at other factors beyond water exports as it tries to support fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

He said he would work to reform the Endangered Species Act, which has been used to reduce water for farms. He favors drafting recovery plans before designating critical habitat, which is the opposite of the current process.

His past work to rewrite environmental laws drew national attention and led to Democratic groups pouring money into efforts to unseat him four years ago. That led to Democrat Jerry McNerney taking the seat. Environmental groups are poised to spend heavily again to keep Pombo out of Congress.

He would vote to repeal the health reforms and replace them with targeted measures such as interstate competition by insurance companies, purchasing pools for small business and expanded medical savings accounts.

He said he brings experience as a lawmaker who did not become a Washington insider.

"I came home every weekend," he said. "I did it for my family. I did it because it kept me grounded."

Larry Westerlund, a lawyer, Naval Reserve officer and Fresno City Council member, said he stands out from candidates favored by "power brokers" in the party.

He calls for an end to economic stimulus spending and wants to use the money to pay down the national debt.

"We overspent ourselves into this mess and now we're trying to overspend ourselves out of this mess," he said.

He favors cutting taxes, especially on capital gains.

"Those dollars would work through the economy very strongly with a great multiplier effect," he said.

Westerlund would vote to repeal the health reform and replace it with interstate competition among insurance companies and other market solutions.

He supports an increase in delta pumping to water-short farms in the west valley, along with increased water storage, the Two Gates project and controls on city waste water in the delta. He would rewrite the Endangered Species Act to give greater weight to human needs.

Westerlund said logging in the Sierra should be returned to a "reasonable" level.

He said he supports the military's renewed push in Afghanistan and other efforts against terrorism. On a recent mission with the Navy, he helped train and equip armies in Sahara Desert nations to pursue al-Qaida.

A look at the candidates

Jeff Denham

• AGE: 42

• HOME: Atwater

• OCCUPATION: State senator, almond grower, owner of Salinas company that makes plastic containers

• FAMILY: Wife, Sonia; two children

• CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS: $491,000 as of March 31


• THOUGHTS ON TEA PARTY MOVEMENT: "I think you are seeing people who are engaged, people who are mad and angry that their government is being taken away from them."

Jim Patterson

• AGE: 62

• HOME: Fresno

• OCCUPATION: Owner of consulting service on public policy and other issues; mayor of Fresno, 1993-2001

• FAMILY: Wife, Sharon; three children

• CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS: $85,000 as of March 31


• THOUGHTS ON TEA PARTY MOVEMENT: "The tea party reminds me of what it was like when Ronald Reagan was running for president."

Richard Pombo

• AGE: 49

• HOME: Tracy

• OCCUPATION: Rancher, consultant; served in Congress from 1993 to 2007

• FAMILY: Wife, Annette; three children

• CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS: $463,000 as of March 31


• THOUGHTS ON TEA PARTY MOVEMENT: "I think you have a bunch of normal people who are just angry. They are looking at what's going on in Sacramento and Washington and get angry about spending levels and taxes."

Larry Westerlund

• AGE: 43

• HOME: Fresno

• OCCUPATION: Attorney, city councilman, lieutenant commander in Navy Reserve

• FAMILY: Wife, Dora; one child

• CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS: $95,000 as of March 31


• THOUGHTS ON TEA PARTY MOVEMENT: "I'm pleased and happy that we have a group of folks who haven't been engaged in the past, who are organizing to get engaged. They're angry, and I'm angry, about what we've seen happening in Washington and Sacramento."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.