Putting Democrats in the Crosshairs of the Right

By Steven Tavares

Rep. Pete Stark is more of a liability for the Democratic Party than he is to the prospects of retaining his long-time seat in Congress. He has always had a propensity for shooting from the hip and the proliferation of YouTube has made his biting, sometimes callous comments, fodder for conservatives across the country, but typically elicits so-what shrugs and wry smiles from his constituents.

Stark has not faced a viable challenger since the 1970s. Republican Bill Kennedy has come the closest to unseating Stark in the last 30 years and he only gained 40 percent of the vote in 1980. In fact, during the past five elections cycles, opponents have surpassed a quarter of the vote just once. On George Bruno’s second attempt, he registered 25.1 percent.

For East Bay voters, though, Stark’s staunch liberal views have been long embraced. Stark began his political career on the heels of protesting the Vietnam War and has consistently been critical of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. He also urged the administration to go further with health care reform by supporting the public option. While Stark is an institution in the East Bay, his controversial comments over the past five years have gotten him in hot water with House Democrats. Many pointed to his remarks ranging from saying President Bush enjoyed having soldiers get “their heads blown off” in Iraq to denigrating comments made to constituents in Fremont last year as one of the reasons he inexplicably held the coveted chair of the House Ways and Means Committee for just a single day before stepping down.

In addition to behavior that inherently attracts the ire of conservatives across the country, there is still concern about Stark’s health. He battled the effects of pneumonia for much of last year and has recently appeared puffy and bloated during public events. Because of his health, he also has one of the lowest attendance records in Congress. If there has been a time that Stark seems relatively vulnerable it may be now.

Republican challenger for Stark’s seat this November Forest Baker may be the biggest beneficiary of Stark’s mad ravings. It is conceivable conservative talking heads like Glenn Beck, Jim O’Reilly and blogger Michelle Malkin could turn Stark’s comments asserting the border is secure into a right-wing call-to-action. Beck  featured Stark’s video on his program yesterday, although he mistakenly referred to him as a senator. “Senator (sic), let me put you on notice now — don’t you dare treat the American people like King George a second longer, because we have changed. We’re done. We’re done.”

In a statement Wednesday, Baker called Stark the “last of the 1970s Marxist in American politics,” slyly insinuated his advanced age did not cloud his statements and zeroed in on his secure border remark. “To declare that our southern border is secure when $100 billion worth of drugs enters our country from Mexico every year and a civil war is spilling over into the United States … In any such moment there are underlying stupidities that must simply be stopped,” said Baker.
In spite of what San Francisco Chronicle political reporter Carla Marinucci wrote yesterday, the increased prevalence of conservative supporters at Stark’s town hall meeting last Saturday is not an indication of a groundswell of local disenchantment with their representative, but a negligible minority of opinion. Stark has not appeared locally for months and the rabble rousing appears to be limited to events in Fremont. There was not reports of opposition at his event the same day in San Leandro.

What may occur is the likelihood out-of-district conservatives prompted by pundits like Beck will flock to the East Bay to make an electoral example of Stark. How much pain they can inflict on Stark is unknown, but he does have 25 percent to give before right-wingers can claim a scalp in one of the bluest locales in the country.