The 112th Congress is one of the most unproductive and unpopular in recent history. While some will try to rationalize the gridlock, ultimately the success of any organization is the sum of its parts.
One of the parts of the troubled Congress is Jeff Denham, who we have supported in every previous election he has been in. In his two terms in the state Senate, where the Republicans were in the minority, Denham had to work with Democrats to get anything accomplished. He did on both accounts.
Denham was elected to Congress in 2010, as part of a wave of 89 Republicans, many of them directly or indirectly aligned with the tea party, that took control of the House. These new legislators flexed their new political strength and dug in their heels making them responsible for much of the gridlock that has ensued in the last two years.
Denham was in the thick of that throughout his first year-plus in Congress. This past January, during a visit with The Bee editorial board, when he asked who he respected most in Washington, D.C., Denham said the whole freshman class in the House, in large part because they were eager to make change.
The former state senator clearly had shifted right, and it was evident in his votes against Obamacare, against raising the debt ceiling and other issues, even to the point of irresponsibly bringing the federal government to a standstill.
Nine months later in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, Denham has changed his tone. He talks, once again, about the importance of being bipartisan, of working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other Democrats representing California. It's enough to make us ask who is the real Jeff Denham? And, if re-elected, who will he be in 2013 and 2014?
That said, Denham is the stronger candidate in this runoff, once again garnering our endorsement.
Former astronaut Jose Hernandez, the No. 2 vote getter in the June top-two primary, has a compelling story. But he has run a very weak campaign largely overseen by people from the national Democratic Party. He hasn't made himself known in this district for anything much beyond his celebrity as the first Hispanic American in space.
We wonder whether Hernandez really wants this position or is prepared to meet and talk with the cross section of people that a member of Congress needs to work with on an ongoing basis. It's disappointing that someone wanting to represent our region has done such a poor job of reaching out to ag leaders, including the Farm Bureau.
Elective office is serious business, especially given the challenges faced by our region and nation. Denham proved himself a capable state legislator and he remains a hardworking representative.
He gives constituent service a high priority and his staff helps people with all sorts of problems. Although he moved his family to the Washington, D.C., area, Denham returns to his district regularly, so we are not concerned about him losing touch with the valley. (For the record, we don't consider him a local farmer but an ag businessman.)
Throughout his political career, Denham, an Air Force veteran, has worked on behalf of other veterans and he continues to do that in Washington, writing successful legislation to make it easier for veterans to use their military experience to qualify for positions requiring federal licenses or certification. It's a good bill, although not the overwhelming accomplishment Denham supporters might think since helping veterans is one of the few things that the two parties can agree on. The Democratically controlled state Legislature, for example, passed almost 20 bills to assist veterans.
Hernandez has deep roots in our region and an impressive career as an engineer-scientist, but he has never run for office. His mediocre voting record suggests he hasn't been very interested in this form of public service. As we have advised such candidates in the past, Hernandez would not only be better served but would also be a better candidate with experience in any number of local or state offices.
If re-elected, Denham needs to decide what kind of representative he will be for the long haul. We don't expect him to abandon his conservative views on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But we hope he will distance himself from the tea party zealots and assume a style of the old "valleycrat," a representative willing to work with people from both parties on the many common issues critical to our region. That kind of cooperation and compromise is what it will take for Congress to become productive again.