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Politics invade Highway 99 scenery in Modesto

Democrats put up a sign attacking Congressman Jeff Denham's vote on the tax bill. The sign greets drivers on southbound Highway 99 as they pass over Ninth Street in Modesto, California.
Democrats put up a sign attacking Congressman Jeff Denham's vote on the tax bill. The sign greets drivers on southbound Highway 99 as they pass over Ninth Street in Modesto, California. gstapley@modbee.com

A week before Valentine’s Day, a box of chocolates-themed billboard attacking Rep. Jeff Denham’s vote for the controversial tax bill went up along Highway 99 in Modesto.

“This year, Jeff Denham gave you higher taxes,” the billboard reads, with letters spelling “tax hike” emerging from the heart-shaped gift box.

A similar billboard criticizing Rep. Kevin Yoder also sprouted in his Kansas district. Both are sponsored by the House Majority PAC, a group whose mission is to unseat Republican House members in favor of Democrats in elections this year. Denham, R-Turlock, is among seven targeted in California.

Denham did not respond to The Modesto Bee, but emailed a letter to constituents Monday predicting a windfall. They will keep “more hard-earned money in the pockets of the middle class to help save for a rainy day or pay down debt,” he said in the letter.

Critics disagree. Jeb Fain, spokesman for the billboard sponsor, said his group “is making sure Central Valley voters know the facts about how harmful this GOP tax scheme is for hardworking families.” Changes in the tax bill “will raise taxes on middle-class families while giving massive tax breaks to the ultra-rich,” Fain said.

The billboard is seen by drivers heading south on Highway 99 as it crosses Ninth Street, a bit south of the Briggsmore overpass. It will stay up for four weeks, said the House Majority PAC, while declining to disclose how much it cost.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last month said Denham stands to gain from $8,547 and $105,300 from tax reform, based on his reported income. His business and rental income, plus his annual $174,000 House salary, brought Denham from $316,998 to $1.25 million in 2016, putting him into a tax bracket of 32, 35 or 37 percent.

Denham will share the June Primary ballot with a passel of Democrats: Dotty Nygard, Virginia Madueño, Sue Zwahlen, T.J. Cox, Josh Harder, Mike Barkley and Michael Eggman, as well as three others who already dropped out. Also running are independents Terra Snover and Scott Shoblom. Others conceivably could enter the race before a March deadline.

The top two vote-getters in June, regardless of party, will advance to the November ballot. The 10th Congressional District covers Stanislaus County and south San Joaquin County.

The House Majority PAC sponsored three holiday-themed billboards in December targeting Republicans Mike Bishop of Michigan, Jason Lewis of Minnesota and John Katko of New York, also based on their tax bill votes.

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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