Our View: 100 days in, Harder finds ways to stand out

After 100-plus days in office, three things set our new congressman, Josh Harder, apart:

Of the 98 pieces of legislation he has had a part in, 75 percent have bipartisan support. That’s the highest percentage of across-the-aisle reaching among all 97 freshman legislators (88 House representatives, like Harder, and nine senators) in Congress, Harder said in a Wednesday meeting with Modesto Bee editors.

As reported by our McClatchy bureau in Thursday’s paper, Harder, a Turlock Democrat, raised more campaign money — $870,000 — than all other rookie legislators in Washington, D.C., in the first quarter of 2019. That exceeds much better-known newbies like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

Harder’s office has produced a nine-page report, to be shared with all, summarizing his funding priorities, formed from an extended listening tour. It’s rare for a DC legislator to broadcast exactly what one wants to accomplish, Harder said, because most are scared that constituents whose interests aren’t included will loudly complain about being left out.

It’s good to see this 32-year-old legislator stepping up and stepping out. He seems more confident than when he ran last year against entrenched incumbent Jeff Denham, who, like six other House Republicans from California, fell victim to the so-called Blue Wave that returned House control to Democrats.

Part of Harder’s energy no doubt comes from the never-ending campaigning forced on all House members. Because they serve only two-year terms, they never are not running. Former Turlock City Councilman Ted Howze, a Republican who finished third in last year’s Primary behind Denham and Harder, immediately set his sights on 2020. Republican Marla Sousa Livengood, who in November lost to incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in a district to the north, has announced she also will oppose Harder next year.

Howze raised $30,000 in the first quarter and has $320,000 in cash on hand from loans to his campaign. Harder’s people called Howze “a serious threat” in a digital call for donations; Howze seized on that in a note to his supporters, saying, “If Josh Harder and Nancy Pelosi think our campaign is a `serious threat’ now, then they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Harder on Wednesday sidestepped a question about all the money he’s getting from the Bay Area, saying 80 percent of his contributors write checks too small (less than $200) to report by zip code. He also said, “There is a hunger for pragmatic problem-solving in Washington. I think people are exhausted by cable news politicians, by the nonstop fights between Republican and Democrats. There is a hunger to get back to the basics, to move the ball forward on stuff that 90 percent of Americans agree on.”

Harder loves to talk about “setting a new standard of accessibility and openness,” noting the 40 public events he’s appeared at in his first 100 days, including four town halls and 10 office-hour events where he chats one-on-one with people, and four more town halls scheduled in the next week. That’s a refreshing change from Denham’s reluctance to hold town halls open to all, in his last 18 months.

But Harder didn’t answer everything The Bee asked. Although he said a week ago that he soon will announce a “generational solution to grow and secure our water supply,” he said a duty to unnamed partners in the plan keeps him from spoiling an official riverfront unveiling scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday behind the American Legion Hall at Tuolumne River Regional Park, 1021 S. Santa Cruz Ave. in Modesto.

So far, 13 bills and three amendments sponsored or co-sponsored by Harder were passed by the House, including one designating the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta a national heritage site; Pres. Donald Trump signed it in March. That’s not a bad start, but it would be nice to see results in issues with even more impact for the Valley. Harder knows that, and is eager to talk about ideas for bringing jobs, and improving health care and bridges throughout Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County.

Other priorities include more rides for veterans with appointments at the VA clinic in Palo Alto, more federal grants for law enforcement, more medical residency doctors, and more incentives for local agencies to build affordable housing.

“We feel like second-class citizens. We feel overlooked. We feel ignored,” Harder said, comparing the Valley to Southern California and the Bay Area and pledging “to make sure we get the attention and the dollars we deserve.”

Sounds good. He’s got five more 100-day periods (and change) to make it happen.