Today Jerry McNerney announced he wouldn't be running for reelection. Other than DC politicos the folks in Stockton, Lodi, Brentwood, Galt and Antioch, people just shrug and say "who?" Back in 2004 and 2006 no one would have guessed Jerry would sink into a mushy centrist morass of backbenchers. Back then he was one of the very first heroes of the netroots-- a political giant killer and momentary superstar, the future of the Democratic Party. The laugh was on us.
In 2004, McNerney won a primary as a last minute write-in candidate (with no opponent) and proceeded to take on untouchable GOP heavyweight Richard Pombo, powerful, corrupt chair of the House Natural Resources Committee-- in a race that was widely ignored. With no money and no institutional support in a red district, he campaigned on progressive issues, especially clean energy, and won nearly 40% of the vote. It was an astounding enough feat that Rahm Emanuel, then head of the DCCC recruited a values-free middle of the road nothing candidate to run in 2006. The new burgeoning netroots got behind McNerney, in its first unified endeavor against the DCCC. Emanuel-- the mirror imagine of Tom DeLay-- went crazy and went all out for his nothing candidate, Steve Filson. Pelosi hosted a fundraiser for him, just a few days after the California Labor Federation endorsed McNerney.
Despite Emanuel's bullying and blustering, Sandra Carter, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Joaquin/Calaveras Central Labor Council said workingmen and women are looking forward to McNerney's candidacy because "he is the candidate who has the ideals and ideas to best represent this district." Art Pulaski, the Executive Secretary and Treasurer of the state Labor Federation said McNerney was endorsed instead of the candidate the DCCC was trying to force on the district because "he shares our mutual commitment to the working men and women of California. As a renewable energy expert, Jerry’s vision is to get America working again by bringing new energy technology jobs to California. Unlike Richard Pombo and his Washington cronies, Jerry wants to build an economy that works for everyday Americans, not just for lobbyists and their CEO friends... With this endorsement, between now and Election Day our member unions will be on the ground and on the phones to help Jerry end Pombo Politics and restore honesty, integrity, and accountability to Washington."
The California Democratic Party was far more independent then than it is now. The party convention told Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, Ellen Tauscher and all the other power-for-power's sake Democrats to go screw themselves, voting overwhelmingly to endorse Jerry McNerney. Party rules-- not the ones Emanuel ignores by declaring war on grassroots candidates everywhere in the country, but California Democratic Party rules-- require 60% of the delegates' approval to endorse a candidate in a contested primary. 75% of the delegates voted to endorse McNerney. Emanuel's reaction was to redouble his efforts to beat McNerney and win the nomination for the sack of nothing candidate he and Pelosi were backing.
At the time, I wrote that the McNerney and his allies were people seriously committed to defeating Pombo and who don't want some out-of-touch DC power brokers telling them what to do. McNerney's and his allies' kind of hard-hitting attacks on Pombo was clearly how to retire Pombo, not by following Emanuel's namby-pamby playbook that confuses voters and makes people unsure about the differences. At the time, Tom DeLay and protégées like Pombo were grotesquely corrupt but what about Emanuel and his protégées? Same/same. Pombo voted against consumers at every opportunity, but what about Emanuel? Emanuel and his allies were the lesser evil, but bad enough to make some voters stop and think and then say, not without reason, "they're all the same. Politicians in DC don't care about people like me." Ten years later-- Donald Trump... followed by Joe Biden, who gave Emanuel a cushy sinecure as ambassador to Japan.
In 2006 McNerney rolled right over Emanuel and the nothing candidate, who only managed to muster 28.5% of the vote despite the whole corrupt Democratic Establishment out swinging for him-- exactly like they're doing for Robert Garcia today in his race against progressive Cristina Garcia. Anyway, after McNerney beat Emanuel and his candidate, Emanuel declared the race to be unwinnable and refused to allow the DCCC to help McNerney win. So McNerney's progressive coalition did it without the corrupt Democratic establishment:
Jerry McNerney- 109,868 (53.3%)
Richard Pombo- 96,396 (46.7%)
After his big win, Emanuel, Pelosi and Hoyer all kissed up to McNerney and made him feel like he was the most important freshman in Congress-- and he fell for it! Hoyer told him that the only way he could be reelected would be by throwing away all that progressive bullshit and governing as a centrist. McNerney refused to join the Progressive Caucus. Emanuel told him he would make up for the non-support by giving him the best chief of staff on Capitol Hill. That's a super important job for any member of Congress and Emanuel gave him a conservative... and McNerney was never heard of again. He's retiring with a lifetime ProgressivePunch score of "F."
McNerney never joined the Blue Dogs or New Dems either; he was just... nothing much. And he won't be missed... by anyone. Still, he was never egregiously bad. He just hasn't been particularly any good. He just always votes the party line and is the polar opposite of all the promise everyone saw in him 10 years ago. What a missed opportunity!