Sometimes There Just Is No Lesser Evil Running-- So The Democrats Lost CA-13, A Nice Blue District
California’s new 13th congressional district southeast of San Francisco in the rural Central Valley— including voters from Merced, Stanislaus, Madera, Fresno, San Joaquin— was one of the last districts to finalize its election returns and was the scene of the second closest race in the country (after Boebert’s). The voter turnout was weak and the race was a classic lesser of two evils contest between two conservatives, Republican John Duarte and supposed Democrat Adam Gray. Gray, a grotesquely corrupt state legislator, ran in the open district against wealthy pistachio, walnut and almond farmer John Duarte. Duarte beat him 67,060 (50.21%) to 66,469 (49.79%)— 591 votes.
The district is just over half Latino. The PVI is D+4, the partisan lean is D+7 and Biden beat Trump 54.3% to 43.4%. There are no cities, but it includes a small piece of Modesto, plus Merced, Turlock, Chowchilla, Los Banos, Mendota, San Joaquin, Madera, Kerman and Coalinga. It shouldn’t have been that hard for a Democrat to win.
A leader of the corporately-financed “Mod Squad,” the Democrats would have been hard-pressed to have found a worse and less inspiring candidate than Adam Gray to run against one of the worst Republicans running anywhere. On Wednesday, Chris D’Angelo reported that Duarte had just cosponsored a bill “to strike down a Biden administration rule restoring long-standing federal protections for hundreds of thousands of streams and wetlands across the country— safeguards that the Trump administration dismantled in 2020.” 200 Republicans were cosponsors… but Duarte was special. In 2017 Duarte “paid $1.1 million in fines for illegally plowing 22 acres of federally protected streams and wetlands on his farm. The settlement followed a yearslong legal battle that started when Duarte hired a contractor to ‘rip,’ or deep till, his entire 450-acre property before planting wheat, including areas with federally protected waters. The case garnered national attention, and Duarte emerged as a sort of hero among anti-environmental zealots, agricultural interests and private property rights groups.”
Duarte co-owns Duarte Nursery in California’s Central Valley. The company specializes in almonds, pistachios, walnuts and wine grapes, and boasts of being “one of the world’s largest permanent crop nurseries.” He and the company initially faced a $2.8 million fine for illegally ripping federally protected waters on the property, but ultimately reached a settlement agreement with the Justice Department that included $1.1 million in civil penalties and mitigation costs. In a press release announcing the deal, the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump noted that “Duarte’s own environmental consultant had warned him that he would be subject to significant penalties for ripping without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a right-wing law firm with a long record of fighting to weaken environmental safeguards, represented Duarte in the case.
…[I]n a recent interview with Fox News, the freshman congressman called his own experience financially “devastating” and the Obama-era WOTUS regulation “misguided” and “a fiasco” for farmers.
“It’s a complete example of government overreach,” he told Fox.
Duarte earns an annual salary of more than $700,000 from his company, according to a financial disclosure that is required of all congressional candidates.
Along with co-sponsoring the resolution to block Biden’s new rules, Duarte landed himself a seat on two House committees with jurisdiction over natural resources and environmental agencies: the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. His record of sparring with the federal government over stricter clean water rules all but certainly factored into his committee assignments.
On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which is part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, held a hearing titled “Stakeholder Perspectives on the Impacts of the Biden Administration’s Water of the United States (WOTUS) Rule.” Their witnesses, including Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, and Alicia Huey, chair of the National Association of Home Builders, called on the Biden administration to set its new rules until the Supreme Court rules in Sackett v. EPA later this year, a case that will decide EPA’s authority to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
Duarte spent his allotted five minutes during the hearing rehashing his case— “a flashpoint for American farmers and Clean Water Act jurisdictions,” he called it— and portraying himself a victim of a heavy-handed federgovernment.
“We all should look at my case very acutely and reflect upon our food system here in America,” Duarte said. “I want to make sure that we are on record that this is anything but a small nuisance or a small threat to American farmers.”
Hawkins, of the Missouri Farm Bureau, thanked Duarte for his “leadership” and “example” over the years, and called his story “an illustration of what we’ve seen across the country.”
Clean water advocates dismissed the idea that federal regulators treated Duarte unfairly.
“It’s disingenuous to paint Rep. John Duarte as a victim when the record is clear that he knowingly broke the law when he decided to destroy wetlands and streams on his property without a permit,” Jennifer Peters, water programs director at Clean Water Action, told HuffPost.
As for Biden’s new rules, she and Jon Devine, director of federal water policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, say they are anything but burdensome. And they condemned the GOP’s effort to repeal them.
“This attempt to cancel very modest clean water regulations is a waste of time and its supporters aren’t being honest about the law,” Devine said. “The Biden administration’s rules are built on, and closely resemble, policies that have been in place since the G.W. Bush administration, so even in the unimaginable scenario where this resolution is enacted, we’d simply revert back to virtually identical guidelines.”
“In reality our government needs to be doing much more to protect our water bodies, half of which are considered too polluted for fishing or swimming,” Peters said.
Together, the DCCC and Pelosi's House Majority PAC spent-- wasted-- over $6 million pushing Gray. No doubt they'll either re-recruit him or find someone equally abysmal to run for the seat next year. It's what they do; it's all they do.