Former L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas is one of a bumper crop of new Congressional delegates from California.
California’s Congressional delegation has a bumper crop of 14 new freshmen. But most have lots of legislative experience.
Nearly 2/3 of California’s freshman Congressional class have served in the state legislature. All three Republicans -- Paul Cook, Doug LaMalfa, and David Valadeo -- were Assemblymen, with LaMalfa also serving two years in the state Senate.
Six Congressional Democrats -- Julia Brownley, Alan Lowenthal, Jared Huffman, Juan Vargas, Tony Cardenas, and Gloria Negrete McLeod -- are also veterans of the California statehouse.
Brownley is thankful for that Sacramento training. She says that with everything freshmen have to think about, "it’s really great to have had the experience and to know a little bit know about what I need to know and when I need to know it."
Term limits have prompted many California lawmakers to consider life after Sacramento. A combination of citizen-drawn districts and the new “top-two” law made it easier for state legislators to challenge Congressional incumbents.
It’s freshman orientation time, Capitol Hill style. Newly-elected members of Congress spent last week in Washington, where there was a lot to learn and not much time to learn it.
It was a busy week for the new House members from California.
Republican Doug LaMalfa from Redding said going to the House floor was "pretty cool." Ventura Democrat Julia Brownley said there were a lot of meetings in a lot of different locations, which resulted in sore feet, "But it's all been great and very exciting."
L.A. Democrat Tony Cardenas said they received ethics training early in the week, but he had more questions after the session than he did before he walked in the door.
Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had his priorities in order: he found out where he could get his dry cleaning done in the Longworth House Office Building for about a fourth of the price they charge at the hotel where the newbies were put up.
David Valadao, a Republican representing Hanford in the Central Valley, said the hardest part has been remembering names and faces. He noted when he was a lawmaker in Sacramento, it was easier: just 80 members. And as the minority party, his Republican caucus "just had 27 at the time."
California is sending a bumper crop of 14 freshmen to Capitol Hill. They were feted at a dinner in the grand Statuary Hall of the Capitol by Speaker John Boehner, had their I.D. pictures taken, and staked out their preference for committees.
Cardenas wants Energy and Commerce, since he's an engineer. Takano, a teacher, is leaning toward Education and the Workforce. LaMalfa pointed out that he's a farmer in his "real life," so the Agriculture Committee would be "a natural." But LaMalfa said he already knows this much: "Freshmen don't walk in here and start dictating where they go."
Nevertheless, Democrats Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach and Jared Huffman from Humboldt are both requesting Transportation and Infrastructure. Their party is the minority in the House, which means fewer seats on plum committees like those they're seeking.
But Cardenas isn’t discouraged: "The way it works around here, they say if you don’t get what you ask for, and they give you a different committee, apparently you still get to reserve a right to be on it when a slot opens up in the future."
Brownley also wants one of those rare Transportation seats. She spent an afternoon making her case to the top Democrat on that committee, Nick Rahall of West Virginia.
It’s not just the protocol new freshmen have to learn. There’s also the physical lay of the land. Just ask Valadao and Sacramento Democrat Dr. Ami Bera. Valadao said he got "a little disoriented" in the Capitol. Bera said it's a "maze" of a building and compared it to a hospital.
Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino also got a little confused when she stepped into a bathroom: "I walked in and [thought], Why are there urinals here?" She double-checked the door, saw the men's room sign and walked right back out.
But these 14 new members have worries off the Hill as well. Their top concern is housing, whether they'll need a roommate, or a car. Dr. Raul Ruiz of the Coachella Valley said he's thinking about the East Coast winter weather, which he experienced during his college days at Harvard: "I’m starting to think of which clothing that I have that are remnants from my time in Boston that will keep me warm here in D.C."
Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, broached another matter that crosses party lines: "One of the longer commutes in Congress." Peters wondered how he'll make a bi-coastal lifestyle work. LaMalfa said the challenge is whether to "move your family back to this place and then just go home for district business and then try to get back and be here? Or is there enough days that they’re home, you should just stay here and hustle back and forth on the weekends?"
The freshmen will have time to think about logistics while they’re home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be back at work at their temporary cubicles in the basement of the Rayburn Building at the end of the month, picking lottery numbers for office space and learning more about the way things work in D.C.
There’s an open Congressional seat in Long Beach. A Republican businessman is running as a fiscal conservative against a longtime local Democratic lawmaker.
The 47th district, which straddles the line between L.A. and Orange Counties, is majority Democratic, but the GOP candidate has raised much more money. Both men say the race will be decided by the large block of voters who don’t claim either party.
On Saturday morning, State Senator Alan Lowenthal was going door to door, looking for Democrats, but targeting independents. His advantage is in Long Beach. Lowenthal says voters know him and his record. "They know who I stand for."
Telecom executive Gary DeLong has the edge in the Orange County/Republican part of the district, but he’s also going after that 26 percent of voters here who decline to pick a party. DeLong says he will join the “Problem Solving Block” if voters send him to Washington.
"They have 92 members of Congress that are signed up to work together, Republicans and Democrats," he says. DeLong also has ties to Long Beach: he's served on the city council there since 2006.
The presidential race has had a spillover effect on the race. There are lots of Romney signs on front lawns in Belmont Shore, fewer Obama signs. Lowenthal says after the first presidential debate, male voters in Orange County "who didn’t really know me, ‘cause I’m an L.A. County guy, kind of deserted the President and deserted me, too and moved to Romney at that moment."
Lowenthal says he was "shocked" at how quickly voters opinions could fluctuate. He says his race has stabilized.
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Former President Bill Clinton recently spoke at an event at Florida International University in Miami.
Bill Clinton is visiting Orange County Tuesday. The former President is lending some star power to a quintet of lesser known Democrats who'd like to become members of the US House of Representatives.
Democrats know that if they want a shot at taking back the House, they have to pick up more than two dozen seats around the country. Redistricting has made California ground zero for turning red to blue.
To help out, Clinton will be the headliner at a UC Irvine rally called "California's Voice."
He'll be there to boost candidates in five of the toughest House races in California. Three are running for open seats: Julia Brownley in Ventura, Alan Lowenthal in Long Beach, and Mark Takano in Riverside. Two others are taking on GOP incumbents: Scott Peters in San Diego, and Raul Ruiz in Palm Springs.