Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Segregation on Capitol Hill: Democrats and Republicans kept apart from the start

Newly-elected Democratic Congressman Raul Ruiz has made a few Republican friends during orientation in D.C., but he won't name them because cross-party fraternization is frowned upon.

This week, California’s 14 freshman members of Congress are back in Washington for a second week of orientation. But much of the training is segregated, with Democrats on one side of Capitol Hill and Republicans on another.

During morning sessions, the newbies all learn about setting up a website, how to send constituent mail, how to staff an office. But from lunchtime until late into the evening, Democrats and Republicans are separated. 

Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa of Redding says, during afternoons with his GOP colleagues, he's witnessed the "hot debate" about conference rules and amendments. "They didn’t take very long to get the verbosity up here," he observed.

Even the meals are segregated.  Speaker John Boehner’s fancy dinner for newcomers in Statuary Hall was GOP only; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held her own party for Democratic freshmen.

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GOP incumbents officially defeated in 3 close Congressional races (map)

Democrat Raul Ruiz unseated Republican incumbent Mary Bono-Mack in a Coachella Valley district that includes Palm Springs.

It’s been nearly two weeks since Californians cast their ballots, but it finally looks as though all 53 of the state’s Congressional races have winners, including three races that had been too close to call.  

All three races went to Democratic challengers.  California’s Secretary of State says absentee and provisional ballots have put emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz more than 7,800 votes ahead of Palm Springs incumbent Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.

Another physician, Sacramento’s Ami Bera, defeated 17-year incumbent Dan Lungren by 5,600 votes. Bera isn’t surprised Californians voted out the incumbents. He says there's "a real sense of frustration with this last Congress and their inability to address the issues that face our nation." 

Down in San Diego, incumbent GOP Congressman Brian Bilbray has conceded to port commissioner Scott Peters, who is more than 5,000 votes ahead.

The results mean California's Republican delegation has shrunk from 19 members to 15.

Officially, the races won’t be certified until mid-December. But all three Democrats will return to Washington next week for round two of freshman orientation. 

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Photos: California's bumper crop of freshman lawmakers learn the ropes on Capitol Hill

Freshman Congress

Kitty Felde/KPCC

Democrats (from left) Scott Peters of San Diego, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Jared Huffman of Humboldt and Gloria Negrete-McLeod of Chino compare notes during orientation week at the Capitol.

Dr. Ami Bera, a Democratic physician from Sacramento, said the Capitol is a "maze" that reminded him of a hospital.

David Valadao, a Republican from the Central Valley, said learning his way around the Capitol was a little "disorienting."

Doug LaMalfa, a Republican farmer from Redding, is aiming for the Agriculture Committee.

Democrat Julia Brownley of Ventura County said endless meetings in countless places made for sore feet.

Teacher Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, is hoping for seat on the House Education Committee.

Democrat Tony Cardenas is moving from L.A. City Hall to the halls of Congress.

Dr. Raul Ruiz is a newly-elected Democrat from the Coachella Valley.


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. 

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Redistricting shakes up California's Congressional races; Bono Mack trailing

U.S. Capitol Building

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The flag waves in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The story of this year’s California Congressional races is — surprise! — money: money from the parties, money from PACs (including one started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg), money from siblings, and money from the candidates themselves.

36th Congressional District — Coachella Valley:

In an apparent upset, Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack is losing to Democrat Raul Ruiz. Bono Mack was a prime target for Democrats. Ruiz is an emergency room doctor. Both parties poured in the money, flooding both the Palm Springs and LA TV market with political ads.  Bono Mack's husband Connie Mack gave up his House seat to run for the US Senate in Florida. He lost.

RUIZ: 51.4%; BONO MACK 48.6%

35th Congressional District — Chino

N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped $2.5 million of PAC money into Democratic State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod’s campaign to defeat veteran Democratic Congressman Joe Baca. The Congressional baseball team loses its star pitcher. It was a bad night for the Baca family as well; the Congressman's son Joe, Jr. lost his race for the state assembly. 

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CA Congressional races to watch Tuesday night

Getty Images

The bitter intra-party contest between Democrats Howard Berman, left, and Brad Sherman is just one of many California Congressional races to watch on election night.

California's citizen-drawn redistricing plan has done its job, shaking up the political establishment in the state's 53 Congressional districts. The state's top-two rule has created half-a-dozen races with candidates from the same party facing off Tuesday.

RACES TO WATCH IN OUR AREA:

36th Congressional District — Coachella Valley:

Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack faces emergency room physician, Democrat Raul Ruiz. The Democrats' Congressional PAC has targeted this race. The GOP is pouring money in as well. As of mid-October, the two sides had raised more than $2.5 million, outside of PAC money. The redrawn district has a slight majority of Republicans, but a lot of independent voters as well, and a large Latino population. The race has turned nasty, with accusations of tax evasion on one side and radical politics on the other. The Cook Political Report says the race is too close to call.

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