Likely voters in the 7th Congressional District should think of themselves as the Apple Inc. of this year's congressional races. As both parties pour vast sums into the race between Dan Lungren and Dr. Ami Bera, the stock of these voters keeps going up, up, up.
No doubt, the stakes are enormous. Republicans are trying to hold control of the U.S. House and possibly widen their majority. Democrats see the 7th District as a potential pick-up and a hugely symbolic chance by a newcomer to knock off a senior GOP member of Congress.
All of this is exciting for political junkies, but for a large number of 7th District voters, their priorities are less partisan. They want a member of Congress who will best represent their district, spur job creation, work across the aisle in Washington and end the gridlock that is crippling our country.
In 2010, this editorial board endorsed Lungren, largely on the argument that he was the best candidate to deliver for his district, particularly for flood control and other infrastructure needs. As for Bera, we stated that his "grasp of the vast challenges facing this country and his district isn't as wide as it needs to be."
Two years later, the verdict is in. Bera has matured, and Lungren has failed to meet local expectations. Even worse, Lungren has voted on a litany of bad bills to block the president's economic stimulus, roll back environmental protections, repeal health care reform and limit women's reproductive choices. Although at times since 2010 he has demonstrated his independence from GOP orthodoxy, he has far too often taken positions that are out of step with his district and the values of this editorial board.
On the local front, no threat looms larger for the Sacramento region than a devastating winter flood. Upgrades of levees in Natomas are needed to protect 100,000 people and end a building moratorium in that basin.
Since Lungren's current district includes part of Natomas, voters there have looked to him to help secure a federal authorization that would finish levee upgrades and end the moratorium.
What has happened? In an interview last week, Lungren insisted he worked ceaselessly to secure a Natomas authorization, which has been hamstrung by overly broad House rules banning "earmarks." He notes that he invited House Speaker John Boehner to tour the Natomas levees (during a visit to Sacramento for a fundraiser.) Lungren says he see three possible paths for securing the Natomas authorization, including changing the definition of an "earmark" to exclude water and flood control projects.
All that is fine, but work on the Natomas levees remains stalled, largely because of rules set by the House leadership, of which Lungren is a member. Shouldn't voters hold him at least partly responsible?
As the debate between the two candidates demonstrated on Tuesday, Lungren is clearly more polished than Bera. But Bera has several qualities that would make him an able representative.
He has obvious expertise in health care, having worked as a UC Davis medical professor and associate dean of admissions. In the House, he could help California implement reform and help Sacramento County with its dearth of medical clinics.
Compared with Lungren, Bera also exudes more compassion for the plight of the middle class. He says he'd work to end tax policies and subsidies that have widened the gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else. We also think Bera would be a better "listener" than Lungren. He certainly would be a stronger environmental advocate. He'd take seriously the threat of climate change and vote against bills that allow coal and oil companies to further damage the atmosphere. On abortion, he'd be a strong defender of a woman's right to choose.
Because of the stakes and money raised, this has been an ugly campaign, and likely will become uglier before the Nov. 6 election. But overall, 7th District voters should feel good about the attention they are getting. They have a choice between two thoughtful candidates who both have a passion for their communities and the nation's future. How they vote could well track with the choice facing the nation as a whole.