A physician and former academic, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera never will be a smooth politician.
His Republican challenger, former Congressman Doug Ose, showed during their one and only debate last week that he can be more comfortable before an audience. But Bera is thoughtful, hardworking and has displayed a willingness to be bipartisan. For policy reasons and for the region’s future, Bera deserves to be returned to Congress for a second term.
The Bera-Ose race is one of the nation’s most expensive, at $7.4 million and counting. Democrats have a slight registration lead over Republicans in the 7th Congressional District. But Republicans believe they can pick off the seat, which represents parts of Sacramento, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove and Galt.
The hit pieces aired on television and delivered to mailboxes distort the records of both candidates. Bera won’t slash health care for old people. Ose is not a Wall Street tool. Neither is out to use public office to line their pockets.
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Bera, 49, unseated Rep. Dan Lungren two years ago by fewer than 10,000 votes. That was in a presidential election year when turnout was relatively high. This year, turnout is expected to be embarrassingly low, which might aid Ose. A landslide in the 7th Congressional District would be a 51-49 percent spread.
Ose, 59, a developer and scion of a prominent Sacramento-area family, has represented the region before, having served three terms in Congress from 1998-2004. Ose abided by his pledge to serve no more than three terms, and gave up his seat, unlike some politicians who claim to support term limits but spend careers in elective office.
If Ose were to win on Nov. 4, he would arrive with the seniority of a fourth-term member. Because Republicans likely will retain control of the House in 2014, Ose said he would be in a better position than Bera to deliver for the district.
However, Ose falls short on important issues. Although he is a moderate on some things, Ose is skeptical that climate change is real, despite the consensus of scientists. Bera is clear on that issue.
Ose sticks to GOP talking points on an immigration overhaul. Bera, the son of parents who came here from India, takes a more balanced approach, making clear his view that California relies on immigrants, and that the nation must provide ways for some people who came here illegally to gain legal status.
Ose says he would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That’s a waste of time and counterproductive. Even if Republicans take control of the Senate on Nov. 4, President Barack Obama has no intention of signing legislation that would dismantle his signature domestic policy achievement. A repeal also would disrupt the lives of 3.4 million Californians who have obtained health insurance since the implementation of Obamacare.
Bera never has wholeheartedly supported the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t do enough to control costs, he says. But given his obvious expertise, Bera is especially well-positioned to work on a bipartisan effort to make whatever changes are needed.
Bera, who oversaw admissions at UC Davis Medical School, can converse on a high level with Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control, about the Ebola epidemic and other health issues of the day. Many of the bills he has sponsored or co-sponsored deal with health care, understandably so given that he is one of 19 physicians in Congress.
He is, for example, one of the Democratic supporters of legislation carried by Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, that seeks to improve care for severely mentally ill people by freeing up federal money for more intensive treatment. It’s a gutsy position. By taking it, Bera has split from Democrats, including Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento, Mike Thompson of St. Helena, and John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, who are backing a Democratic alternative that takes a much softer approach to treatment of the people who are most ill.
A first-termer in the minority party has little clout. But from his position on the foreign affairs committee, Bera has tried to extend the region’s connections to India, working to expand agricultural exports there. Bera is the only Indian American member of Congress. He also has worked to obtain federal funding for much-needed Folsom Dam improvements.
The Bee’s Editorial Board has endorsed Ose in the past, and might support him in a future race. But Bera has shown a willingness to work with Republicans, takes thoughtful positions, works hard and has earned a second term.