Capitol Alert

Ami Bera’s Democratic critics say Elk Grove congressman disappoints

Ami Bera will not seek key labor endorsement for now

Still undecided about a controversial trade plan, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, will not yet seek the endorsement of AFL-CIO, the country's largest labor federation, which is vehemently opposed to the proposal. Bera is facing a challenge from Sacram
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Still undecided about a controversial trade plan, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, will not yet seek the endorsement of AFL-CIO, the country's largest labor federation, which is vehemently opposed to the proposal. Bera is facing a challenge from Sacram

Robert Longer is upset with Democratic Rep. Ami Bera for voting to give the president fast-track trade authority.

Amar Shergill believes Bera should join scores of elected officials in condemning the Indian government for its role in the Sikh massacre three decades ago.

Karen Bernal can’t help but feel unhappy when reviewing the two-term congressman’s Washington record, which she believes is too conservative.

“He’s purely pandering to a right-wing base,” she said.

Bera for months has characterized the mounting bitterness for him as coming mostly from labor unions incensed about his stance on trade.

“I don’t want to be a politician,” he said in an interview last week. “My job is to try to figure out what’s best for our region.”

The Democratic activists who helped stonewall early party endorsements for Bera insist the unrest reaches beyond organized labor. They warn that if Bera doesn’t heed their calls and become more progressive and take a more active role in their affairs, he’ll lose in November.

He is making an awful amount of effort to appease GOP voters and they are not going to vote for him.

Robert Longer, Communications Workers of America Local 9421

“I realize he has a lot of pressure from a lot of different folks (but) he is listening to somebody else instead of us,” said Debra Ladwig of Galt, who until a recent move lived in Bera’s 7th Congressional District.

Last week, Democrats from suburban Sacramento County and beyond issued a statement explaining their views about Bera’s run for re-election this year.

Ten representatives of union, progressive, veteran, Latino and Arab American groups said they continue to hold out hope that the congressman can be persuaded to support more liberal policies “if he understands that failing to do so will cost him the votes of the very Democrats that made his election possible.”

“He is making an awful amount of effort to appease GOP voters, and they are not going to vote for him,” Longer, of the Communications Workers of America Local 9421, said in an interview. “He is taking us for granted. You don’t take your progressive base for granted when you won (in 2014) by about 1,400 votes.

“We are putting him on notice,” Longer added. “ ‘You need to be a better representative. You need to be a better congressman. Or you will lose the trust of the people and you will lose the election.’ 

I am going to be talking about what the people in my district – Democrat, Republican, independent – are concerned about.

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove

Bera is downplaying the intraparty unrest while endeavoring to explain his controversial votes. He notes that 90 percent of delegates to the state Democratic Party convention endorsed him last month. He cites backing from such Democratic stalwarts as Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters.

Bera said he’s fighting to modernize classrooms and make college more affordable.

“On key Democratic metrics I am going to be talking about what the people in my district – Democrat, Republican, independent – are concerned about,” he said.

Bera said that while he backed President Obama’s request to negotiate a trade deal involving 12 Pacific Rim countries, he has yet to formulate his position on the full agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While he is pondering the issue, organized labor has listed its defeat as its top policy goal.

Bera said his vote limiting Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettling in the U.S. would not have been cast if he thought it was going to shut down the refugee program.

“I understand that’s how a lot of the base and the public perceived it,” he said. “So we’ll go back if that vote comes back up again.”

Bera won his swing seat in a 2012 rematch with Republican then-Rep. Dan Lungren and defended it with a narrow victory against ex-Rep. Doug Ose in 2014. This year is expected to bring a tough fall confrontation with another Republican, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.

The liberal rebuke of Bera escalated earlier this year when members of the activist group Sacramento Democrats for Truth reviewed his campaign finance statements and sent his office questions about contributions and overseas travel. It was a turning point in that coalition members were openly challenging his motivations. Longer said at the time that Bera’s voting record “indicates a clear pattern that benefits overseas investors, foreign governments and their representatives.”

Bera’s campaign said all of his contributions are disclosed and publicly available, and as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he complies with all travel disclosure rules.

Despite exasperation from some on the left, a Democratic primary opponent never materialized, though not for lack of effort. Several activists confirmed months of thwarted attempts to recruit a more liberal challenger.

Those that signed onto the recent statement – including Carlos Alcala, chairman of the state Democratic Party’s Chicano Latino Caucus, and Progressive Caucus Chairman Mike Thaller – said the party establishment has essentially starved the district of the oxygen that could have supported a challenger.

“Ideally, (progressives) wanted another Democrat,” Thaller said.

Bera was one of six Democrats to support the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, which seeks to end certain funding for state or local governments that impede the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Activists also fault Bera for being one of 45 House Democrats voting to pre-empt state genetically modified organism labeling laws, as well as a farm bill that contained big cuts to the food stamp program. Bera has said the cut was much smaller than Republicans originally proposed.

I like to see Democrats be Democrats. If he wants to be an independent, he should just go that way.

Cres Vellucci, Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento County

Cres Vellucci, of the Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento County, lauded the congressman’s office for providing solid constituent services, particularly helping veterans obtain documents and medical records.

“Personally, some of us know Ami really well. I like him very much,” Vellucci said. “But we’re withholding our endorsement because his votes overall have hurt (and) go against Democratic values. I like to see Democrats be Democrats. If he wants to be an independent, he should just go that way.”

It wasn’t always this way. Some liberal Democratic activists campaigned for Bera in the past. Longer and Shergill smiled with him in pictures and hosted fundraisers. Moe Sarama, chairman of the Democratic Party’s Arab American Caucus, did phone-banking for him on behalf of the Sierra Club.

The rift with Shergill and some other Sikhs deepened when Bera would not unequivocally acknowledge the alleged involvement of the Indian government in the 1984 massacre of Sikhs. Bera’s refusal was cited in the Arab American Caucus’ recent vote calling for his censure.

“I don’t know what would compel people to stand with those who commit genocide, but that’s his position,” Shergill said. Bera has said the event was a tragedy and that he suspects the Indian government has learned from it.

Shergill, who is involved with the American Sikh PAC, a bipartisan group that has spent money on Democrats and Republicans, so soured on Bera that he formed a separate PAC, American Sikhs for Truth, which opposed Bera in 2014. Still, Shergill said he did not support Ose and is not concerned that his effort might assist Jones.

“If Ami Bera ever comes to us and openly says that he made some mistakes, and is willing to reconsider them, we will still happily, joyfully support him, he said.

I really do think it comes out of ‘You didn’t do what we wanted. We couldn’t find a candidate, so now we are going to embarrass you.’

Democrat Steve Caruso, a Bera supporter

Bera supporters are not so sure. Local Democrat Steve Caruso said the activist group’s primary motivation became embarrassing Bera after organizers failed to draw another Democrat into the race. They stepped in, and a handful of local groups withdrew their endorsements, slowing what is normally a pro forma process for incumbents after the statewide party’s nod.

“I really do think it comes out of ‘You didn’t do what we wanted. We couldn’t find a candidate, so now we are going to embarrass you,’ ” Caruso said.

Jones opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but doesn’t share the views of Democrats on most issues close to the hearts of rank-and-file members.

“It’s not realistic to think that Scott Jones will be their friend,” Caruso said. “And I have to believe they know they can’t work with him.”

With eight months to go before the election, Gary Blenner, president of the Town and Country Democratic Club, said he hopes to keep the focus on Bera, who is meeting with organized labor groups and said he would not seek their endorsements until he comes to a decision on the trade agreement.

Blenner wants Bera to continue the dialogue. He said taking progressive stands on issues shouldn’t be seen as a vulnerability in a close district.

“He needs labor to be the foot soldiers to go canvassing and knocking on doors to win it in the fall,” Blenner said, suggesting that others might come around if unions make amends. “They won’t do it this time unless he smooths things over.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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