Filling Wally’s shoes

Two candidates vying for Rep. Herger’s long-held seat

Doug LaMalfa

Doug LaMalfa

Jim Reed, the Democratic candidate for the newly drawn 1st Congressional District, is facing stacked odds.

Yes, his Republican opponent, recently retired state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, has run a campaign mired in misstatements and alleged dirty politics that has even some of his fellow North State Republicans crying foul. And just last week Pete Stiglich, a staunch Republican who lost to LaMalfa and Reed in the June primary, said in a letter to the editor that he was so put off by LaMalfa’s antics that he is supporting Reed.

But a look at the primary’s overall results shows that 117,478 voters spilt their support among five Republican candidates, while only 52,007 went for the two Democratic candidates. It’s hard to say how many of those 50,951 voters who went for a Republican other than LaMalfa will follow Stiglich’s lead and support Reed.

LaMalfa’s campaign began in January, when Rep. Wally Herger announced he was retiring after a quarter-century in office. Two days later Herger endorsed LaMalfa, who often reminds voters that he is a fourth-generation Richvale rice farmer and “one of us.”

LaMalfa has been accused of handpicking his successor, 2nd District Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, and paving the way for him by announcing on Aug. 31 that he was resigning his Senate seat. Critics say that the surprise announcement did not give other potential candidates time to line up a campaign for the seat, something Nielsen has been doing since January.

LaMalfa said the move was an unselfish act on his part to save the taxpayers $2 million by aligning the special election needed to fill his seat after he becomes a congressman with the Nov. 6 general election. Of course, that works only if one of the four candidates running for that seat gets 50 percent plus one votes, thus not requiring a January special election between the top two vote-getters.

LaMalfa’s campaign website shows that he’s been endorsed by Gun Owners of America, the Siskiyou and Tehama county farm bureaus and a couple of anti-tax groups. He’s also the first 1st Congressional District candidate, his website points out, to have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, the Repeal Obamacare Pledge and the No Pork Pledge, which is not a call for a ban on bacon and ham consumption.

During the primary campaign fellow Republican candidate and former state Sen. Sam Aanestad accused LaMalfa of dirty politics after an odd website called Sam4Congress criticizing Aanestad appeared online. The site claimed the Nevada County oral surgeon was neither an oral surgeon nor a dentist and included a photo of Aanestad in a sort of Heil Hitler-like stance.

LaMalfa denied any knowledge of or connection to the site, but it was traced to Mark Spannagel, his chief of staff.

Aanestad filed a complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

Fellow Republican candidates also criticized LaMalfa for something that his Democratic opponents have pointed out for years: The LaMalfa family rice farm has received some $4.7 million in federal subsidies over the last 15 years. His response to the oft-repeated accusation has been: “Don’t talk with your mouth full when criticizing farmers.”

This summer Gov. Jerry Brown told The Sacramento Bee editorial board about an encounter he’d had with LaMalfa in the basement of the Capitol building. Brown said he tried to lobby LaMalfa to support a 1 percent lumber-tax proposal.

“He kind of got into a little fetal position and started shaking, he literally was shaking,” Brown told the board. “And this big man, he looks like a—wears boots, he’s kind of an outdoorsman, a mountain man kind of. And I saw him kind of start shriveling in fear…”

LaMalfa wrote off the governor’s description as “trying to have some fun there. Obviously, I didn’t drop to the floor of the garage and shake.”

Jim Reed

Photo By Alan Sheckter

There have also been accusations that LaMalfa is avoiding debates with Reed. Even the conservative Chico Enterprise-Record took him to task for doing so.

The candidates have had two debates, the latest one held in the studio of Redding’s KRCR-TV on Oct. 19. LaMalfa was asked about his views on abortion, bringing up the gaffe he made in September when he told a Redding Tea Party gathering that abortion had been linked to cancer. When called on the statement by KRCR reporter Mark Mester, LaMalfa said he’d been “misinformed” on the matter.

It’s been a rough campaign road for Reed as well, quite literally. In mid-September the Fall River tax attorney and second time candidate for Congress rolled his pick-up truck four times while driving along Interstate 5, where, according to a campaign press release, he’d been planting campaign signs. Reed suffered a broken wrist and his Dodge pickup was totaled.

At their most recent debate Reed also criticized LaMalfa’s opposition to the lumber tax bill, which requires retailers to add a 1 percent tax on lumber sold in the state to raise $30 million annually to pay for regulatory oversight of the timber industry. The tax, Reed pointed out, was backed by the industry, and LaMalfa’s vote against it was not in district’s best interest.

The candidates also differed on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. LaMalfa vowed to help repeal it, calling it an insult to American ingenuity. Reed said it had already brought numerous benefits to Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions who’d been denied insurance coverage.

He said the law needs to be tweaked, not killed.

“It always bothers me that people say we just need to repeal it. No, we need to fix it,” Reed said. “If we throw out Obamacare altogether, it may be another 75 years before we get back to where we were with these good things.”

Reed has said that he’s optimistic about the nation’s economy and that it’s high time to fix the blame for the economic mess on Wall Street.

“The Occupy movement has really drawn attention to the fact that Wall Street got us into this mess,” he said. “And it really is a terrible mess. It’s obviously worse than anything we’ve seen since the Great Depression.”

The problem, he said, is that Wall Street has turned into the largest gambling casino in the world, with day traders investing not to support and help grow business, but rather to make a quick buck.

“That’s gambling if you’re just getting into the market for a very short time,” he said. “That’s bad because for every person who makes a little money on a gamble, there is somebody who loses money on a gamble, and guess who that is? It’s the small investors, it’s the middle class.”

Reed has resisted criticizing LaMalfa on the subject of farm subsidies.

“Look,” he said when asked earlier this year, “I’m not really going to pick on that issue at the moment because for one thing I understand that farm subsidies are something out there that are absolutely necessary.”

Two years ago Reed lost to Herger in the general election but received a respectable 43 percent of the vote. He said he thinks he can win the seat this time around because, while the district has changed, “it’s changed favorably.”

“When I ran against Wally Herger in 2010, it was a rough year to have Democrat next to your name because the Tea Party was basically in control.”

Still, he pointed out, he was only 7 percentage votes shy of the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win. He said his campaign has analyzed the new district, and even though the number of registered Republicans is 12 percent higher than in the old district, 20 percent of the voters are registered as independent or decline to state.

As for the truck accident that his campaign deemed a “near-death experience,” Reed said. “It’s the kind of thing that puts your life into a very sharp focus.”