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Water top priority for Congressional candidates
Three local farmers vying for District 10
Congressman Jeff Denham of Turlock (left) is being challenged by Democrat Michael Eggman of Turlock and Republican Robert Hodges, a farmer from Denair. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

While the current El Nino weather system is expected to improve California's rainfall outlook for the upcoming year, the four consecutive years of drought has taken its toll on the most integral of natural resources, especially in the agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley making water a key issue for candidates in the upcoming election.

And no candidate has hit on water nearly as hard as Congressman Jeff Denham - a farmer himself who currently represents California's 10th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. The district includes Ceres, Modesto and Keyes.

"Ultimately it just makes more sense to reduce the regulations that are strangling farmers right now," Denham said during a GOP candidate forum held in Manteca on Monday, Feb. 8. "In years like this we just push more water out to the ocean, but why would we put fish above people?"

Denham said he stands against California's twin tunnels and is in favor of expanding water storage facilities in the state. That includes raising Shasta Dam to improve the capacity and other projects that would add roughly 5 million acre-feet of water storage to prevent shortages that have come as a result of the last four exceedingly dry years.

The Turlock Republican, who serves as chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials subcommittee, also took aim at California's high-speed rail project which he said would do everything in his power to kill before it ever reached the point of construction - arguing against the $100 billion price tag, and championing something like what Texas has recently done with a high speed rail track between Dallas and Houston that is financed privately.

He also noted that while he's firmly in favor of ensuring American security, as a veteran of the Gulf War he knows how important a complete strategy is when sending troops into a hostile area.

"If you're going to ask me to send troops into harm's way, you better be able to tell what the strategy is and what our exit strategy is," Denham said. "And we better provide the benefits that we promised you when you come home."

But Denham isn't running without a challenge from a fellow Republican.

According to Denair School Board member and almond grower Robert Hodges, the congressman has fallen short on some of the principles he has taken a conservative stance on. Hodges said at Monday's forum he'd be unwilling to budge when it comes to being lobbied by the political establishment in favor of a chairmanship of a committee - a swipe at Denham who has become a prominent figure in agricultural and water rights in Washington, D.C., and has served as the chairman of multiple House subcommittees.

And Hodges made more pointed references of Denham's voting record, claiming that he doesn't represent the ideals of the voters on his votes on amnesty, sanctuary cities, Planned Parenthood (although Denham affirmed that he is vehemently pro-life in his remarks) as well as others.

"Anybody who voted for Barack Obama's Omnibus spending bill should be kicked out of office," said Hodges in another shot at Denham. "We have to take our country back and point it in our direction.

"We have to elect conservative, (bring) Christian values back, and we have to elect the people who won't forget them when they go to a vote."

Republican challenger Hodges isn't the only candidate taking aim at Denham's record. Democrat Michael Eggman is taking a second shot at running for the 10th District and he also believes Denham is working for special interest groups.

"Ordinary, hard-working members of our district and Valley don't have a voice in Congress right now," said Eggman.

Eggman, a Turlock beekeeper, said that water and the economy are his top priorities as the Valley needs federal investment in water storage and conservation projects.

"We need leadership; we need to work together to make investment happen," he said.

He also would like to see immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

"I support comprehensive immigration reform; it's good for our families, it's good for the labor force and good for the economy," Eggman said.

Eggman believes the attacks on Planned Parenthood are a waste of taxpayer money and detrimental to women's access to healthcare.

"Jeff Denham owes Central Valley families an apology for wasting their money on a purely partisan investigation," Eggman said in January. "Instead of addressing the Valley's serious challenges, Jeff Denham is in Washington throwing taxpayer dollars away for political gain while repeatedly voting to cut millions of dollars for women's healthcare. We deserve a representative who will put Valley families before their political interests and defend their access to vital health services."

Under California's top-two primary system, the two candidates who receive the most votes in the June primary, regardless of party, will face off in the general election.

-Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.