In another time — or is that another dimension — Kevin McCarthy and Josh Harder would be strange bedfellows.
McCarthy holds the most powerful position in the Congressional chamber that has the most control over the nation’s purse strings.
The Speaker of the House’s roots — and political base that counts in terms of him getting elected to office — are in Bakersfield and the 20th Congressional district in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.
Some 200 miles to the north is where Harder’s roots run deep as noted in his perfunctory line from his boilerplate campaign stump speech that reminds listeners his great-great-grandfather moved to the Manteca area in 1850 and started to raise peaches.
Harder today lives in Tracy and represents the 9th District at the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley.
It is a district whose boundaries are almost an exact mirror of San Joaquin County with 95 percent of its population. Lathrop and the areas south of Manteca and east of Tracy are the only pieces of the county missing.
Not too long ago, McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership would have been a watershed moment for his district as well as the Valley.
The Speaker of the House wields a lot of power. They make deals. And those deals can often benefit those the speaker directly represents in terms of improving their collective lot.
In the case of a House speaker from the San Joaquin Valley, if anything was “normal” any more in politics it would have been a tectonic event in the never ending battle over water development in California.
Yes, the most powerful member in Congress for the last four years and from 2007 to 2011 was from California as well.
But with all due respect to Nancy Pelosi, water issues such as drought, flooding, and environmental concerns aren’t exactly front and center when she steps out of the front door of her humble adobe in San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights neighborhood.
That is not the case if you reside in Bakersfield.
It is clear in what was once the late Buck Owens’ stomping grounds that water — the result of bring three molecules of two elements together — is something one does not take for granted.
McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership in an era where Democrats and Republicans alike are engaged in trench warfare over cultural values and wokeness in itself would have made his trying to cobble together a federal strategy to help California cyclical water issues daunting enough.
McCarthy, however is water-lite in terms of his advocacy for water endeavors dealing with storage, flood control or environmental concerns.
Given the very valley where the 20th District sits is the heart of the region that is the primary reason California accounts for more than a third of the nation’s vegetables three-quarters of the country’s fruits and nut production, you’d think a speaker from Bakersfield would have the perfect pulpit to educate his 434 colleagues that play the most pivotal in the appropriations process as well as help shape federal policies.
Do not misunderstand. McCarthy doesn’t ignore water concerns. His voting record reflects that especially from the perspective of his district.
For that aspect, he isn’t much different that Jerry McNerney who opted not to seek reelection in 2022 after representing part for the Northern San Joaquin Valley for 16 years in Congress.
Asked shortly after his election in 2006 what he hoped to do regarding water policy on the federal level given the role the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers have regarding the fate of water movements and Delta-related issues that have a major impact on San Joaquin County, Congressman-elect McNerney replied that he’d have to get up to speed on water concerns.
McNerney may have gotten up to speed but he never emerged as a leading advocate for water supply and control solutions. That, despite the fact, San Joaquin County has the biggest chunk of the Delta — the “switching yard for California’s water, to borrow a phrase coined by Linden farmer and former State Senator Mike Machado.
This is where the two most essential water basins in California — the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River — come together to create a unique estuary and the only delta on the Pacific Coast of the Western Hemisphere before draining into the Pacific Ocean.
As such, we are vulnerable to a wide array of water policy moves and proposals on a scale that is not matched anywhere else in California and perhaps even the nation as a whole.
Underscoring that, it wasn’t until redistricting when Harder ended up running in a district that is essentially San Joaquin County, that the most obvious piece of federal legislation was crafted to derail the Delta tunnel.
Harder — along with then-Congressman McNerney and Congressman John Garamendi — drafted legislation that, if passed, would prevent the federal government from issuing required permits to the state of California needed for the tunnel project to work.
Stopping the Delta tunnel may not be something McCarthy wants to do given the benefit it would have to some big corporate farm constituents in the southwest part of the Valley.
That said, working as somewhat of a united caucus with those representing the Central Valley in Congress or the entire California delegation as a whole to find common ground on what action can be taken on the federal level to help address water issues would have been a no-brainier 60 years ago.
Even though the Valley has a dynamic economy and world-class setting bountiful harvests, this is land of poverty with all sorts of pressing needs.
If members of Congress bother to read anything, they can have their staff check out a copy of a Congressional Research Office report penned in 2005 that still rings true today when updated with current statistics.
That report referred to the San Joaquin Valley as “The New Appalachia.”
Given a federal water project — the Tennessee Valley Authority — helped alter the economic prosperity trajectory of the Appalachia region, it is possible some type of federal effort could help California improve its seemingly dysfunctional water works and water development guided in large part by state and federal policies.
Yes, McCarthy is a Republican and Harder a Democrat.
But there was a time when that didn’t matter as much to members of congress when there was a “local” pressing need that impacted multiple congressional districts.
It was once considered an axiom among those whose presence graced the House of Representatives that all politics are local.
Today that’s so 1960ish.
The updated truism drops the last two letters and adds an “o.”
All politics are loco.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.