Robert Price

Saturday, May 03 2014 07:20 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Congressman? Nah, Valadao says he's an ordinary farmer

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

My sample ballot arrived in the mail early last week. There were a lot of blank spots where candidates' names should have been because several incumbents are running unopposed.

One is Congressman Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. He will have an opponent in the November general election, but that person will have emerged from an anonymous pool of qualified write-in candidates in next month's primary. In other words, barring an upset of stunning proportions, the House majority whip is as good as in.

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First Look

Catch Robert Price with Congressman David Valadao at 9 a.m. Monday on "First Look with Scott Cox."

Maybe it was those overwhelmingly favorable circumstances that helped McCarthy summon the courage to actually list his true profession on the ballot: "Representative."

And why wouldn't he, you ask? What else would he put? Well, not every incumbent running to retain his seat in Congress is, like McCarthy, fully owning up to the fact he may have had something to do with the present mess. Many, per usual, are supplementing their ballot designation -- the title or professional label that's listed right under their party affiliation -- with descriptions that are more likely to strike us regular folks as everyman-ish.

For example, Ami Bera, a Democrat running for re-election in California's 7th Congressional District, is a "Doctor/ Teacher/ Congressman." Republican Jeff Denham, campaigning to return to his 10th District seat, is a "Businessman/ Farmer/ Representative." Sure, they've been tending to that mess in Washington because we sent them there to try, but they're just working stiffs like the rest of us when the asylum is out of session.

Then there is Republican David Valadao, who is trying to hang on to the 21st District seat he won two years ago. Voters who don't pay much attention to these things might look at their ballots and have no clue which candidate in the 21st District race is the incumbent. Valadao, it seems, is not anything like a "Congressman/ Rancher," which is what Democrat John Garamendi admits to voters in his 3rd District. Rather, Valadao is simply a "Farmer/ Small Businessman."

Valadao has two Democratic challengers. Amanda Renteria is a "farm policy advisor" (although she, like Valadao, bears the mark of the beast, having worked in Washington for two prominent U.S. senators). John Hernandez is a "small business advocate" (although he would rather have been able to say "incumbent," having lost to Valadao in 2012).

Why wouldn't Valadao want to remind voters that he's the district's sitting congressman? What ever happened to the benefits of incumbency? I asked Valadao, through his spokeswoman, about his unusual choice for the wording of his ballot designation but instead only got a mildly pugilistic dig at Renteria.

So we're left to guess, which is more fun anyway.

The easy assumption is that Congress is so widely reviled by the general public, with approval ratings hovering at historic lows, who can blame him? Maybe Valadao is actually onto something. Disavow all association with the legislative chamber that brought the U.S. government to the brink of default -- on purpose -- and maybe the voters will grant him some sort of exemption.

Maybe Valadao has a strong sense of fair play and doesn't want any unmerited advantages. Maybe he takes more pride in being a farmer and small businessman than in his prestigious elected office. Or maybe he just likes portraying himself that way.

In any case, this preference for ballot designation understatements seems to be something of a trademark for Valadao. When he first ran in 2012, Valadao might have listed "state assemblyman" as his profession, since that's what he was at the time, but he instead chose to identity himself simply as a "Small Businessman/ Farmer." Well, it worked then.

In the end, though, this really isn't that big of a deal. Valadao might choose to sell himself to voters as just a nice guy in a flannel shirt, but Renteria (whose campaign has been much more visibly active than Hernandez's) has persistently reminded people where he's spent the better part of the past two years. And it wasn't at the Valadao family dairy, although Congress may occasionally smell that way.

Email Executive Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com. His column appears here on Sundays; the views expressed are his own.

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