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California Central Valley Gray-Duarte Rematch

 California Democrat Adam Gray—He’s Going for a Re-match Against GOP Congressmember John Duarte  January 7, 2024

 

      School children have now returned from their winter break and are concentrating, once more, on “’readin,’ ‘writin’, and ‘rithmetic.’” Their Democratic parents and friends must also go over arithmetic.  To take back the House in November, 2024, Democrats need to flip a net five seats from the Republicans in that chamber. California contains five congressional districts that Democrat Biden won in 2020, where GOPers took the congressional races. Those Golden State contests were instrumental in giving right- wing Bakersfield, CA GOPer Kevin McCarthy and, now, super-reactionary Mike Johnson (R-LA) the Speaker’s gavel (See dccc.org).  According to many political analysts, the road to a “Blue” House, therefore, runs through CA. In 2024, if “Team Blue” can take back some of these CA congressional districts that went “Red” in 2020, Democrats will truly have panned gold in the Golden State that they can take triumphantly to D.C. One of those districts that voted significantly for Biden in 2020 but put in a GOP congressmember was the CA 13th Congressional District (CD). In that race, GOPer John Duarte defeated Democrat Adam Gray by just 564 votes. This 13th CD win for Republican Duarte was the second-closest election in the nation (washingtonexaminer.com, 12/28/22, Mizelle, 12/03/22, cnn.com). Democrat Gray has stated that he intends to run against Duarte in a 2024 rematch (facebook.com.com/TurlockJournal, 8/11/23). Let’s view this race.

 

          As previously noted, first-term 57-year-old Congressmember John Duarte (Do-War-Tay) currently represents CA’s 13th Congressional District (CD). The newly reconfigured CA 13th has been moved from the Berkeley-Oakland area to the San Joaquin Valley in that state’s north-central area. The new CA 13th includes all of Merced County, most of the population of Madera County, as well as parts of Stanislaus, Fresno, and San Joaquin Counties. The cities of Merced, Madera, Chowchilla, Atwater, and Coalinga lie in the 13th. The 13th contains the southern parts of the cities of Modesto and Turlock (wiki). The CA 13th is the agricultural heartland of that state. It is also home to UC Merced (latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22). The 13th is heavily Latino (nytimes.com, Cowan, 6/15/22). The current CA 13th has a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+4. Still, the CA San Joaquin Valley is historically one of that “Blue” state’s most conservative-leaning regions. Former GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy and former GOP/super –Trump loyalist Cong. Devin Nunes hail from CA’s San Joaquin Valley. The CA 13th’s low Cook PVI D+4 score makes this district a tossup and a swingy battleground. In CA’s San Joaquin Valley, farmworkers with their labor activism lean Democratic. However, the CA 13th’s dependence on water and the oil industry give employers and employees in those sectors much clout. The people dealing with water and oil as well as the owners of the agribusiness farms vote heavily and support the GOP (See Cowan, 6/15/22). Many of the farmworkers who toil on these big farms are Hispanics, and Hispanic voter registration and turnout in this general area remain low, boosting GOP advantages (See Cohen & Cook Political Almanac, 2022). With the right candidate, especially one with an ethnic background, GOPers can win in the 13th (See Cohen & Cook 2022 Almanac).

 

             Modesto native John Duarte is of Portuguese ancestry (caportuguesecoaltion.org, 12/21/22). He received a 1989 Bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State and a 1997 MBA from the University of the Pacific (sacbee.com, 8/2023, CQ 118th Cong. At Your Fingertips). Duarte began his career as vice-president of sales for Duarte Trees and Vines, which his parents founded in 1988. In 2007, John Duarte became the company’s CEO and president (legistorm.com). This nursery is one of the biggest in the country (latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22).  In 2017, Duarte was ordered to pay a $2.8 million government fine after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claimed he had violated the Clean Water Act by plowing a field to plant wheat on his property in Tehama County, CA (sacbee.com, 5/31/17).  After years of litigation, Duarte settled and paid $1.1 million (latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22).

 

              In March, 2022, Duarte launched a campaign to represent the new Central Valley CA 13th CD. He and his Democratic rival Adam Gray advanced to the general election. This election, as previously noted, was one nail-biter. Duarte was declared the winner on 12/03/22, by 564 votes, almost one month after the election (cnn.com, 12/03/22, Mizelle).

 

              In the House, Duarte tries to cultivate the image of a “moderate.” Some moderate! He first supported Bakersfield “Valley Boy” conservative GOPer McCarthy in his long-drawn out race for Speaker in 1/2023. After the “Freedumb” Caucus ousted McCarthy as Speaker, McCarthy supported far-right Steve Scalise (R-LA) to take the gavel. When Scalise quickly dropped out, Cong. Duarte voted as radically right as a GOPer can go. He cast his vote for provocateur Jim Jordan (R-OH) on the House floor (modbee.com, Stapley,  1/13/23, WTAQ News Talk, 10/12/23, Perry, Dormido, et al, washingtonpost.com). Rep. Duarte sits on the House Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees (CQ 118th Cong. At Your Fingertips). On these committees in the GOP-dominated House, Cong. Duarte does the bidding of his agribusiness, water, and top 1% super-rich friends, the only San Joaquin constituents who matter to him.

 

           Cong. Duarte makes a big-to-do about the few votes he takes that look more “moderate” for the press and most of his constituents— the “Press Release Moderate” game. Sure, he voted against a hard-line anti-LGBTQ measure and an extreme anti-abortion one. He also voted against defunding a congressional commission tasked with renaming Army bases with names that don’t honor Confederate leaders (wiki). So what? His entire record tells a completely different story. And what does Duarte truly brag about? In 6/2023, he told Punchbowl News that “he’s really not that far from a lot of these Freedom Caucus guys.”  He sure isn’t. According to projects.propublica.org, he votes with conspiracy theorist and “Freedumb” Caucus member, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) 92% of the time (sacbee.com, dccc.org). Duarte tried to walk back his “I’m buddy buddy with the ‘Freedumb’ Caucus” comment, but don’t believe it. He got caught telling the absolute political truth about his beliefs and he should be held accountable.  In “Freedumb” Caucus language, Duarte called the Democratic Party in D.C., “socialist driven.” He attacked Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act that Congress passed and has helped many middle-class Americans as “very socialist,” again “Freedumb” Caucus nonsense (latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22).

 

          Meet Adam Gray, Duarte’s Democratic opponent both in 2022 and in the 2024 rematch.  Merced native Gray (46) attended Merced Community College and received his Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California in Santa Barbara (mercedsunstar.com, 1/18/22, latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22). He worked in the district office of Assemblymember Dennis Cardoza and was a staffer for prominent lawmakers Herb Wesson and Fabian Nunez (Rappley, 9/02/11, ttownmedia.com). Gray has lectured on the state Legislature at UC Merced (latimes.com).

 

             In 2012, Democrat Gray was elected to the CA state Assembly where he represented the 21st Assembly District (AD) which included all of Merced County and Stanislaus County. This area includes much of the new congressional 13th district. In the Assembly, Gray challenged the state water board. He attacked plans to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta which he called a “state water grab.” In 2022, Gray called for an audit of CA’s water agencies. Gray always focused on the San Joaquin Valley’s interests first, not “political party agendas.” Still, Gray, a moderate, worked across the partisan divide and helped found the bipartisan California Problem Solvers Caucus (facebook.com/TurlockJournal, Patton, 8/11/23). And unlike Cong. Duarte, Gray is a very strong pro-choice advocate. Duarte believes women should only “have access to abortion in the first three months of their pregnancies.” Gray, however, favors putting a constitutional amendment before CA voters that further codifies that state’s already progressive reproductive rights. Gray has stated that women should have the right to make their own medical decisions without “any level of government, local, state or federal interfering.” In Gray’s words, abortion matters must be “a woman’s decision, guided by her doctors and her faith (See latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22).”

 

           Gray’s campaign centers itself upon water rights, improving education, and bolstering public safety. Gray is a strong advocate for the creation of a medical school at UC Merced to increase the number of healthcare workers in CA’s Central Valley (latimes.com, Mehta & Vega, 10/26/22).

 

             The big question, of course, is can Gray win his rematch? Gray has stated that compared to his midterm loss in 2022, he will be running in 2024, a presidential election year, which should boost voter turnout for him. In midterm 2022, only 45% of registered voters in Merced County cast ballots, way down from the 78.7% when Biden first ran in 2020 (facebook.com/TurlockJournal). However, Biden has, unfortunately, lost popularity even though he has effectively delivered and handled domestic and foreign policy issues quite well. Employment is up and inflation is down, despite GOP grousing. In order for Democrats in swing districts to win, which they need to do to take back the House, turnout for Biden has to be increased “big time.” Biden must show that Trump is one awful threat to our democracy and tout his own strong record as well. He is just starting to do that and must keep doing it through Election Day. In CA congressional swing district 13, Gray’s campaign must make sure that Hispanic turnout is strong as well to counter the GOP agribusiness voters. Hispanics have to hear again and again that Gray and fellow Democrats have not “taken them for granted,” the false GOP talking point the media too often repeats. Gray, therefore, must run a perfect campaign to topple “Freedumb” Caucus sympathizer Duarte. 

 

 

       

 

           

 

            

 

        

 

           

 

            

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