Congress

Democrat Ami Bera faces party endorsement blowback for voting record

Ami Bera runs his ballot through the scanner while voting in the race in which he outsed former GOP Rep. Dan Lungren in 2012. Now, Bera, who represents a swing district in Sacramento County, is fighting for his own party’s endorsement.
Ami Bera runs his ballot through the scanner while voting in the race in which he outsed former GOP Rep. Dan Lungren in 2012. Now, Bera, who represents a swing district in Sacramento County, is fighting for his own party’s endorsement. lsterling@sacbee.com

Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, a top target of national Republicans, now is facing emerging discontent from his own party.

Bera, of Elk Grove, initially angered organized labor by supporting President Barack Obama’s request for fast-track trade promotion authority.

That decision, along with more recent votes on Syrian refugee legislation, were among the concerns voiced at a Tuesday night meeting in Bera’s hometown, where the Elk Grove-South County Democratic Club took the exceedingly unusual step of voting against endorsing the two-term congressman.

Where people invest their time and money will be dependent on their values.

Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County

The group mentioned other votes they say demonstrate a record that is too conservative for the swing district, which stretches from Elk Grove to Folsom. Members circulated a grid of nine measures on which Bera often took a different position than Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, siding with Speaker Paul Ryan and conservative Rep. Tom McClintock.

“A lot of people aren’t happy with Ami lately for things he’s done,” Sandi Russell, past president of the club, said by phone Wednesday. Russell said she wished a representative from Bera’s office had been there to answer questions about his votes. “No one has seen him for quite a while,” she said.

Bera was traveling and unavailable to comment Wednesday, but has taken steps to counter criticism from those on his left flank. He met late last year with California labor leaders to discuss his positions on trade. After voting for the measure that would make it more difficult for refugees from Syria and Iraq to come to the U.S., Bera on Tuesday invited Iraqi refugee Sarmed Ibrahim, an engineer from Sacramento County, to accompany him to the president’s final State of the Union address.

Dan Schmitt, president of the Elk Grove-based club, said the group is made up of members with diverse beliefs and political passions. While members had mixed views this week, Schmitt said he suspects most will come around to support Bera, who is facing a challenge from Republican Scott Jones, the elected county sheriff.

Some club members felt more clarification was needed on some of Congressman Bera’s votes this past year, and they chose not to endorse him at this time.

Dan Schmitt, president of Elk Grove-South County Democratic Club

“Some club members felt more clarification was needed on some of Congressman Bera’s votes this past year, and they chose not to endorse him at this time,” Schmitt said. “The vote at last evening’s meeting should not be perceived as an anti-Bera vote or a pro-Scott Jones vote. Nothing could be further from reality.”

Irritation from grass-roots activists and union members could have wider implications, however. The California Democratic Party confirmed Wednesday that it approved a delegate petition to move Bera’s endorsement from what was only a formality to a full floor vote at the state convention next month in San Jose. A state party spokesman said there’s a process for Bera to get back on the consent calendar that involves votes at a pre-endorsement conference. There also is a way to challenge that vote.

Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, said she’s increasingly heard from activists dissatisfied with their representative. Asbury said among the volunteers contacting her are those who helped walk precincts during Bera’s close elections.

“If you lose activists, if you lose labor, if we are taking about a couple thousand votes in a congressional district, that could generate huge impact,” she said. “Where people invest their time and money will be dependent on their values.”

Asbury acknowledged the ire expressed by some could be counterproductive to their larger cause given that the congressman is again expected to face fierce competition from the GOP. Still, she said she can’t blame them for being upset.

“He hasn’t been responsive to the delegates as far as forwarding relationships or answering to his votes,” she said. “Everything comes down to relationship building. Those relationships weren’t built or maintained.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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