Jeff Denham Appointed Chair of House Railroad Committee, Vows to Continue War on California HSR
Congressman Jeff Denham, who barely survived his first bid for re-election in November, has been appointed to chair the House Transportation Committee’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials subcommittee. Denham has been a leader in the fight to stop the California high speed rail project, despite the numerous benefits it would bring to his district, and he vows to continue the fight to block new federal funding from his new perch:
“I’ve obviously taken a very storing position about California high-speed rail and I’m going to continue do so,” Denham said. “We’ll have the ability to hold hearings, we’ll have the rail reauthorization bill and different transportation funding measures. I don’t want to see one more penny [go to the California high-speed rail] until they disclose who their private partners are.”…
Despite his state’s Democratic leaders’ enthusiasm, Denham sponsored an amendment to the $105 billion transportation bill that was approved by Congress last year to bar any of the money from going to the proposed California railway.
He told The Hill on Wednesday that he would seek to continue the ban in future transportation authorizations.
“I don’t believe gas tax money should be going to rail,” Denham said.
Given the high levels of air pollution in his district and the need for short-term and long-term job creation, Denham is crazy to take this approach. High speed rail would be a boon to his district and its constituents, one reason why local newspapers have been urging him to drop his opposition to the project.
Interestingly, in comments to the Modesto Bee, Denham tried to strike a slightly less hostile tone:
“I’m opposed to it, but I’m going to work with the California High-Speed Rail Authority on going forward,” Denham said Wednesday. “I want to work together with them, though I still have doubts about their funding and ridership numbers.”
The irony of course is that Denham himself is fighting to prevent the project from getting more funding, which makes it rather circular for him to express doubts about the funding. And if he’s worried about ridership, he can take a trip on any passenger train in the state and see huge ridership numbers, whether it’s BART, Caltrain, or his local San Joaquins.
But this isn’t about common sense. It’s about ideology. As a second term member of Congress in a district he barely won last year, Denham is a marked man in 2014. Democrats targeted 20 Republican legislative and Congressional seats in California in 2012, and won 19 of them. The one they lost was Denham’s seat. Democrats are likely going to come after him again, and that means Denham will need to raise big money from the far-right wackjobs who currently bankroll the Republican Party. To keep them happy, Denham has to sell out his district in order to maintain favor with those wingnut backers.
Democrats have a 4.7% advantage in registration numbers in the 10th Congressional district, which suggests that Denham has his work cut out for him to win re-election. An ideological stand against a major project in his district – especially a project that by 2014 will be under construction – is not going to play well. Denham may please his right-wing masters by taking a hard stance against high speed rail, but his voters are less likely to go along.