An odd endorsement

An odd letter appeared in the Merced Sun-Star on Oct. 12. It was written by local attorney, Ken Robbins, in praise of Dennis Cardoza, who represents this area in the House of Representatives. The ,letter appeared about the time a spate of letters in praise of Cardoza appeared. Apparently, in our Valley, we praise a politician who has no serious competition in an election.

In any event, what was so odd about the letter was its strange factual natural. Robbins praised Cardoza's leadership as chairman of the Assembly Water Committee, for example. Those of us who have misspent portions of our adult lives in the halls of the state Capitol were trying to remember the Assembly Water Committee. Some said that maybe such a committee existed back in the days of Speaker Jesse Unruh, others thought that if such a committee ever existed, it had pre-dated Unruh.

One bright young staffer suggested that Robbins might have confused Cardoza, who was chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee and the Assembly Rules committee with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who was once state Sen. Jim Costa, chairman of the state Senate Ag and Water Committee. But other textual evidence suggested that Robbins was aware that Cardoza represented Merced, not Fresno.

But, admittedly, the problem of state Legislature committees is tricky, which is why it helps to look things up. For example, state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas, Merced or Livingston, depending on what press release you read, is presently chairman of the new state Senate Agriculture Committee. They took the water away from the committee, you see, when they made Denham its chairman.

Robbins praised Cardoza's "steadfast support of UC Merced before the City County," presumably meaning the Merced City Council -- not Fresno, Salinas or Livingston city councils. The only problem with the praise is that no one can remember Cardoza ever appearing before the Merced City Council in steadfast support of UC Merced. He is well remembered for legislative bills and for working the backrooms of the state Capitol on behalf of the project. However, beside the time the Merced City Council voted to violate its own ordinances to provide UC Merced with sewer and water hookups, the city has relatively little to do with UC Merced planning and permitting. That could be because the campus is located in Merced County and its planning conducted by the County of Merced UC Development Office, out of its offices at the former Castle Air Force base.

But Robbins letter, "Cardoza a true leader," is only using Cardoza's background as chairman of a non-existent state Assembly committee to build up his argument for Cardoza's "leadership in the U.S. Congress," specifically as a member of the House Resources subcommittee on water and power. According to Lawyer Robbins, Cardoza "reached across party lines" to exert this leadership to protect irrigation and water districts downstream from the Friant Dam from the terrible destruction they imagined would be wrecked by a large group of farmers and environmentalists settling an 18-year-old lawsuit to permit the San Joaquin River to flow again without a 60-mile dry area in the middle of it. Fifteen thousand farmers who have been using water drawn from Lake Millerton behind the Friant Dam for 50 years, agreed with environmentalists that killing the second longest river in California halfway across the San Joaquin Valley and converting its entire north-south reach from Fresno County to the Delta into an agricultural waste drainage ditch was no longer favored by law. So they made a settlement, which included draft congressional legislation to fund it.

It is one of the most ambitious river restoration projects in the nation. This settlement is actually worth great praise.

However, Cardoza's role in the appropriations bill negotiations, was to lead the obstruction of as much as possible of it, on behalf of Robbins' client, the Merced Irrigation District, Westlands Water District, and the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts, who were each experiencing their own kind of angst over the settlement.

The chairman of the water and power subcommittee is Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, in whose district the lake, the dam, and parts of the river and of the canal are located. While we are not personally acquainted with the exact number of good political deeds Radanovich has done in his career in Congress, his work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, speacial interests like Robbins and Cardoza represent, to get an appropriations agreement in accord with the settlement agreement's requirements, was certainly one good deed, for which he is being severely punished. The Fresno Bee, for example, recently came out with an endorsement for his opponent.

Seven of the subcommittee's 17 members are from California, as is chairman of the Resources Committee, Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Whale Slayer-Tracy. But two are ex-officio, leaving 15 voting members. Four of the Californians -- Pombo, Radanovich, Cardoza and Costa -- are from the San Joaquin Valley. How much more could Pombo have loaded up the subcommittee committee for a hearing on this issue?

Nevertheless, rightly fearing worse if the settlement broke down for lack of appropriations and went back to federal court, Feinstein and the other representatives soothed Cardoza's troubled spirit on behalf of the irrigation districts and got a bill out. At least their press release says they got a bill out.

Then, after their anxious moment having to deal with farmers and environmentalists agreeing on a major California water issue and making a positive proposal, they turned to more familiar work and began punishing Randanovich.

"During extensive negotiations regarding the San Joaquin River settlement implementing legislation," Robbins wrote, "Dennis played a pivotal role in protecting the water rights of Merced and Stanislaus counties and the private property of landowners along the San Joaquin River."

At this point in Robbins' letter, we develop more angst than an irrigation district afraid a few endangered salmon might swim up its river instead of up another irrigation district's river. We want to feel the same warm feeling for Cardoza that Robbins does. Here, after all, is a congressman so incredibly popular in his district "across party lines," that the other party doesn't even bother to mount a serious campaign against him. We wish to participate in this general good will toward Dennis Cardoza that spreads all across the 18th Congressional District of California -- if we could understand why we should feel this way toward a man who introduced three bills to chop up or destroy the Endangered Species Act, just in his first two terms of office.

What are the water rights of Merced and Stanislaus counties? Do counties have water rights? We realize that Robbins is a top man in his field of water law, therefore he must be right. We also know he is incredibly generous with Merced Irrigation District water, once offering 25,000 acre feet ("a drop in the bucket") to UC Merced, years before Cardoza did not appear at the Merced City Council when it agreed to supply the campus with water. But we don't quite know why he's right. Perhaps, that Assembly Water Committee thing still niggles.

We are aware of county-of-origins water laws, by which water agencies in the county in which the water originates get first rights on the use of the water. That must have been what he meant.

But then another problem immediately arises, in fact several problems for those of us who are not top water people. First, the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers empty into the San Joaquin River well downstream of the Friant Dam. But, even more confusing, none of those rivers originate in Merced or Stanislaus counties. Thirdly, the irrigation districts have use rights to rivers: they can use so many acre feet per year. With more explanation, perhaps not in the same breathe with which he is praising our favorite congressman, perhaps Robbins could make it clear how some salmon would jeopardize the water rights of these counties.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in upcoming negotiations on hydroelectric plants on these rivers when the water agencies apply for relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Fish, water, dams, hydroelectric turbines, irrigation districts in the energy business, federal resource agencies -- that sort of thing. Why would Lawyer Robbins have wished to mix up nightmares like that with praise of our all-popular congressman? We suppose top water lawyers like Robbins make good money in FERC relicensing negotiations, though. A real top water lawyer could probably send a Little League Baseball team to Harvard on a serious and complex relicensing negotiation with FERC, particularly if a few endangered salmon were sighted in the river.

However, we were unequivocably proud of how our congressman protected the private property rights of landowners along the San Joaquin River. We know that Cardoza has always been a zealous defender of private property rights, wherever he can find them in conflict with law or regulation protecting the natural habitat of fish or wildlife. Yet we know, in the same way that we know that Lawyer Robbins speaks with sincerity and truth, that Cardoza cares for our environment. From reading our one newspaper with many names, the McClatchy Co., we know of two farmers whose homesteads lie along the San Joaquin River on the west side of the Valley, who expressed deep concerns about the settlement agreement. They farm cotton on tiny plots they inherited from the Miller-Lux and Wolfsen estates. Presumably -- it's not too clear from the articles -- they have angst that if the river were allowed to flow again, it might flow in places where it used to flow but where they now farm, possibly wiping out the tiny plots where they grow subsistence cotton crops as did their ancestors in a way of life unbroken through countless generations of English-speaking people in the San Joaquin Valley.

Lawyer Robbins urges local voters to join him in reelecting Cardoza to the House. Residents in his district will have to tax the resources of their imaginations to find any alternative to voting for Cardoza. We don't really have a credible choice and we can't tell, certainly from his party label, what Cardoza's affiliations really are. The record suggests he's basically an anti-environmentalist in a rural county experiencing rapid growth.

But that's what happens when the district residents allow a small cabal who display a characteristic as odd as Robbins' "facts" of getting richer as the majority gets poorer, to completely control its local, state and federal slates of political candidates.

Bill Hatch

Letter to the Editor: Cardoza a true leader
Merced Sun-Star -- October 12, 2006

Editor: I have known Dennis Cardoza for many years and have had the pleasure of working with him on many issues vital to Merced. His steadfast support of UC Merced before the City Council and in the legislature mark him as a true leader for our community.
Recently I also was able to observe his leadership in the U.S. Congress. Dennis' term as the chairman of the Assembly Water Committee has served us well as that experience has translated to his work on the Water and Power Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee, of which he is a member.

During extensive negotiations regarding the San Joaquin River settlement implementing legislation, Dennis played a pivotal role in protecting the water rights of Merced and Stanislaus counties and the private property of landowners along the San Joaquin River. As a member of the Valley Congressional delegation, Dennis reached across party lines to help secure a compromise that will result in restoring the San Joaquin River while protecting those of us that were not part of the litigation.

This deal would not have happened without Congressman Cardoza. This is just more evidence of his effectiveness on our behalf in Congress. I will be voting to re-elect him and I hope you will, too.


House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power

Mr. George Radanovich, California, Chairman
Mrs. Grace F. Napolitano, CA

Republicans Democrats
Ken Calvert, CA Raul M. Grijalva, AZ
Barbara Cubin, WY Jim Costa, CA
Greg Walden, OR George Miller, CA
Thomas G. TancredoCO Mark Udall, CO
J.D. Hayworth, AZ Dennis Cardoza, CA
Stevan Pearce, NM vacancy
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, WA vacancy
Louie Gohmert, TX Nick J. Rahall, II, WV, ex officio
Richard W. Pombo, CA, ex officio

Valley well-represented in river-restoration talks...Editorial
In poker, you can't win if you're not at the table. The same thing is true in water negotiations. Fortunately, we had a seat - several, in fact - at the table where a deal to restore the San Joaquin River between Fresno and Merced has been worked out. Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced a deal... Included were some key third-party representatives. Among them was Modesto Irrigation District General Manager Allen Short, who represented the five irrigation districts - Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale, Merced and South San Joaquin - that depend on and manage the San Joaquin's tributary rivers. Joining him was Ken Robbins, a lawyer for Merced Irrigation District, and all five valley members of the House of Representatives. The negotiations on the bill are complete, but this game is not over. Getting this bill passed will require the help of the entire valley congressional is doable.