Reps. Miller, Thompson: Two Districts, Similar Vision

By Laura Chilaka

California News Service

Washington— From George Jr. to George III, the Miller family has a long history of representing downtown Martinez, a nearly half century long streak which will come to an end next year.

As a result of newly drawn congressional boundaries, Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena and Republicans Stewart Cilley and Randy Loftin will vie for Martinez and the 5th congressional district in the June elections, with Thompson the overwhelming favorite.

In many respects Thompson and Miller are the same. Both are Democrats, Roman Catholic, close friends of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and vote the same more than 80 percent of the time.

However, they are not identical.

An analysis of their voting records shows that Thompson is more economically conservative, pro-trade, and pro-business.

While Miller is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Thompson belongs to the moderate Blue Dog Coalition.

“I suspect that it is probably hard for the people of Martinez. There are people in Martinez that have known no other member of Congress than George,” Thompson said in an interview this week.

Thompson’s Capitol Hill office is more telling of Napa Valley than Martinez. On his shelf sits an antique bottle of wine and magazines revealing his love for vineyards; nothing yet alludes to Martinez.

By losing Miller, Martinez loses seniority. Miller, a Martinez native who has represented his hometown since 1975, is the seventh longest serving member of the House. He is the former chair of the environment and education committees. He has championed numerous bills, helping to craft President Obama’s stimulus plan in 2009 and President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” education plan in 2001.

Miller’s office boasts a priceless view of the Capitol Dome – a perk that comes with his long tenure.

Martinez was the heart of Miller’s old district, which stretched from Richmond to Antioch, and north to Vacaville. His new district includes Walnut Creek and Danville, and only those Martinez neighborhoods south of Highway 4.

“We didn’t have anything to do with redrawing the district, I’m disappointed in the whole thing,” Miller said in an interview.

Thompson, whose new district stretches from Martinez to Clear Lake 100 miles to the north, insists that he and Miller are more alike than different. Both are pro-choice and support gay rights. Their families have eaten together (“I’m the better cook,” Thompson said) and they sometimes hunt together.

“George Miller is my close friend. I am excited to not just team up with George but also partner with him for the district.

We have co-signed and co-authored numbers of bills,” Thompson said.

The National Journal, which ranks every member’s votes each year, gave Thompson and Miller identical scores on social and foreign issues in 2011.

An analysis by the California News Service found that of the 807 most substantive votes cast since Thompson arrived in 1999 – as identified by the non-partisan Project Vote Smart – Thompson and Miller voted the same 83 percent of the time.

“There is very little daylight between St. Helena and Martinez. Everyone I met in Martinez is just like everyone I know in St. Helena. They are hard-working people that want to get a fair shake; they want to make sure their kids get the same opportunities as them. They want to make sure the environment is solid,” Thompson said.

However, there are noticeable differences between St. Helena and Martinez.

The median value of a house in St. Helena is $956,200 compared to $520,800 in Martinez, according the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income is $65,741 in St. Helena compared to $75,679 in Martinez. St. Helena is 33 percent Hispanic and only one percent African American.

There are also clear differences between Thompson and Miller.

They diverge widely on economics issues, including free trade agreements and the use of federal funds. When economic issues are taken into account, the National Journal gives Miller a liberal score of 90 percent compared to Thompson’s 84 percent.

Thompson suggested that their biggest differences are their areas of interest.

“George’s expertise is in the education and labor fields. My expertise is in the intelligence committee and tax committee. I focus on tax policies, on trade policies, and on protecting Social Security and Medicare,” he said.

Thompson voted in favor of free trade agreements with Korea, Chile, and Singapore, which Miller opposed. In 2011, Thompson voted to allow the use of federal funds for NASCAR sponsorship, which Miller also opposed.

“George Miller is a little bit more liberal,” said Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder. “George is focused on children issues, women issues, and the working families. I see Thompson feeling the same way but Thompson seems to be very interested in looking for ways that the federal government can help on some of our local issues.”

Martinez is not the only city experiencing changes in their congressional district as a result of the newly drawn congressional map. The nonpartisan commission has redrawn all of California, resulting in numerous cities having new representatives.

With Martinez split between two districts, Miller and Thompson said they are committed to working together.

“You can’t represent half a city. George and I are going to be full-time partners in making sure Martinez gets the best representative possible,” Thompson said.

Some Martinez residents recognize the benefit of having two representatives fight for their interest, a notion the mayor believes will ultimately benefit the city.

“At first I thought it was a loss to not have George represent the whole city but I have since disagreed with that. I think it is a benefit to the city because we now have two respected and hard-working people protecting our interest,” Schroder said.

Thompson’s visibility and accessibility throughout the city has won some people who were initially skeptical.

“George Miller is a high-ranking Democrat. I’m going to miss him serving us completely. It will be different—that’s for sure,” said former city council member, Tim Farley.

Farley noted that Martinez will now have more representatives in Washington than some states.

“Some states like North Dakota have one – we have two,” Farley said. “I don’t think it’s a loss. It’s a gain.”

The California News Service is a journalism project of the University of California Washington Center and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. E-mail the California News Service at : cns@ucdc.edu

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