Democratic Rep. Ami Bera wants to ‘reach across the aisle,’ constituents want to fight

Jeff vonKaenel

Democracy is not a spectator sport. It certainly was not for the approximately 350 people who showed up for the little publicized town hall meeting that Democratic Rep. Ami Bera held at the Unity Church of Sacramento last Saturday afternoon.

When I arrived at the town hall, I was handed a leaflet created by Democratic Party Executive Board Member Amar Shergill, questioning fellow Democrat Bera’s voting record. Specifically, it listed multiple issues where Bera voted with the Republicans—on trade, on sanctuary cities, on restricting Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and more. The leaflet concluded, “We must know if he is truly ready to fight with us against the Trump administration.”

While our other local congressional representatives, Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Doris Matsui, are in safe districts, Bera resides in a highly competitive district. In the last three general elections, he has never won more than 51.7 percent of the vote. By comparison, McClintock won in November with 62.7 percent of the vote. Matsui scored 75.4 percent.

Being in one of the country’s few competitive congressional districts, where political parties and special interests regularly pour millions of dollars into the race, Bera is in campaign mode all the time. He is constantly raising money. And he knows that any congressional vote could be used against him in an upcoming campaign.

This has put him in a difficult position. Bera is often seen as taking positions based upon polling results rather than what he thinks is best for the country. Being in a district that is fairly equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, Bera wanted to focus on his ability to “reach across the aisle.”

But most people attending the town hall would be more comfortable reaching across the aisle with an uppercut to the chin instead of a handshake. In this time of polarization, neither Democrats nor Republicans believe Bera is on their side.

The newly formed Indivisible Sacramento group was out in force at the town hall meeting, with prepared questions such as “Would you support and/or introduce legislation for single-payer health care?” Their questions were thought-provoking.

At one point during the meeting, Mitch Prefach, a woman wearing a Donald Trump 2016 T-shirt, interrupted Basim Elkarra, head of Sacramento’s Council on American-Islamic Relations. Elkarra, who is also on the Twin Rivers Unified School District Board of Trustees, was talking about Trump’s travel ban.

Prefach shouted that she was a police officer for 25 years, holding up her police badge. She demanded to be heard. The moderator, Unity of Sacramento Minister Kevin Ross, asked her to wait her turn. There were way more questions than time allowed, but as it turned out, Prefach’s question was read a few minutes later. Surprisingly, the question was about the affordability of health care.

I asked her after the meeting what she thought of Rep. Paul Ryan’s health care plan. She said she was not sure, not having seen the details. If she voted for Trump because she wanted more affordable health care, she may need to rethink her position.

As should Bera. When the Republicans are trying to ram through a fatally flawed health plan, rubber-stamping Trump’s cabinet nominees and going along with a Muslim travel ban, it is no longer the time to reach across the aisle. It is time to fight.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.