This Time As A Republican, Baca Applying His Campaign Of Persistance

Joe Baca, whose legendary persistence and tenaciousness in fighting the electoral and political odds inside and outside his party earned him a more than two-decade long career in the California State Legislature and the U.S. Congress along with the name “Working Joe,” is again looking to overcome the political establishment’s opposition and the long odds to reclaim a position in the House of Representatives.
Baca, once a Democrat, was a Congressman for more than thirteen years when he tumbled from that lofty position in the 2012 election as the result of an unlikely use of political chicanery orchestrated by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who enabled a member of Baca’s own party to stab him in the back.
In 2012, California moved to an open primary system, allowing the state’s voters to cross political lines and vote for any candidate running in what have been traditional intraparty races. That circumstance resulted in that year’s general election in November setting up a circumstance in which Baca, who was strongly favored to be elected to an eighth term in Congress, to be blindsided.
In the June 2012 primary Baca comfortably outpolled Democratic State Senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent in a race that also featured Green Party Candidate Anthony Vieyra. Nevertheless, in November 2012 Baca was vanquished by Negrete-McLeod, 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent, after Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was boosted by an infusion of $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Bloomberg, a billionair media magnate considered to be a moderate Republican. While it is not clear what Bloomberg’s motivation was in promoting the candidacy of a liberal Democrat living on the opposite side of the continent, it may have been because Bloomberg, a gun control advocate, resented Baca’s stand in favor of the Second Amendment. Of the $3.8 million Bloomberg provided to Negret-McLeod, $2.3 million was used to pay for a television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign. Most of those television ads attacked Baca on various elements of his voting record.
Having been thrown from the political horse, Baca immediately attempted to remount. In 2014, he jumped back into the fray, this time throwing his hat into the ring to replace Gary Miller a Republican who had been redistricted out of his comfortably GOP-oriented 42nd Congressional District into the 31st Congressional District, which leaned Democratic. But Pete Aguilar, the then-mayor of Redlands had previously declared his candidacy in the 31st District, and he had already sewed up the backing of the Democratic Party establishment, including its committee devoted to unseating Republicans such as Miller occupying vulnerable posts. Despite his more than thirteen years of experience in Washington, Baca was unable to convince the party’s leaders to drop their commitment to Aguilar. The primary field was a crowded one, logjammed with four Democrats as well as two Republicans who were vying to replace Miller. Penultimately Aguilar and Republican Paul Chabot captured the top two spots in the primary and Aguilar beat Chabot in the November 2012 election and went on to Washington., D.C.
Unfazed by the results of the 2014 primary, Baca then jumped into the 2014 race for Fontana mayor, challenging incumbent Acquanetta Warren. The promise of substantial monetary support for the effort to unseat Warren never materialized, however, and Baca was unsuccessful.
The string of three solid electoral defeats has not deterred Baca. Fewer than half of those voting today are likely to remember that in the 1980s, Baca occupied a similar position as a political outsider looking in. At that time, his nemesis was Jerry Eaves, the one-time mayor of Rialto, who had parlayed his union and Democratic Party affiliations to capture a seat representing San Bernardino County’s Central Valley in the California Assembly. Baca ran against him three times and was thrice defeated. In 1992, Eaves elected to leave Sacramento, where he was a medium size fish in a big pond, to run for the board of supervisors in San Bernardino County, where he had the opportunity to be a big fish in a somewhat smaller pond. Eaves endorsed his protégé, then-Rialto Mayor John Longville, to replace him as assemblyman. But the strength of Eaves’ political machine in supporting Longville was not sufficient to hold off Baca, who achieved a berth in the Assembly. He remained in California’s Lower House for six years and then was elected to the California Senate in 1998. The following year, he won a special election to Congress following the death of Congressman George Brown. He was reelected to Congress six times until he ran into Negrete-McLeod – backed by Bloomberg – in 2012.
Having shined shoes and delivered newspapers as a youth, worked as a railroad yard lineman and served in the Army before he went to college and moved on to a corporate position with General Telephone before being bitten by the political bug, Baca has demonstrated uncommon perseverance and a seeming immunity that leaves observers of his effort reluctant to count him out. Given the torpedoing of his career by his sister Democrat Negrete-McLeod three-and-a-half years ago and the party establishment’s backing of Aguilar two years ago, the mercurial Baca last year redefined himself, registering as a Republican. It is as a member of the GOP that he intends to take on Aguilar this year.
Baca spoke with the Sentinel this week.
“I am running for Congress again in the 31st District because I feel we need effective representation in the Inland Empire once more,” he said. “I spent nearly a decade in the state legislature and more than a decade in Congress. I have a proven track record in providing bipartisan representation for all of our community. The difference between me and the current congressman who has not been effective is I am very pro-business. I demonstrated in the state legislature and in Congress support of the business community. Small businesses are going to play a pivotal role in bringing back jobs to the Inland empire. I believe I can reduce overregulation and lower and reduce taxes that have such a negative impact on the ability of business to start and expand. I am talking about bringing in businesses other than distribution, so that we have decent, good paying jobs that will put food on the table, where people feel good and proud to go to work. I voted against the trade agreements that were so counterproductive. I want to bring back the manufacturing base that is so important to our economy.”
In addition to reviving the region on a blue collar level, Baca said he wants to boost its white collar prospects.
“I will make education available,” he said. “I will make sure college is affordable, our state colleges and universities. I will reduce the interest rates on student loans. You know it is so difficult for a graduate to pay down a loan because the interest rates are so high they end up in debt for the rest of their lives.”
A veteran of the U.S. Army during the 1960s, Baca said, “We must do something for our veterans who are so important in the time of war. We should make sure they get the services they are entitled to when they come of the service. I am a veteran and I know what that is like. When I was in Congress I worked to make sure that our veterans who were imprisoned [by the Nazis] in the Bergin camp in Germany who had not been recognized got the help and recognition they deserved. We need to understand post traumatic stress syndrome for what it is. We should now be taking care of our people before and after they leave service. I voted against the war in Iraq. I was one of the few congressman in this area to vote against going to war, and that was the right decision.”
Though he is a newly-Christened Republican, he did not find underlying fault with the universal health care concept put in place by President Barack Obama, nor lampoon it with the sobriquet “Obamacare.” Rather he indicated a recognition that as it exists now, the program is imperfect.
“We need to fix the Affordable Care Act,” Baca said. “We need to make it truly affordable. We have issues with doctors and HMOs [health maintenance operations]. A lot of people are not receiving the care or the level of care they should. It takes too long to get into an HMO. People should be able to go to any doctor they choose. We should make it affordable for small businesses to provide health care to their employees.”
Government should concern itself with basic public improvements, as well, Baca said.
“Infrastructure is another thing we need to take care of. Infrastructure is so important. We need to greatly improve our roadway system. We have too much congestion. People live in the Inland Empire because it is affordable here but every morning and night they experience near gridlock on our freeways. We need to improve our infrastructure and bring this area back to being what it used to be. We should make San Bernardino the All America city it was. We begin doing that with infrastructure.”
The former congressman highlighted another basic need, referencing the shooting spree by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Berdino last year in doing so.
“Public safety is important to all of us,” he said. “The incident that happened on December 2 is a case in point. Our congressman should have made sure that the cities and county whose law enforcement officers responded so bravely and so well were reimbursed for the costs they sustained. That should have been done before the fact not after the fact as some type of public relations ploy. As someone who is experience I would have done that before the fact.”
Baca declaimed, “Another important issue is water. In Redlands they just increased the rates residents pay for water. We must make sure we have an abundant water supply. We need to reclaim as much water as we can. We need to build dams. The water we get in rain just pours into the ocean. I have ideas about how we could get more of our water from the Colorado River and not rely on Northern California.”
Those who are coming to the end of their days merit government assistance Baca said. “We need to protect our senior citizens,” he stated.
Baca said he would appeal to the voters by showing them that he has a clear and realistic view of the situation the Inland Empire faces, the degree to which government can come in to deal with problems the community faces and the understanding that too much government interference is a bane and hindrance rather than of assistance.
“We need to help our businesses in dealing with the challenges they face, not only in terms of regulation but the mandates they must deal with, and reducing those. The Inland Empire needs a congressman who will fight for his constituents. We do not need public relations in the form of robocalls and public relations fliers. We need to work together to make America greater. We have been divided for too long. I have always been in the middle. I have always been in a position to be able to compromise. That is what the Inland Empire needs, not someone who is far to the right or far to the left, but someone who is able to fight for them by working in a bipartisan way to move forward.”

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