Political Notebook

With Boehner out, McCarthy as House speaker divides Fresno County GOP

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican, is expected to win election as the next speaker of the House.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican, is expected to win election as the next speaker of the House. Associated Press file

John Boehner is out as House speaker and, across the central San Joaquin Valley, people steeped in the world of Washington politics are excited that his likely replacement will be Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy.

Unless you’re an ultra-conservative. In that case, it’s good riddance to Boehner but unfortunately more of the same with McCarthy.

But the business and agriculture interests that represent the mainstream wing of the GOP see McCarthy’s ascension to arguably the most powerful position in Congress – a post second in line of ascension to the presidency – as a good thing for the Valley.

The bottom line, this is a tremendous opportunity for California and, specifically, the San Joaquin Valley.

California Fresh Fruit Association President Barry Bedwell

“The bottom line, this is a tremendous opportunity for California and, specifically, the San Joaquin Valley,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association.

Congressional action – or inaction – has an outsized effect on agriculture and, by extension, the larger Valley economy.

The farm bill. Immigration reform. Trade legislation. Water. Pesticide rules. These issues and more are tackled by the federal government. For that reason, having a Valley native be the House speaker could be invaluable, local leaders said.

Al Smith, president and CEO of the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce, thinks McCarthy will bring a higher profile to the Valley in Washington, D.C. Fresno, in particular, should benefit from the close relationship between McCarthy and Rep. Devin Nunes, the Tulare Republican whose district covers Clovis and a large part of the city of Fresno.

“When all is said and done, if McCarthy does get it, I can see that as only positive,” Smith said.

Part of the anticipation over McCarthy’s likely ascension has to do with Boehner. Agriculture and pro-business Republicans locally viewed him as a mixed bag.

He tried, for instance, to achieve immigration reform, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, an Exeter-based lobby. But many local leaders had hoped for more, especially because McCarthy, Nunes and Hanford Rep. David Valadao were all viewed as close Boehner allies. Boehner actually has made multiple visits to the Valley.

“Traditionally, we would think the Republican Party would be good for business,” Smith said. “It tends to be less onerous about roadblocks to free enterprise and regulation. Under Boehner’s tenure, we took back the House and Senate, so we would have hoped more accomplishments to strip off that stuff that blocks job creation and a healthy business climate.”

Happy Boehner resigned

Largely, however, local Republicans and conservatives say they’re not sorry to see Boehner go.

“I’m very happy about Boehner resigning,” said Fresno Republican Liz Kolstad. “I think it’s long overdue. He was not conservative, not strong on conservative values.”

Fresno businessman Serafin Quintanar, a former Republican who left the GOP because he feels it abandoned its conservative values, was more succinct: “My first thought is, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’ 

The views of local conservatives largely mirror those nationally. Boehner was constantly under fire for not advancing conservative causes and not being more confrontational with President Barack Obama or even his colleagues in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

Fresno Republican Jeff Crow said Boehner was ineffective at negotiating with Obama and was unable to “push through the Republican agenda in any real way” – despite holding majorities in both houses of Congress.

Crow compared the current situation to the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and Newt Gingrich was speaker.

“Lots of positive things came from their negotiations, and America was better off for it,” Crow said.

For many of those same reasons, local conservatives are wary of McCarthy. As the current majority leader, he is the second most powerful person in the House, right under Boehner. He also is a Boehner ally.

Many conservatives thus see McCarthy as Boehner 2.0.

Quintanar has a long list of speaker preferences. None are McCarthy.

“He’s part of the problem,” Quintanar said of McCarthy. “He plays the game of cronyism.”

Fresno businessman and Lincoln Club of Fresno County Chairman Michael Der Manouel Jr. is willing to give McCarthy a chance, but he has definite opinions on how he should approach the job.

“We need a speaker that will understand the legislative branch is coequal to the executive branch,” he said in a recent radio commentary. “Obama has walked all over Republicans for years. If a Boehner crony succeeds him, we’re likely going to have to endure more of the same from the GOP: power, politics and position over what’s best for America. That would be unacceptable.”

In an interview, Der Manouel acknowledged that McCarthy would be considered a Boehner ally – but not necessarily a crony.

“I believe McCarthy is talented enough to do this,” he said.

Sense of relief

For the more moderate business wing of the local GOP, there is a sense of relief that McCarthy is the odds-on favorite to take over the post. The close relationship Boehner had with McCarthy, Valadao and Nunes made local moderate Republicans feel like they at least had the ear of the top man in the House. And under Boehner, McCarthy ascended to majority leader and Nunes to chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

At the same time, they knew Boehner was under siege from House conservatives who felt both that he was ineffective and ignored the conservative issues they were pushing. His days seemed numbered.

Under different circumstances, it could be another Republican from a far-off state with little knowledge of Valley needs and different priorities seeking to replace Boehner. And that, several local business and agriculture leaders pointed out, could have been disastrous for the Valley. Instead, McCarthy is a local boy who came up through the political ranks with former Bakersfield Rep. Bill Thomas, then served in the state Assembly starting in 2002 before moving on to Congress after Thomas’ 2006 retirement.

I believe McCarthy is talented enough to do this.

Local businessman and Lincoln Club of Fresno County Chairman Michael Der Manouel Jr.

McCarthy quickly began working his way up the leadership ladder, first as chief deputy whip and later served as majority whip. In 2014, he was elected House majority leader. The rapid rise, perhaps now to the very top, has come in just eight years in Congress.

Boehner has scheduled the leadership vote for Thursday, so the world will quickly know if McCarthy is the next speaker.

If McCarthy takes the gavel as House speaker, however, he also will be taking on responsibility for more than just his congressional district and the San Joaquin Valley, said the California Fresh Fruit Association’s Bedwell. He will have representatives from across the nation clamoring to be heard. Because of that, Bedwell said local leaders must do all they can to assist McCarthy.

“We want to do all we can to support his efforts on behalf of (McCarthy’s) constituents in the south San Joaquin Valley,” Bedwell said.

California Citrus Mutual’s Nelsen said he has worked with McCarthy since he was in the state Assembly. At that time, Nelsen recalls being frustrated with McCarthy because he seemed to lack understanding of some important Valley and citrus issues. But that began to turn once McCarthy went to Congress. Now, Nelsen said, he has been pleased with the work of both McCarthy and his staff.

Nelsen said McCarthy helped secure research dollars for huanglongbing, a disease also known as citrus greening. In addition, McCarthy was able to open doors for Nelsen with federal bureaucrats and has taken time himself to discuss citrus industry issues.

“I think Kevin is going to be an asset,” Nelsen said.

That said, local Republicans know that McCarthy would take the job at a challenging time. The GOP appears in flux, and conservatives – likely emboldened by Boehner’s resignation – are becoming more vocal in their demands from House leadership.

“We cannot underestimate the task (McCarthy) has at hand,” Bedwell said.

That’s exactly right, say local conservatives.

Kolstad, a conservative Fresno Republican, said of McCarthy: “He’s not my No. 1 choice. I’ll be watching and waiting.”