Two years ago, Democrat TJ Cox defeated Republican David Valadao to win the 21st Congressional District in the nation’s closest race. A mere 862 votes separated the pair.
Cox won despite The Bee reporting how he listed on tax records two primary residences — a home in Maryland and his home in Fresno. Federal law allows only one primary residence for tax purposes. He had to repay the Maryland tax credit.
Then last summer, Cox had to pay a four-year-old claim for $58,000 in back wages owed to three workers in Canada at a company for which he was a director. He had also run afoul of congressional rules for not reporting holdings in companies he was involved in.
Then earlier this month came news that Cox owed nearly $145,000 in unpaid federal income taxes.
Not paying workers their wages. Not paying taxes. And, with the razor-thin victory two years ago, not a mandate for Cox to represent the 21st.
While Cox has sponsored or cosponsored useful legislation in his first term, the financial revelations raise questions about Cox’s credibility. Voters should retire Cox and bring back Valadao, who is once again seeking the seat.
That position does not come lightly. Two years ago, Valadao chose not to meet with The Bee’s Editorial Board, and thus did not get the recommendation. By policy, the board will not endorse a candidate it cannot first interview.
But this time around, Valadao sat down with the editorial board, and in a refreshing moment of candor, acknowledged a vote that contributed to his loss.
That vote was his support of the American Health Care Act of 2017, the Republican push to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. If it had been adopted, the act would have scaled back government assistance for health care and sharply reduced the number of people who would have been eligible.
The 21st District is one of the poorest in the nation, and government-run assistance programs make a real difference for the people living in Kings County and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties.
Valadao said he voted for the plan because it included a pilot project to raise reimbursement rates for doctors willing to work in the 21st. The district struggles to attract doctors because of poor reimbursement rates from the government.
Two years ago, The Bee was ready to give Valadao high marks for his work to reform the immigration system. He was one of three Republicans to back President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — the program that lets undocumented young people brought to America as children remain and find work or go to school. He also worked hard to create a process by which workers from Mexico and Central America could legally have agricultural jobs in the U.S.
On water, Valadao wants all options to be explored — from groundwater recharging to building new dams and raising Shasta Dam to capture more water. He wants to champion supplies for farmers and clean water for Valley towns now suffering from contaminated water systems.
It should be noted that Valadao has had some financial issues of his own. A family dairy that he had interest in went into bankruptcy and was sold off by creditors in 2018 due to unpaid loans. Because of the bankruptcy, back wages claimed by dairy workers that were to be paid as part of a settlement instead went unpaid. However, during the upheaval with the dairy, Valadao was serving in Congress and not managing operations.
TWO OTHERS ON THE BALLOT
Also on the ballot are a father and son from San Diego — Roque and Ricardo de la Fuente — who are not earnestly campaigning for the Valley seat. Roque de la Fuente is also running as a Republican for president; Ricardo de la Fuente is a Democrat who is also campaigning for a congressional seat in Texas.
The 21st District covers all of Kings County and parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties. All four men will be listed on ballots.
The primary is a warm-up to November for congressional races. The top two finishers will move on to the general election — in all likelihood, Cox and Valadao.
Valadao is trying to recapture a seat he previously held for three terms. In so doing, he bucked the large advantage Democrats have in registration — a fact that remains true, with Democrats holding a 43.2% to 26.5% lead over Republicans.
How did Valadao pull that off? Mostly by being moderate. “I am a middle of the road guy,” he notes. Moderation is in short supply in Congress these days. Perhaps he can restore some of that quality to the GOP by working across the aisle with Democrats, as he says he plans to do if elected.
Voters should give Valadao that chance.
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