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(From left to right:  Howie Klein and Rep. Jerry McNerney.)

[FDL is thrilled to welcome Rep. Jerry McNerney back for a Blue America chat today.  As always, please stay on topic in the thread and be polite.  Any off-topic conversation should be taken to the prior thread.  And, with that, pleasse give a big FDL welcome to Rep. Jerry McNerney! -- CHS]

Today we welcome Jerry McNerney — now Congressman Jerry McNerney back to Firedoglake. It's been 8 months since we last sat down with Jerry for a chat, at a time when Inside-the-Beltway pros were scoffing at the idea that an anti-war, grassroots, alternative energy expert with no support from the Party Establishment could take on a powerful and entrenched incumbent — in a Republican district. Let's keep the questions on topic and find out what's happened with Citizen McNerney since then.

If you know who Karl Rove is it certainly didn't surprise you to find out at this week's GSA hearings that he sits around in his White House office targeting Democrats for swiftboat campaigns. Nor should it have surprised you to find out that he illegally conspires with other Bush Regime functionaries inside the government to use taxpayer dollars to harm targeted Democrats and bolster unpopular Republican incumbents. And it probably came as no surprise to you that high on Rove's "kill" list is newly elected California congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-11). He was #3 on the hit list Rove gave to the GSA in the hope that they would help him create an environment to make voters in the San Joaquin Valley disgruntled.

Their new congressman has been working very hard to make sure San Joaquin Valley voters wouldn't be. In fact, I've been very impressed by the difference in approach between a true grassroots Democrat like Jerry and some of the other freshmen who are perceived to be in for tough races. The Blue Dogs seem to think the way to win re-election is to behave and vote like a Republican. It is no coincidence that of Rove's 20 top targets, most are Blue Dogs; only 2 or 3 besides Jerry McNerney have proven themselves to be true progressives so far. Instead of going over to the Dark Side and betraying his supporters, in the vain hope of capturing GOP votes, Jerry has put his nose to the grindstone and methodically gone about making good on the campaign promises he made when he ran for office. He's been proving himself to be a hard-working, serious, constituent service-oriented representative who puts the job first and the politics…on a back burner.

He was the first new congressman to author his own legislation — The Healthy Community Water Supply Act — and get it passed, with strong bipartisan support.

Jerry was driven to seek office, not because of "politics" but to get things done. He's a national security hawk who, as an ex-military man with a son currently serving overseas, takes the safety of our nation very, very seriously. The catastrophic and dangerous approach that the Bush Regime has taken in terms of international relations is important to Jerry and he is a strong and vocal supporter of making sure the troops are properly trained and properly equipped– and on their way home as soon as possible. The dangers America faces from fanatics is not something Bush made up, although it is something Bush screwed up– and exacerbated. Jerry isn't a lawyer; he's an engineer. His engineer's mind is about solving problems and that's what he's been working at in Congress since he got there. His voting record is populist and progressive and his approach has been inclusive and open.

Congresswoman Hilda Solis, who I ran into at a McNerney rally last weekend, told me he's been one of the more outspoken freshmen on matters that impact the lives or ordinary people. The two of them were appointed to serve on the high profile Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. This is totally Jerry's cup of tea– as much as any other factor that inspired him to run for Congress. It's on this committee and on the Transportation and Infrastruction Committee, on which he also sits, that he feels he can serve the interests of his constituents, dealing with local issues like the Sacramento River Delta levee system and creating desperately needed new industries based on bio-fuels, solar technology and new auto technology.

Meanwhile, when I asked the new congressman, a mathematics Ph.D., what he likes most about the gig, he was effusive. "I love the job. I love going out and meeting people and hearing about their issues and their ideas… their passions. It's one of the things I most enjoy." He's been back in the district every weekend, holding "Congressman At The Corner" sessions in Stockton, Tracy, Danville and Morgan Hill so far. These have been well-covered by the media and Jerry has built a good rapport with people who had grown used to Pombo's imperious and haughty manner. Jerry's media coverage has been excellent, showing him as engaged in the life of his district, an important factor for a freshman Democrat in a purple district.

He'll need that as the Republicans continue to pour millions of dollars into CA-11 to try to unseat him. The RNCC's swiftboat website, trying to paint him as some kind of a radical, already shows the direction they'll be heading in. The Berkeley Bubble deconstructs some of the lies the Republican swiftboaters are already hurling at Jerry.

For example, the site attacks McNerney for voting for new taxes on energy producers, for higher prices for consumers, to stifle domestic energy production, and further increase our dependence on foreign energy sources. In reality, the bill that McNerney voted for, HR 6, actually promotes energy conservation and research, development and production of alternative renewable energy sources.

Over at Daily Kos on Thursday Markos had to hold back his laughter when he analyzed the Republicans' limp efforts to smear Jerry. He breaks it down by asking the question: "But really, the GOP plan is to spam people with the charge that McNerney supports the popular speaker's popular agenda?" Good point, especially considering the polling data that shows the votes Jerry has backed– stem cell research, cutting the interest rates on students loans, increasing the minimum wage, voting to enact the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, supporting benchmarks and a withdrawal deadline for Iraq, are all things residents in CA-11 approve of– and all things they know Republicans do not support.

Two weeks ago at our little Blue America town hall meeting we picked 5 members of Congress to send $200 checks to in appreciation for sticking to their campaign promises. Jerry was one of them. At the same time John Kerry announced that Jerry had won his March Madness competition. Kerry wrote that

"Jerry McNerney used grassroots energy to defeat Richard Pombo, a seven-term incumbent. Now delivering for his district, he's already being attacked by deep-pocketed Republicans."

Pombo isn't running again; he's now officially a lobbyist for the oil and gas interests. Instead, the Republicans are putting up a hard right lunatic, one of the most radical right kooks to have ever served in the state legislature, Dean Andal. He's far too extreme for this moderate district but he's connected to all the crooked developer interests that supported Pombo, so he'll have plenty of money at his disposal and, obviously, Karl Rove (unless he's in prison by then). Last year our community helped Jerry make history by retiring one of the most reactionary and corrupt Republicans in the House. 1,100 of us contributed $25,140.86 to his campaign in just 4 months. We should do much better in this cycle and today is a good day to start. It's the last day of the quarter on which the financial data the mass media salivates over is based. Jerry has chosen to spend 2 hours of the day with us at Firedoglake, answering whatever questions we want to throw his way.

To make it more interesting, I have a carton of beautiful Greatest Hits boxsets from one of Stockon's best known musical sons, Chris Isaak. It's a special edition with 18 songs and 18 videos on an accompanying DVD and it includes an incredible acoustic version of "Forever Blue" as a bonus. The first 25 contributions for more than the value of the CD will get thank you notes from Blue America– along with the CD. Here's where to contribute. If you don't want the CD just add one cent to your contribution.