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BY MAREK WARSZAWSKI

The first local politician that ever made a positive impression on me was a Republican.

A member of the House of Representatives from 1967-83, Pete McCloskey served parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. He was a Korean War hero who became an advocate for peace in Vietnam. He was the first member of Congress, from either party, to call for President Richard Nixon’s resignation following Watergate. One of the nation’s first environmental lawyers, he co-chaired the first Earth Day in 1970 and co-authored the Endangered Species Act.

Among McCloskey’s supporters were my mom and dad, who in 1982 registered Republican so they could vote for him in a crowded GOP primary field during an unsuccessful Senate run.

Their backing couldn’t help but rub off on a 13-year-old getting introduced to politics. Which made me a McCloskey supporter, too.

I thought about my former congressman this week while contemplating the condemnation that newly re-elected Rep. David Valadao received from the Fresno County Republican Party for voting to impeach President Donald Trump.

The other claims completely ignore reality. The voters of California’s 21st Congressional District are 43.4% Democrat compared to 27.4% Republican. They supported President-elect Joe Biden over Trump by double digits.

Against that backdrop, Valadao’s victory qualifies as a minor political miracle. Had he not voted for impeachment, he would have faced a good chance at being bounced in two years.

Kind of like what happened in 2018 after Valadao sided with Trump on Obamacare. T.J. Cox seized upon the issue, used it to drive a wedge between Valadao and district voters (the 21st is one of the poorest districts in the nation and its residents desperately need health assistance) and snatched Valadao’s seat.

REPUBLICANS IN TRUMP DENIAL

Do local Republicans have short memories? Anyone who “worked on or donated to” Valadao’s campaign would surely understand his predicament. And hopefully they’d appreciate a politician for voting his conscience.

Not Fresno GOP Chairman Fred Vanderhoof, who evidently wants to go down with Trump’s sinking ship.

Doubling down on his party’s myopic statement, Vanderhoof denied Trump was in any way responsible for the attack on the Capitol that left five dead.

“He didn’t encourage people to do what happened,” Vanderhoof told Kate Irby from McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. “I don’t think his rhetoric is inflammatory at all.”

Rather than fact-check Vanderhoof’s comments — or ridicule them — I want to pose a honest question to any local Republican still reading:

Is this the best you can do?

Because with that kind of party leadership, little wonder this once-Republican stronghold has turned blue. In 2004, Republicans held a 47% to 40% registration edge over Democrats throughout Fresno County. Sixteen years later, the percentage of registered Democrats is essentially the same. But Republicans have dipped to 32.7%.

The drop-off is even more pronounced within the Fresno city limits. In 2004, 44.7% of citywide voters were registered Republican compared to 41.5% Democrat. By 2020, Democrats made up 43.2% of the electorate while Republicans shrunk to 27.2%.

CHECKS, BALANCES OF TWO-PARTY SYSTEM

What about Fresno County cities other than Fresno? Only two of them — Parlier and San Joaquin — saw Republicans gain a larger share of the electorate than Democrats over the same 16-year span.

Bang up job you’re doing there, Fred. At this rate, registered Republicans will trail No Party Preference voters in a few election cycles.

Here’s the truth about our country’s two-party system of government: It only works if both parties hold up their end of the bargain.

Having two political parties of relatively equal strength ensures certain checks and balances. But if one becomes too weak to perform that role, you end up in a situation like we have in Sacramento. There, Democrats hold the governorship as well as super-majorities in both houses, and California’s myriad problems continue to grow.

This is not a prediction (or a hope) that GOP influence will similarly wither in Fresno County. But the idea is no less preposterous than a Bay Area Republican serving eight terms in Congress.

Turns out Pete McCloskey is no longer a Republican. In 2007, he ran for Congress — as a Democrat. Last month, the 93-year-old was among the 55 members of California’s Electoral College who cast their votes for Biden.

I highly doubt Valadao follows that path. But by listening to the voice in his head, the Hanford Republican placed democracy over partisanship. Which is more than can be said for the Fresno County GOP or its chairman.

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