Denham has represented the Central Valley south of Tracy for a decade — eight years in the State Senate and the past two as a congressman for Oakdale, Madera, the Yosemite Valley and the rest of the 19th District. But redistricting changed the lines, lumping Tracy south of Interstate 205 with Manteca and Stanislaus County.
Despite the new political boundaries, Denham touted his familiarity with the area and its “unique issues” as the reason he’s best-suited to represent the fighting 10th.
“I understand the issues,” he said. “I’ve farmed here; I’ve spent a lot of time here.”
In addition to farming an almond orchard outside Atwater, Denham is the owner and operator of Denham Plastics, a successful container company that got its start after Denham spent several years in the Air Force and graduated from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.
Denham said it’s his approach of looking at government from the perspective of a businessman that makes him a valuable representative for a district that’s historically lagged behind the rest of the state economically.
“I’m a businessman first. We have a lot of unique issues, but certainly we need someone who’s willing to take a stand and fight for our community rather than the political interests of a party,” he said.
He identified water, agriculture and the high number of foreclosures as some of the biggest concerns for the region.
Regarding the latter, Denham touted his partnership with a Modesto Democrat, the retiring Dennis Cardoza, for trying to bring presidential attention to the foreclosure problem plaguing the Central Valley.
“Congressman Cardoza and I continue to write a bipartisan letter to the president each time he comes to California,” he said, adding that the state shouldn’t be just “an ATM” for President Obama, who has yet to visit the Central Valley during his presidency.
Denham pointed to his work with Cardoza as evidence that he’s able to work outside party lines. But he said he’s not afraid to stand up to Republicans if the vote goes against his principles, and noted his refusal as a state senator to vote for a budget that wasn’t balanced.
Though he rejected the idea of labeling himself conservative or moderate overall in an interview, Denham did venture, “I’m certainly a fiscal conservative.”
That includes, he said, fighting for a balanced budget and a simplified tax code, which he said needs a large-scale revisit, not just here-and-there tweaks.
“I think we’re at a time in our nation when we can address the entire tax code.”
As part of that, he favors a flat tax in which everyone, regardless of income, pays the same percentage of their income.
Though a regressive form of taxation, Denham said it would bring more certainty to the economy and open the doors for investment.
“I think it also provides the upper income levels the opportunity to invest more. I think it also gives the incentive for an individual to try and prosper more, as well,” he said. “I wanted to start my own business. I think by having a one tax system … where everybody’s equal, (it)provides the competitiveness our country was founded on.”
Denham also said he’s in favor of shelving California’s high-speed rail project. While Denham volunteered that he voted in favor of it as a member of the state Legislature, the estimated cost of the project has ballooned since, and he thinks there are now more effective ways to spend limited resources for transportation.
He also favors greater water storage so high rainfall years can tide the state over in dry seasons, and he stressed the importance of protecting agriculture, San Joaquin County’s top industry.
As part of that, he helped move forward a bill that would exempt farmers from clean air standards when it comes to the dust kicked up by standard agriculture practice. Though Obama’s administration has promised to continue not enforcing those standards for agriculture, Denham wants it in writing.
“We hope that, either A, he’ll sign the bill, or B, he’ll stick to what he’s saying and not enforce the regulation on us,” he said.
Nationally, Denham said fully harnessing natural resources — including construction of a pipeline to bring petroleum from oil sands deposits in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast — is also important to the nation’s prosperity.
While sometimes “very frustrated with the rhetoric” of Washington, D.C., politics, Denham said he’s committed to working for his constituents as well as with those on both sides of the aisle to solve the nation’s problems.
“On issues, we have to work together, and we do,” he said. “… We have to have Republicans and Democrats work together to solve problems.”
Two Democrats have previously stated their intentions to run against Denham in the 10th District: Jose Hernandez, who once worked sugar beet fields and recently flew aboard the space shuttle; and Mike Barkley, whose biggest platform planks are job growth, a balanced budget and repeal of the 2nd Amendment.
• Look for more coverage of local candidates and campaigns in upcoming editions of the Tracy Press.