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Fortney Hillman "Pete" Stark, Jr. (born November 11, 1931) is an American politician from the state of Californiamarker. A Democrat, he has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1973, currently representing California's 13th congressional districtmarker in southwestern Alameda County. Currently he is the sixth most senior Representative as well as 8th most senior member of Congress.

The 13th district includes Alamedamarker, Union Citymarker, Haywardmarker, Newarkmarker, San Leandromarker and Fremontmarker, as well as parts of Oaklandmarker and Pleasantonmarker. Stark lives in Marylandmarker, although he maintains a townhouse in Fremont, California.

Stark is the first, and so far only, openly atheist member of the United States Congress.


Early life and education

Stark was born in Milwaukeemarker, Wisconsinmarker. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker in 1953. He served in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1957. After leaving the Air Force, Stark attended the Haas School of Businessmarker at the University of California, Berkeleymarker, and received his MBA in 1960. Stark enjoyed living in the Bay Areamarker so much that he decided to settle there after graduating.

In 1963, Stark founded Security National Bank, a small bank in Walnut Creekmarker. Within 10 years it grew to a $100 million company with branches across the East Bay.

Congressional career

In 1972, Stark moved to Oakland to run in the Democratic primary against 14-term incumbent U.S. Representative George Paul Miller in what was then the 8th district. He won the nomination by a shocking 34-point margin. In the 1972 general election he won by a narrow 5-point margin. Since that election he has not faced a contest nearly that close and has been reelected 16 times. He has only dropped below 60 percent of the vote once (in 1980). Due to redistricting, his district has changed numbers twice, from the 8th (1973–75) to the 9thmarker (1975–93) to the 13th (since 1993).

Today Stark is the longest-serving member of Congress from California. Ironically, Stark ran against George P. Miller, "For Miller being in Washington - too long, elected in 1944." He has been a ranking member of the Banking and Currency Committee and powerful Ways and Means Committee. He also served as chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbiamarker in the 103rd Congress. His voting record is generally very liberal, as indicated in the ratings section below, and he has been voted the most liberal member of Congress for two consecutive years. He was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

He was unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 election and was re-elected in the general election with 76.3% of the vote.

Committee assignments


Controversial statements

Stark has been known to make controversial statements through his political career.

In August 1990, Stark drew controversy for calling Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Wade Sullivan, an African American, "a disgrace to his race" for supporting Bush Administration policies that Mr. Stark called "bankrupt and damaging to minority members". Stark was criticizing a speech by Sullivan. Sullivan's opposed proposals for federally-sponsored national health insurance when Stark had introduced legislation for national health insurance at the time. Stark said that Sullivan had been influenced by George H. W. Bush administration officials such as Office of Management and Budget Director Richard Darman and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu to change his positions on both abortion and health care. Sullivan replied in a statement, saying in part, "I guess I should feel ashamed because Congressman Stark thinks I am not a 'good Negro.' As a Cabinet member who has spent almost four decades of my life dedicated to healing,…[I] am unable to express my own views without being subject to race-based criticism by those who are not ready to accept independent thinking by a black man." Stark later apologized for the controversy.

In May 2004, Stark responded to a constituent Army National Guard member's letter critical of Stark's recent vote on the war in Iraq by immediately calling the service member's telephone and leaving a feisty response on voicemail which was later broadcast on San Francisco's talk radio station KSFOmarker. Stark's harsh voicemail was transcribed as follows:

On October 18, 2007, Stark made the following comments on the House floor during a debate with Congressman Joe Barton of Texasmarker: "Republicans sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement." Following the initial criticism to his statements, when asked by a radio station if he would take back any of his statements, Stark responded "Absolutely not. I may have dishonored the Commander-in-Chief, but I think he’s done pretty well to dishonor himself without any help from me." The same day, his office also issued a press release, saying in part, "I have nothing but respect for our brave men and women in uniform and wish them the very best. But I respect neither the Commander-in-Chief who keeps them in harms way nor the chickenhawk in Congress who vote to deny children health care." Five days later on October 23, after the House voted down a censure resolution against Stark sponsored by Minority Leader John Boehner, he said, "I apologize for this reason: I think we have serious issues before us, the issue of providing medical care to children, the issue about what we’re going to do about a war that we’re divided about how to end."

Other controversies include singling out "Jew colleagues" for blame for the Persian Gulf War and referring to Congressman Stephen Solarz of New Yorkmarker (who co-sponsored the Gulf War Authorization Act) as "Field Marshal Solarz in the pro-Israelmarker forces." in 1991. In 1995, during a private meeting with Congresswoman Nancy Johnson of Connecticutmarker, he called Johnson a "whore for the insurance industry" and suggested that her knowledge of health care came solely from "pillow talk" with her husband, a physician. His press secretary, Caleb Marshall, defended him in saying, "He didn't call her a 'whore,' he called her a 'whore of the insurance industry.'" In 1999, he said to former California State Welfare Director Eloise Anderson, herself a former welfare mother, that she would "kill children if she had her way" for her advocacy of welfare reform. In a 2001 Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health hearing on abstinence promotion, he referred to Congressman J. C. Watts of Oklahomamarker, an African American, as "the current Republican Conference Chairman, whose children were all born out of wedlock." In 2003, when Stark was told to "shut up" by Congressman Scott McInnis of Coloradomarker during a Ways and Means Committee meeting due to Stark's belittling of the chairman, Bill Thomas of Californiamarker, he replied, "You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me, I dare you. You little fruitcake."

On August 27, 2009, Stark suggested that his moderate Democratic colleagues were "brain dead" for proposing changes to the health care reform bill being considered by Congress. Saying that they "just want to cause trouble," Stark claimed, "they're for the most part, I hate to say, brain dead, but they're just looking to raise money from insurance companies and promote a right-wing agenda that is not really very useful in this whole process" during a conference call. Stark believes that a public option which pays doctors rates based on Medicare would be less expensive for the government and for patients than a public option which negotiates rates itself.

The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on Stark, "Only a politician who assumes he has a job for life could behave so badly on a semi-regular basis by spewing personalized invective that might get him punched in certain East Bay taverns. Would-be challengers sometimes sense a whiff of opportunity, but the reality of taking on a 16-term Democrat in solidly liberal terrain is nothing short of daunting. Surely there must be someone along the shoreline between Alameda and Fremont who could represent the good citizens of the district with class and dignity. It's not the case now."

During a town hall meeting, a constituent who opposed Barack Obama's health care plan told Stark, "Mr. Congressman, don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." Stark responded with, "I wouldn't dignify you by peeing on your leg. It wouldn't be worth wasting the urine."

Maryland real estate taxes controversy

For two years, Stark was allegedly claiming his lakefront Maryland home as his primary residence in order to claim a homestead exemption to reduce his local real estate taxes. Under Maryland law, in order to qualify, the owner must register to vote and drive in Maryland—Stark uses a California address for those purposes.

Political views


Stark voted against the bipartisan May 2008 farm subsidy bill, which was supported by most House Democrats and over half of House Republicans, in part because of its cost.

He also voted against both readings of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which gave $700 billion dollars to troubled investment banks. Stark argued that "the proposed bailout will only help reckless speculators who have been caught on the wrong side of the come line." Criticizing the bill as corporate welfare, he said "The bill before us today is basically the same three-page Wall Street give-away first put forth by President Bush" before the vote on the first bailout.

In an interview with Jan Helfeld, Stark maintained that "the larger the national debt...the wealthier we [the United States] are." After further questions about that statement, Stark belittled Helfeld's degree from the University of Puerto Rico and told him to "get the fuck out of here or I’ll throw you out the window." The interview has received a considerable number of views on YouTube.

Health care

Stark is known to have a longstanding interest in health care issues and has been critical of the fate of the uninsured under the George W. Bush administration.

Along with John Conyers, in April 2006 Stark brought an action against President Bush and others alleging violations of the Constitution in the passing of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which cut Medicaid payments.The case, Conyers v. Bush, was ultimately dismissed for lack of standing in November of the same year.

Iraq War

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Pete Stark was an early opponent of the Iraq War, speaking on the House floor against the resolution authorizing military force against Iraq, on October 10, 2002. In part he said, "Well then, who will pay? School kids will pay. There'll be no money to keep them from being left behind — way behind. Seniors will pay. They'll pay big time as the Republicans privatize Social Security and rob the Trust Fund to pay for the capricious war. Medicare will be curtailed and drugs will be more unaffordable. And there won't be any money for a drug benefit because Bush will spend it all on the war. Working folks will pay through loss of job security and bargaining rights. Our grandchildren will pay through the degradation of our air and water quality. And the entire nation will pay as Bush continues to destroy civil rights, women's rights and religious freedom in a rush to phony patriotism and to courting the messianic Pharisees of the religious right."

In January 2003 Stark supported a reinstatement of the draft, partly in protest against the call to war but also saying, "If we're going to have these escapades, we should not do it on the backs of poor people and minorities."In October 2004, Stark was one of only two members of Congress to vote in favor of the Universal National Service Act of 2003 (HR 163), a bill proposing resumption of the military draft.

Stark voted against authorizing the Iraq war and has opposed every funding bill for the war while the Republicans controlled Congress. However, he chose not to stand against the Democratic legislation to continue funding the war on March 23, 2007, despite other liberal Democrats voting against the bill. In a statement posted on his website he stated, "Despite my utmost respect for my colleagues who crafted this bill, I can't in good conscience vote to continue this war. Nor, however, can I vote 'No' and join those who think today's legislation goes too far toward withdrawal. That's why I'm making the difficult decision to vote 'present'."Stark was the only member of Congress to take this position.

2008 financial crisis

On September 25, 2008, Stark and Oregon Democrat Rep. Peter DeFazio signed a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposing a one quarter of one percent “transaction tax” on all trades in financial instruments including stocks, options, and futures. On September 29, 2008, Stark voted against HR 3997, the bailout bill backed by President Bush, House Speaker Pelosi and Presidential Candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, and the bill subsequently failed to pass. Explaining his vote, Stark stated:

"President Bush tells us that we face unparalleled financial doom if this $700 billion bailout is not approved today. He and his Treasury Secretary – a former Wall Street fat cat – tell us that we have reached the point of 'crisis.' That is a familiar line from this President. It sounds like the disastrous rush to war in Iraq and the subsequent stampede to enact the Patriot Act. As I opposed the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, I stand in opposition to his latest rush to judgment."

On October 3, 2008, Stark voted against HR 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. With this vote, Stark became the sole member of the House of Representatives from the San Francisco Bay Area to oppose the bill. Explaining his vote, Stark stated:

"You're getting the same kind of misinformation now, the same kind of rush to judgment to tell you that a crisis will occur. It won't. Vote 'no.' Come back and help work on a bill that will help all Americans."


Stark is the first openly atheist member of Congress, as announced by the Secular Coalition for America.Stark acknowledged his atheism in response to an SCA questionnaire sent to public officials in January 2007.

On September 20, 2007, Stark reaffirmed his atheism by making a public announcement in front of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, the Harvard Law School Heathen Society, and various other atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist, and nonreligious groups. Honoring his courage, the American Humanist Association named him their 2008 Humanist of the Year.

Electoral History


External links

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