- Democratic Member of Congress
- Former Member of the Progressive Caucus
Fortney “Pete” Stark is a Democratic Member of Congress who represents the 13th District of California, the shipyard and factory side of San Francisco Bay known as the East Bay.
Born in 1931 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Stark served in the U.S. Air Force for two years during the mid-1950s. He went on to earn an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.B.A. from UC Berkeley. In 1961 he founded a bank in the East Bay town of Fremont, attracting leftwing customers by mounting a giant peace symbol atop its headquarters. In 1963 he founded Security National Bank based in Walnut Creek, a successful enterprise that made him wealthy.
In 1972 Stark spent money lavishly to win a congressional election in what was then California’s 8th district. He has been re-elected every two years since then, generally by comfortable margins. Due to redistricting, his district has changed numbers twice, from the 8th to the 9th in 1975, and to the 13th in 1993.
Stark was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives until 2012. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) consistently rates his voting record as between 95 and 100 percent on the left side of legislation. During the course of his legislative career, Stark has voted:
- against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
- against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
- against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
- against a bill permitting the government to combat potential terrorist threats by monitoring foreign electronic communications which are routed through the United States;
- against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
- against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
- in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
- against President Bush’s 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
- in favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center;
- against requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment;
- against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America's southern border;
- against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
- against major tax cut proposals in September 1998, February 2000, March 2000, July 2000, May 2001, May 2003, October 2004, and May 2006;
- against separate welfare-reform bills designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- in favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR);
- and against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf.
In 2005 Stark, along with 72 fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives, became a member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
Today Stark is an Advisory Committe member of Progressive Majority, a political networking group whose aim is to elect as many leftwing political candidates as possible. Fellow members include such notables as Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, John Conyers Jr., John Corzine, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Lane Evans, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jerrold Nadler, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Jan Schakowsky, Hilda Solis, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson, Henry Waxman, and Lynne Woolsey.
Stark has cultivated a reputation among his congressional colleagues for possessing a hot temper. On one occasion in 1990, for instance, he openly described the George H.W. Bush administration's Secretary of Health and Human Services, an African American named Dr. Louis Sullivan, as “a disgrace to his race and his profession” for opposing Stark’s proposals for socialized medicine. This prompted Sullivan to retort: “I guess I should feel ashamed because Congressman Stark thinks I am not a ‘good Negro’ … [and he is] not ready to accept independent thinking by a black man.”
In 1991 Stark impugned his “Jewish colleagues” for supporting the Persian Gulf War. He referred to New York congressman Stephen Solarz, who co-sponsored the Gulf War Authorization Act, as “Field Marshal Solarz in the pro-Israel forces.”
During a private 1995 meeting with Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, Stark called Johnson a “whore for the insurance industries” and suggested that her knowledge about health care was restricted to what she had heard during “pillow talk” with her husband, who was a physician.
In 1999 Stark attacked conservative California state welfare director Eloise Anderson (who is black and a former welfare mother), saying she would “kill children if she had her way.” Anderson’s sin was to be an advocate of welfare reform.
During a 2003 legislative mark-up session on pension funds, Stark hurled epithets such as “fruitcake” and “cocksucker” at Republican colleagues.
During debate on the House floor on October 18, 2007, Stark made the following remarks to Texas Republican Joe Barton:
“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.”
A professed Unitarian, Stark has made no secret of his hatred for conservative religious belief. He routinely attacks Republicans for their “blind allegiance to the Holy Rollers of the Christian right” and “the messianic Pharisees of the religious right.”
At a June 2010 town hall meeting in Fremont, California, Stark mocked a self-identified member of the Minutemen, a volunteer citizens' group that seeks to peacefully apprehend illegal immigrants. "Who are you going to kill today?" the congressman asked. In response, the Minuteman pointed out that many Americans were being killed by illegal aliens, and he asked why the federal government had not done more to seal the U.S.-Mexico border. Stark sarcastically replied: “We can't get enough Minutemen armed. We'd like to get all the Minutemen armed so they [illegals] can stop shooting people here.” When members of the audience eventually asked Stark to offer a serious answer, the congressman said: "If you knew anything about our borders, you would know that's not the case. Our borders are quite secure, thank you." His comments drew jeers from those in attendance.
Stark then asked the Minuteman to propose a solution to the problem of illegal immigration, and the man replied: “I would send about about 25,000 troops down there for one thing, and I would build a wall down there so vehicles could not pass.” "How high and how long would that wall be?" Stark asked. The Minuteman said, "As high and as long as it takes," eliciting cheers. Stark replied, "Well, I tell you what. We'll go down there. You design the wall, and ... if you don't want to shoot the people coming over. then I'll go down and ... start a ladder company. But I've got to know how high that wall is, and I'll sell a whole lot of ladders for people who want to come." The Minuteman responded, "This is a very serious matter and you're sitting there making fun of it." Stark retorted, "I don't have to make fun of you, sir, you do a fine job all by yourself." (To see a video of this exchange, click here.)