- Former Democratic Member of Congress
Fortney “Pete” Stark was a Democratic Member of Congress who represented Districts in California from 1973-2013.
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 was re-elected every two years thereafter until 2012, when he lost his re-election bid to fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell, by a margin of 53.1 percent to 46.9 percent. Due to redistricting, his District 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 rated his voting record as between 95 and 100 percent on the left side of legislation. For an overview of how Stark voted on a variety of key issues during the course of his legislative career, click here.
In 2005 Stark, along with 72 fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives, became a member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
Stark 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 made no secret of his hatred for conservative religious belief. He routinely attacked 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.)
In addition to his work as a legislator, Stark also served a stint as an Advisory Committe member with the Progressive Majority, a political networking group whose aim was to elect as many leftwing political candidates as possible. Fellow members included 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.