Pete Stark

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Pete Stark
Pete Stark.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 13th district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2013
Succeeded by Eric Swalwell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 9th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1993
Succeeded by redistricted
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 8th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1975
Preceded by George Miller
Personal details
Born Fortney Hillman Stark, Jr.
(1931-11-11) November 11, 1931 (age 90)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Carolyn Layton nee Wente (div. 1989–1991)
Deborah Roderick
Residence Maryland[1]
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.S.)
University of California, Berkeley (M.B.A.)
Profession Banking Executive
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Air Force
Years of service 1955–1957

Fortney Hillman "Pete" Stark, Jr. (born November 11, 1931[2]) is an American politician who was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 2013. A Democrat from California,[3] Stark's district—California's 13th congressional district during his last two decades in Congress—was in southwestern Alameda County and included Alameda, Union City, Hayward, Newark, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, and Fremont (his residence during the early part of his tenure), as well as parts of Oakland and Pleasanton.[4] At the time he left office in 2013, he was the fifth most senior Representative, as well as sixth most senior member of Congress overall. He was also the dean of California's 55-member Congressional delegation, and the only open atheist in Congress.

Prior to his service to the 13th district, Stark represented the 8th and 9th congressional districts in California. After 2010 redistricting, Stark campaigned for the 15th district seat in 2012, narrowly finished first in the primary but lost in the general election to fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell. He was the second-longest serving U.S. Congressman, after Jack Brooks (D-Texas, 1994), to lose a general election.

Early life, education, and banking career

Stark was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 11, 1931; he is of German and Swiss descent.[5] He received a Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.[6] He served in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1957. After leaving the Air Force, Stark attended the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and received his MBA in 1960. Stark originally lived in the Bay Area, but ultimately relocated to Maryland. He primarily resided in his Maryland home with his family but still maintained a residence in the California district he represented, visiting his constituents twice per month. Since his retirement from public office, he lives in Maryland.[4]

In 1963, Stark founded Security National Bank, a small bank in Walnut Creek. Within 10 years it grew into a wealthy company with branches across Alameda and Contra Costa counties.[citation needed]

Stark grew up as a Republican, but his opposition to the Vietnam War led him to switch parties in the mid-1960s.[citation needed] He printed checks with peace signs on them and placed a giant peace sign on the roof of his bank's headquarters.[citation needed]

U.S. House of Representatives


In 1972, Stark moved to Oakland to run in the Democratic primary against 14-term incumbent U.S. Representative George Paul Miller of Alameda in what was then the 8th district. Stark, then 41 years old, claimed that the octogenarian Miller had been in Congress too long. He stated, "Miller entered the House in 1945...28 years ago." He won the Democratic primary with 56% of the vote, a 34-point margin.[7] In the 1972 general election, he defeated Republican Lew Warden with 53% of the vote. He would not face another contest nearly that close until 2012, and was re-elected 18 times. He only dropped below 60 percent of the vote twice (1980 and 1990). In 1980, he won with just 54%, and in 1990 he won with 58% of the vote. Due to redistricting, his district had changed numbers twice, from the 8th (1973–75) to the 9th (1975–93) to the 13th (since 1993).[citation needed]

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.[8] He faced his first Democratic challenger in 2010, and the challenger showed weakening support for Stark, gathering 16% of the primary votes without any endorsements.[9]

In the 2012 elections, Stark's district was renumbered as the 15th District. Because of California's new nonpartisan blanket primary, which allows the general election to be contested by the two highest vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation,[10] his opponent in the general election was Eric Swalwell, a fellow Democrat almost 50 years his junior. Swalwell narrowly defeated Stark by just under 10,000 votes.[11]


At 40 years (as of the end of service on January 3, 2013), Stark had been the longest-serving member of Congress from California, serving continuously from January 3, 1973 through January 3, 2013. The Hayward Area Historical Society will be the repository of Stark's papers from his tenure.[1]

Fiscal policy

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.[12][13]

He also voted against both readings of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which gave $700 billion dollars to troubled investment banks.[14][15] 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.[16][17]

On September 25, 2008, Stark and 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.[18]

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.[19] 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."[19]

Health care

Stark is known to have a longstanding interest in health care issues and was critical of the fate of the uninsured under the George W. Bush administration.[20] 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.[21] The case, Conyers v. Bush, was ultimately dismissed for lack of standing in November of the same year.

Iraq War
Pete Stark speaks at a Town Hall meeting in January 2007 in San Leandro, California.

Stark was an early opponent of the Iraq War, speaking on the 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.[22]

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."[23] In October 2004, he 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.[24]

He did not vote for any bills to continue funding the Iraq war, but voted 'present' for some. In a statement posted on his website he explained, "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'."[25] Stark was the only member of Congress to take this position.[citation needed]


"[I am] a Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social service."

Statement from Stark, January 2007[26]

Stark was the first openly atheist member of Congress, as announced by the Secular Coalition for America.[27] Stark acknowledged that he is an atheist in response to an SCA questionnaire sent to public officials in January 2007.

On September 20, 2007, Stark reaffirmed that he was an atheist 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.[28] The American Humanist Association named him their 2008 Humanist of the Year,[29] and he serves on the AHA Advisory Board. On February 9, 2011, Stark introduced a bill to Congress designating February 12, 2011 as Darwin Day as a culmination of collaboration between Rep. Stark and the American Humanist Association. The resolution states, "Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement… and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity."[30]

Committee assignments



Controversial statements

On October 18, 2007, Stark made the following comments on the House floor during a debate with Congressman Joe Barton of Texas:

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.[31][32]

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."[33] 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 [sic] way nor the chickenhawks in Congress who vote to deny children health care."[34]

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.[35]

Other controversies include singling out "Jewish colleagues" for blame for the Persian Gulf War and referring to Congressman Stephen Solarz of New York (who co-sponsored the Gulf War Authorization Act) as "Field Marshal Solarz in the pro-Israel forces." in 1991.[36] In 1995, during a private meeting with Congresswoman Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, 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.'"[36] In a 2001 Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health hearing on abstinence promotion, he referred to Congressman J. C. Watts of Oklahoma as "the current Republican Conference Chairman, whose children were all born out of wedlock."[36] In 2003, when Stark was told to "shut up" by Congressman Scott McInnis of Colorado during a Ways and Means Committee meeting due to Stark's belittling of the chairman, Bill Thomas of California, 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."[36]

In an older video taped interview with Jan Helfeld concerning the size of the national debt, Stark stated that the size of the national debt is a reflection of the nation's wealth. When pressed if the nation should take on more debt in order to have more wealth, Stark threatened Helfeld: "You get the fuck out of here or I'll throw you out the window."[37]

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. During a conference call, Stark claimed that they:

... just want to cause trouble ... 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.[38]

During a town hall meeting in 2009, a constituent who opposed President 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."[39]

Real estate taxes

For two years, Stark was allegedly claiming his waterfront 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.[40]

On December 24, 2008, the House Ethics Committee began an investigation in regard to Stark using his Maryland residence as his primary residence while claiming to live in San Lorenzo. The home Stark claims as his residence and where he is registered to vote is owned and occupied by his in-laws.[41] In January 2010, the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously that the allegations that Stark took a tax break on a property he owns in Maryland were unfounded.

Electoral history

Year Office District Democratic Republican
1972 U.S. House of Representatives California 8th District Pete Stark 52% Lew M. Wardin 47%
1974 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark 71% Edson Adams 29%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Peace and Freedom
1976 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 71% James K. Mills 27% Albert L. Sargis 2%
1978 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 65% Robert S. Allen 31% Lawrance J. Phillips 4%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Libertarian
1980 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 55% William J. Kennedy 41% Steven W. Clanin 4%
Year Office District Democratic Republican
1982 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 60% William J. Kennedy 39%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Libertarian
1984 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 70% J.T. Beaver 26% Martha Fuhrig 4%
Year Office District Democratic Republican
1986 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 70% David M. Williams 30%
1988 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 73% Howard Hertz 27%
1990 U.S. House of Representatives California 9th District Pete Stark (inc.) 58% Victor Romero 41%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Peace and Freedom
1992 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark 60% Verne Teyler 32% Roslyn A. Allen 8%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Libertarian
1994 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 65% Larry Molton 30% Robert Gough 5%
1996 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 65% James S. Fay 30% Terry Savage 4%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Natural Law
1998 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 71% James R. Goetz 27% Karnig Beylikjian 4%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Libertarian Natural Law American Independent
2000 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 71% James R. Goetz 24% Howard Mora 3% Timothy R. Hoehner 1% Don J.Grundman 1%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Libertarian American Independent Reform
2002 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 71% Syed R. Mahmood 22% Mark R. Stroberg 3% Don J.Grundman 2% John J. Bambey 2%
Year Office District Democratic Republican Libertarian
2004 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 72% George I. Bruno 28% Mark R. Stroberg 4%
Year Office District Democratic Republican
2006 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 76% George L. Bruno 25%
2008 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 76% Raymond Chui 23%
2010 U.S. House of Representatives California 13th District Pete Stark (inc.) 72% Forest Baker 27%
Year Office District Democratic Democratic
2012 U.S. House of Representatives California 15th District Eric Swalwell 52% Pete Stark 48%


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Political Blotter: Historical society takes Pete Stark's papers", San Jose Mercury News, Feb 11, 2013
  2. The Washington Post Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lochhead, Carolyn (August 17, 2012). "The San Francisco Gate - Pete Stark's burned bridges have cost him". The San Francisco Gate. The San Francisco Gate. Retrieved September 2, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Rep. Pete Stark, D-Md". San Francisco Gate. 2009-03-24. p. A12. Retrieved 2 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. MIT 'Loses' One Seat in US Congress November 14, 1990
  8. "U.S. Congress - District 13 Districtwide Results", California Secretary of State website . Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  9. "June 8 Primary Results"
  10. Onishi, Norimitsu (2012-09-24). "'Top-Two' Election Change in California Upends Races". California: Retrieved 2012-11-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Simon, Richard (November 7, 2012). "Pete Stark, veteran Calif. congressman, defeated by 31-year-old". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Congress's Own Liechtenstein". 2009-03-20. Retrieved 2010-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Stoller, Matt. "Opening the Day: Democrat Pete Stark Goes After Paulson's "irresponsible rumor mongering hogwash"". Open Left. Retrieved 2010-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sun, Alameda (2008-10-02). "Stark's Vote Helps Quash Bailout". Alameda Sun. Retrieved 2010-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Archived March 1, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  19. 19.0 19.1    (2008-10-03). "A look at how Bay Area lawmakers voted on the bailout |". Retrieved 2010-08-13.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Benjamin, Matthew; Kerry Young (August 30, 2006). "46 Million Live in U.S. Without Health Insurance". New York Sun. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "11 House Members to Sue Over Budget Bill". USA Today. Associated Press. April 28, 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Excerpts From House Debate on the Use of Military Force Against Iraq", The New York Times, October 10, 2002, p. A21
  23. Epstein, Edward (January 23, 2003). "Stark Joins Call to Restore Draft". Common Dreams NewsCenter. Retrieved 2007-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Congressional Record: U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007". March 23, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Marinucci, Carla (March 14, 2007). "Stark's atheist views break political taboo". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Congressman Holds No God-Belief". Secular Coalition for America. March 12, 2007. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Phillips, Amanda (September 27, 2007). "U.S. Rep. Pete Stark "Comes Out" as an Atheist". Common Dreams NewsCenter. Retrieved 2007-10-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "Representative Pete Stark Named 2008 Humanist of the Year". American Humanist Association. June 6, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "H. Res. 81, 112th Congress, 2011–2013". Feb 9, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Video on YouTube, October 18, 2007.
  32. The John Ziegler Show, KFI, October 18, 2007 (7PM hour) and October 19, 2007 (7PM hour) (podcast. Retrieved October 22, 2007.
  33. KCBS, "Stark Stands Behind GOP Accusations", October 18, 2007.
  34. Stark Calls On Boehner, Republicans To Retract Opposition To Children's Health Care, Apologize Press Release, Office of Congressman Pete Stark
  35. Stark apologizes, calls on Congress to provide health care to children and end the war in Iraq, October 23, 2007.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 Weisman, Jonathan (24 October 2007). "Stark's Latest Gaffe Is Just One In a Long Line". Washington Post. pp. A17. Retrieved 2009-04-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. [Pete Stark inside Jan Helfeld, "Pete Stark Blows Up Over National Debt," YouTube, Posted August 23, 2008; Online at]
  38. "Page Unavailable - MSN Money". Retrieved 2010-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Garofoli, Joe (September 14, 2009). "SFGate: Politics Blog : Rep. Stark refuses to pee on constituent's leg at Town Hall, cites waste of urine. Really". The San Francisco Chronicle.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Maryland Is Home Sweet Home for Congressmen Seeking Tax Break". ABA Journal. 2009-03-19. Retrieved 2010-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. "Local Congressman To Learn Results Of Ethics Probe". 2010-01-18. Retrieved 2010-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George P. Miller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ron Dellums
Preceded by
Don Edwards
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ron Dellums
Preceded by
Norman Mineta
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 13th congressional district

Succeeded by
Barbara Lee
Political offices
Preceded by
Ron Dellums
Chairman of the House District of Columbia Committee
Succeeded by
Duties transferred to Government Reform and Oversight Committee