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Turlock priority for congressman
denham pic2
U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) discusses politics over coffee with Turlock Mayor John Lazar at Latif's Restaurant on Tuesday morning.

It isn't every day that a congressman visits Turlock.

But for freshman U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R—Atwater), the regular visits are becoming old hat.

“I've seen this congressman more in the last year than I've ever seen any congressman in a year in my life,” said Mike Lynch, a political consultant and chair of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce Board.

Denham has seemingly visited Turlock two or three times a month since his January inauguration, leading a hectic cross-country schedule.

Each week he flies out to Washington, D.C. at 4 a.m. on Monday morning. He spends the week on Capitol Hill, then flies back on Thursday or Friday night, usually arriving home well after midnight.

But, packed in between all the plane travel, floor debates, and the hard work of sitting on three committees and chairing another, Denham has made time for Turlock.

“I think one of the biggest challenges you have as a congressman is making sure you're doing a great job of representing a community,” Denham said. “Turlock is one of those communities that makes it easy.”

Denham was in Turlock again on Tuesday, building on his close relationship with local leaders.

He enjoyed breakfast at Latif's Restaurant with County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Turlock Mayor John Lazar, and passing constituents, discussing topics ranging from the state and federal budget to foreign wars and high school basketball. Later, he travelled down the street to the Turlock Chamber of Commerce for a meeting with chamber members to discuss job creation – and to answer questions.

Denham focused his talk on the challenges of the new Congress, debating a debt ceiling and budget issues which he said, “will be, by far, the biggest vote for this freshman class.”

But he also explained how his committee appointments – Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure – can help solve the Valley's unemployment woes by building better highways and water systems.

“If we're going to get people back to work, we've got to get water to our farmers,” Denham said, arguing for both new conveyance and storage.

As chair of the subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management – a post Denham camped out on a doorstep to secure as a freshman representative – Denham said he would advocate for microloans and workforce investment to further ensure job development.

“I do think Congress gets it, and those will be areas we focus on rather than cut,” Denham said.

He also hopes to use the post to show Democrats and Republicans can work together, establishing a committee to sell off the country's 14,000 unneeded or underutilized properties. The plan, using a nonpartisan process similar to the one used to conduct military base realignment and closures, has already drawn the support of President Barack Obama.

Topics jumped from corn subsidies to Libya and the relicensing of Don Pedro Reservoir as the hour progressed, but eventually a question arose about the ongoing redistricting process. While unlikely, new district lines could move Turlock outside of Denham's district – something the congressman would not like to see.

“I've represented Turlock for almost a decade now, and I plan on continuing to do that,” Denham said.

A good thing too, as Turlock has traditionally voted strongly in Denham's favor.

As the meeting wound down, with Denham due in Oakdale later Tuesday, the congressman commended Turlock's leadership for the frequent meetings. He said he appreciated the roadmaps offered of important issues for him to work on in D.C.

For Milt Richards, California State University, Stanislaus athletic director and Chamber Board member, the availability and accessibility of his representative was just as appreciated.

“It's really nice when you feel like you can call your congressman,” Richards said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.