Every citizen has the right to endorse anyone for public office, but public officers walk a fine line when endorsing a candidate for elected office. That is the case of Michael Restuccia, the current Chairman of the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. On Monday, October 31, 2016, Restuccia wrote a Letter to the Editor at the Manteca Bulletin, “Denham delivers for district,” announcing his support for Congressman Jeff Denham’s reelection. Denham is the incumbent, a Republican and supporter of Donald Trump. He is fighting for survival in his reelection to Congress; Michael Eggman, a farmer, beekeeper and small business owner, is the Democratic challenger.
To endorse Denham, Michael Restuccia used Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a bipartisan legislation by Rep. Davis Rodney from Illinois that went on to become law December 4, 2015. FAST Act provides funding for improvements to our nation’s public transportation Infrastructure, including for replacement of old buses with new; agencies as the San Joaquin RTD are beneficiaries.
What prompted me to write this article was Restuccia disregard to the office he was appointed to uphold by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. As Chairman of our transit district, he is out of place in using his Chairmanship as a highlight for Jeff Denham.
In his letter, Restuccia misrepresented the facts. First, he states that Jeff Denham “provided support for our federal funding applications that help us built our Regional Transit Center, RTC.” As Mr. Denham’s leader would say, “wrong.” The RTC was built by a $5.227 million dollars grant secured by Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) in July 2010; Jeff Denham was first elected to Congress in November 2010 so he couldn’t have done what Restuccia reports.
Second, FAST Act, also known as the Service Transportation Legislation or Highway Bill, provides funding for all transportation agencies nationwide. According to Denham’s official website, The San Francisco Chronicle reported on December 2, 2015, that this bill allows up to $26 billion to California transportation agencies, and that Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator James Inhofe (R-CA) broke bread to make this happen. The only role, by his acknowledgment, Congressman Denham played was to negotiate in the bill the inclusion of “language encouraging the planting of pollinator habitat on highway medians and a requirement that Amtrak come up with a policy to allow pets on trains.”Restuccia writes that Jeff Denham “advocated for the restoration of this very important source of federal funding.” But, in his press release of December 2, 2015, Jeff Denham mentions nothing of the source. Yes, he voted for FAST Act, but also 359 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans. First time in 10 years members of Congress supported a bipartisan transportation legislation.
Third, Conference Committee Members or what I call “Arbitrators” are members of both, the Senate and House of Representatives. Their job is to negotiate and bring a full bill back for a final vote, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Congressman Jeff Denham (R-CA) were each appointed to this committee by their respective leadership in the House of Representatives. It is misleading for Restuccia to present Denham as an influencer for passing this piece of legislation. His job was to negotiate the interest of the Party he represents.
A staffer from Congressman Jerry McNerney stated the Congressman is and has always been a strong supporter of the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. He has always advocated for grants for the agency including $8 million dollars for the new bus washing facility. “FAST Act is also known as the long-term bill because of guarantees transportation funding through 2020. Congressman McNerney supported this legislation,” concluded.
Additionally, Max Vargas, Public Affairs Manager for the San Joaquin RTD, issued the following statement:
“The FAST Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015, is the first long-term surface transportation authorization in 10 years. As a transit agency, we appreciate that Congress and President Obama had the foresight to enact the FAST Act.
As you noted in your email, Congressman Jerry McNerney supported the FAST Act, and we appreciate his regular efforts and advocacy for Federal funding and grants that help us provide crucial transportation services to our community. For your reference, this was the Roll Call vote for the FAST Act (H.R. 22),
As for Restuccia’s letter, you are correct, it was an inappropriate use of his official RTD title. Mr. Restuccia is the current Chair of the RTD Board of Directors, however, RTD has not and will not endorse Denham. In fact, our RTD Board of Directors have never voted and would never vote to take a position anyone’s candidacy for office. As a public transit agency, our primary mission is to provide a safe, reliable, and efficient transportation system for the region.”
In conclusion, it is an election year. Supporters of candidates write letters to the editor, and that’s democracy at its best. So to protect and keep our democracy alive we must speak up and call on those who violate the authority of the office they represent; after all, we the people, afford them that privilege. Restuccia was wrong in using the power of his office and mislead with his unfounded statements.