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Pete Stark

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Pete Stark

Preceded by
Deborah Roderick Stark

Political party
Democratic Party

Full Name
Fortney Hillman Stark, Jr.

November 11, 1931 (age 92) Milwaukee, Wisconsin (

Alma mater
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.S.)University of California, Berkeley (M.B.A.)

Former United States Representative

Andrew Stark, Fortney Stark, Thakia Stark, Jeffrey Stark, Sarah Stark, Beatrice Stark, Hannah Stark

Previous offices
Representative (CA 13th District) 1993–2013

Similar People
Wally Herger, Barbara Lee, Charles Rangel, Jim McCrery, Xavier Becerra

Pete stark blows up over national debt

Fortney Hillman "Pete" Stark, Jr. (born November 11, 1931) is an American businessman and politician who was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 2013. A Democrat from California, 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. 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.


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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.

Pete Stark wwwibabuzzcompoliticsfiles201302PeteStarkjpg

Pete stark humanist nontheist congressman excerpts

Early life, education, and banking career

Stark was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 11, 1931; he is of German and Swiss descent. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953. 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 has remained in Maryland.

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.

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


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. 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).

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. 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.

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, 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.


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.

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.

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

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.

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. 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."

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. 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. The case, Conyers v. Bush, was ultimately dismissed for lack of standing in November of the same year.

Iraq War

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.

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." 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.

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'." Stark was the only member of Congress to take this position.


Stark was the first openly atheist member of Congress, as announced by the Secular Coalition for America. 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. The American Humanist Association named him their 2008 Humanist of the Year, 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."

Committee assignments

  • Committee on Ways and Means
  • Subcommittee on Health (Ranking Member)
  • Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support
  • Caucuses
  • Congressional Progressive Caucus
  • Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (Associate Member)
  • International Conservation Caucus
  • 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.

    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." 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."

    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.

    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. 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.'" 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." 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."

    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."

    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.

    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."

    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.

    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. 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.


    Pete Stark Wikipedia

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