SF Chronicle: Boxer takes on GOP leader over water

By Carolyn Lochhead
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barbara Boxer, a self-described Brooklyn street fighter, took a swing Wednesday at House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield over water, saying she told the Republican, “Don’t threaten me.”

Her famous scrappiness was on full display during a meeting with California reporters, with the retiring Democratic senator anything but retiring when asked about McCarthy’s charge that Boxer had killed a secret water deal last fall between Central Valley House Republicans and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Boxer’s Democratic colleague. The talks collapsed <http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Feinstein-s-sweeping-water-bill-collapses-at-5910737.php> after Feinstein suddenly pulled the plug, following outcries from Bay Area House Democrats.

In a warning shot to Central Valley Republicans now working to craft a water bill with both the House and Senate under GOP control, Boxer said she would not be party to secret negotiations and insisted any legislation have the approval of all parts of the state.

McCarthy will get a water bill only “if he’s not afraid to sit in a room with people from Southern California and Northern California and me,” Boxer said. “He chooses not to do it, and then he says I’m to blame. People in my state don’t like secret negotiations. Let me be clear. I will not be part of it, ever. Never. Never.”

Boxer said McCarthy called her personally to accuse her of killing last year’s deal. Describing the finger-pointing as “high school,” Boxer said she told him, “You are dreaming. Why didn’t you allow me to invite members from Northern California and Southern California who were concerned about your bill and have a briefing?’ He wouldn’t do it. He still won’t do it.”

Boxer said McCarthy told her that he just wanted to talk to her, one on one.

“This isn’t about personalities and some kind of street fight. I’m good at street fights,” Boxer said she told him. “I grew up in Brooklyn, so don’t threaten me with street fights. Because I don’t run from it.”

“Sen. Boxer’s comments today are disappointing but not surprising,” said Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy.

Central Valley Republicans moved water legislation through the House last year that amounted to a farmer’s wish list, overriding the Endangered Species Act among other things. Boxer co-sponsored water legislation with Feinstein that sought to increase “flexibility” among water agencies, in order to move water more easily around the state. Neither bill required public hearings, and Bay Area environmentalists feared Feinstein’s bill would give farms more water at the expense of wildlife.

Senate approval

Feinstein managed to get her bill passed in the Senate, and then began months of closed-door negotiations with congressmen from the Central Valley, including Republicans Devin Nunes of Tulare and David Valadao of Hanford (Kings County), as well as Democrat Jim Costa of Fresno.

The aim of the talks was to find a way to move more water from the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta to farms and other users in the Central Valley. Republicans thought they were on the brink of a deal late last fall, but Feinstein abruptly backed out. Bay Area House Democrats had complained to Boxer that they had been shut out of the talks.

Boxer said she will not support such a process this year. Even a Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass water legislation specific to California without the support of both the state’s senators.

“I am not going to partake in water wars,” Boxer said, arguing that any agreement that favors only one part of the state is pointless because it would only wind up in court.

Boxer said she hopes Feinstein can come up with a deal that “brings everyone together.” If she does, “we take it to everyone,” Boxer said. “She knows how I feel.”

On other issues, Boxer said candidates vying for her seat in 2016 face a campaign that will cost more than $50 million, adding that such sums make it less likely that House Democrats who are exploring bids could repeat her surprising victory when she ran for the office two decades ago as a Marin County congresswoman.

Big change on panel

Boxer also handed the gavel of the Environment and Public Works Committee she chaired for eight years to Sen. James Inhofe, a conservative Oklahoma Republican whom she called her close personal friend.

“It was really hard to do,” Boxer said. She apologized for her gloating eight years ago by presenting Inhofe with a T-shirt bearing her comment from the time that said, “Elections have consequences.” Boxer also gave Inhofe several toys, including a Prius car, expressing her hope that he would consider clean energy fuels, and a toy bicycle.

“The big fight we always have over the transportation bill is whether to build bike paths,” Boxer said, adding that 35 million Americans now regularly use bicycles for transportation.

“We work really well together on infrastructure,” Boxer said. “On the downside, there is not a scintilla of togetherness on climate change. He continues to be a denier. … That’s the way it is, I accept it, and stay tuned for another chapter.”


Carolyn Lochhead is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
E-mail: clochhead@sfchronicle.com<mailto:clochhead@sfchronicle.com

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