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California Rep. Denham Thinks Large and Small

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Freshman Rep. Jeff Denham has focused on creating a commission to evaluate whether federal properties are being used to the utmost efficiency. He wants to see federal buildings consolidated, unused properties sold and the government shedding expensive leases.

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"I am somebody who wants to get something done," he said. "I don't know how long I am going to be here; I don't know how long I am going to want to be here."

Water and Partisanship Woes

At the beginning of December, Denham's Washington office was decorated for the holidays, featuring a Christmas tree from California.

But more prominently displayed was the massive Christmas tree on the west end of the Capitol complex, from the Stanislaus National Forest in his district. The lighting ceremony for the nearly 65-foot Sierra white fir was held Dec. 6, and Denham briefly addressed the crowd.

Denham brings an understanding of natural resources and agriculture to the House. In 2003, he bought a 40-acre farm to grow almonds, an experience that taught him how pivotal water issues are for his San Joaquin Valley district.

"You do not solve the unemployment crisis that we have in the Central Valley without addressing water," he said. "There are no easy solutions to water."

Denham is frustrated that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has yet to tackle the water policy issues he wanted to address and said Members are interjecting partisanship into an issue he views as affecting everyone.

Despite eight years in the state Senate and his allegiance to the more mainstream GOP line, Denham says he finds partisanship distasteful.

A defining moment in his political career came when he was the target of a 2008 state Senate recall election. He had voted against a budget resolution, stalling its passage. He claimed at the time that the plan was not properly balanced.

The recall election failed, and he held his seat with 75 percent of the vote. But the instance left its mark on the legislator.

"While the recall was very personal and it was very frustrating, I think it showed people in my district that I am not going to be bullied or pressured or intimidated. I am going to fight for what I think is the right thing to do," Denham said.

In 2009, he had actually considered running for lieutenant governor or a state Assembly seat before he was contacted by Rep. George Radanovich, a Republican who was retiring after eight terms. Radanovich called Denham in December, asking whether he would consider running in the reliably Republican 19th district.

He won the crowded GOP primary in 2010 with 36 percent of the vote and then cruised to victory against Democrat Loraine Goodwin.

Climbing Up

After arriving in Washington, Denham was made a member of the Whip team, an unusual feat for someone who just got here. Perhaps it's because when he served in Sacramento, he roomed for a few years with fellow Californian, and now Majority Whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

"I'm somebody who works hard, whether it's being a leader in this freshman class or just being involved in leadership in the debate here," Denham said.

He also was tapped by the National Republican Congressional Committee to be a regional director for the 2012 cycle — he was one of just four freshmen chosen.

McCarthy said Denham is a standout.

"What you find in a big freshman class — he's a big guy, with a deep voice, so you're going to see him anyways — but his skills make you see him, as well," McCarthy said, quipping that Denham was a messy roommate.

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