News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

'Solyndra' Gaffe May Sway Bay Area House Race

Pete Stark (D-CA) on a viewscreen in D.C. | Photo: cat/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Solyndra seems to have lost some of its luster as a conservative talking point in the final hours of the 2012 Electoral season, but the failed solar company may yet prove to have claimed an unlikely victim when the votes are counted: long-time Bay Area Representative Fortney "Pete" Stark. Stark, who has represented his South Bay district since the early 1970s, faces a fellow Democrat in the race for California's 15th Congressional District, and his age and recent alleged "erratic" behavior have been a much-discussed in the Bay Area -- especially his statement earlier this year that he wished he could afford to buy a car from Solyndra.

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In a meeting with the Editorial Board of the San Francisco Chronicle in early May, Stark was asked his views on the developing controversy over the Obama administration's renewable energy policy. His response, in part:

I wish I had enough expense allowance to get one of those new "S's" that Solyndra's going to make down there, the electric 10 year old (son) is after me. He no longer wants a Porsche. He wants dad to have an "S" sedan...They sound wild. They run $60,000-$90,000.

The "S" is actually an electric sedan manufactured by Tesla Motors; Solyndra, as ReWire readers almost certainly know, was a solar panel manufacturer. Both firms had facilities in Stark's district. Stark's office never issued a correction of the statement.

Stark is facing off today against challenger Eric Swalwell, currently a member of the City Council of Dublin, California and a moderate "Blue Dog" Democrat in the style of his former mentor Representative Ellen Tauscher. Swallwell, at 31 years old, was born after Stark first took office.

The Solyndra gaffe isn't the only thing dogging Stark's campaign: he's made a number of other apparently ill-thought-out statements in recent weeks, including telling a leader in the California Democratic Party who endorsed Swalwell that he'd call social workers to "check on his kids," according to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carla Marinucci.

But it's the Solyndra statements that seem to have had the most staying power with Stark's detractors, who've used them to paint the aging liberal Congressman as increrasingly out of touch. There's been neither public nor campaign-sponsored polling in the race, which has gotten fairly nasty -- with Stark accusing Swalwell of being a Tea Party Trojan Horse, and Swalwell accusing Stark of diverting campaign contributions to his household bank accounts.

But Swalwell has picked up a number of crucial endorsements, and the race is said to be extremely close. It may be that the only Democrat done in by Solyndra turns out to be one who picked up the company and ran himself over with it.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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