Congressman Jimmy Panetta, headed to an 80-20 victory in his first re-election bid, isn’t going to be putting his feet up in the next few weeks while waiting for his Democratic Party to take control of the 116th U.S. House of Representatives.
One of Congress’ most fervent bipartisan optimists, Panetta is raring to go back into the fray with many of his lame duck colleagues to get the 2018 Farm Bill renewed before the new Congress is sworn in in January 2019.
“I have confidence that a compromise bill will get passed this year,” he predicted on Nov. 15. “Final passage this Congress is the priority.”
That could be a tall order, which may be more dependent than anything on the mood of his friends across the aisle, who have been holding out for adding a work requirement to federal food stamps. The work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients was pushed by President Donald Trump and added to the House farm bill this summer, but was not included in the Senate version of the bill.
The resulting farm bill deadlock has increased anxiety levels among tariff-fearing farmers, agribusinesses and food stamp recipients in Panetta’s home 20th District and across the U.S.
Panetta, whose district includes half of Gilroy, part of Santa Cruz County and all of San Benito and Monterey counties, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. The son of Washington D.C. legend Leon Panetta—former CIA and budget director, White House chief of staff and defense secretary for presidents Clinton and Obama—was elected to the House in 2016.
Jimmy Panetta’s re-election vote totals have grown steadily since the Nov. 6 election, as mailed and provisional ballots inflated his winning percentage over independent Ronald Kobat to more than 80 percent.
About the re-election victory, Panetta said in a statement to the Free Lance, “I am grateful to the voters of California’s 20th Congressional District for their trust in me to continue to be their representative in Congress.
“I remain committed to serving our communities and championing our Central Coast values in Washington.”
If Congressional leaders are unable to pass a five-year renewal of the comprehensive farm bill in the remaining days of this year, Panetta said he hopes “all members will be willing to come to the table and pass a strong bill that supports our domestic producers, consumers and rural communities.”
Panetta will join a solid Democratic majority in the House, where his party won’t have just the 23-seat gain it needed for a bare majority, but enough for a comfortable majority.
If Democrats win seats they are leading, including four undecided contests in California in which they led Nov. 16, the party would claim a 38-seat gain and a solid 16-vote majority in the House. In the Senate, Republicans could be adding one or two seats to their 49-seat total.
With 90 percent of most 20th District returns counted as Nov. 16, Panetta had 144,224 votes, or 80 percent, district-wide, compared to 35,023 for Kabat, at 20 percent.
In San Benito County, his winning margin was less, with 11,744 votes, 71 percent of the total, compared to 4,807, 29 percent for Kabat.
Panetta won 71 percent of the vote in his first election bid, when veteran Democrat Sam Farr chose not to seek re-election after 24 years in the House.
Incumbent Democrat Sam Farr did not seek re-election in 2016. Leon Panetta represented the Central Coast region from 1977 to 1992.
Jimmy Panetta was a Navy intelligence officer and served in Afghanistan. The Santa Clara University Law School graduate was a deputy district attorney for Monterey County, where his wife is a Superior Court judge.