| State Senator Alan Lowenthal is running for Congress in an open seat - California's 47th district. The seat is centered on Long Beach and includes some pieces of Orange County, which was why Lowenthal spoke last Friday at the luncheon of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County.
Lowenthal has made a name for himself as a leading critic of the high speed rail project. Of course, this is the same project that is very strongly supported by President Barack Obama, Governor Jerry Brown, and the other Democrats who represent California in Congress, a group Lowenthal wants to join. HSR critics, on the other hand, are Tea Party Republicans like Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy.
So it makes sense that a group of Democrats would want to know which side Lowenthal is on - the side of HSR and Democrats, or the side of the Tea Party. A friend of Calitics was in the audience last Friday at the luncheon, and asked Lowenthal that question.
His answer was not encouraging:
"There's an inadequate business plan," state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said at a Friday luncheon of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County. "A UC Berkeley study found the ridership projections were too high. We have $10 billion in state funds and $3 billion in federal funds for a $98 billion project. To start in the middle (of the state) when you have no (financial) commitment is too risky."
Lowenthal's answer is full of flaws. He cites a discredited Berkeley Transportation Institute in order to criticize the system's ridership projections, but totally ignores the work of an independent peer review committee that found the ridership projections were sound. But Lowenthal ignores that because he knows that if he can tap into the belief that nobody rides trains in America, then he can undermine the project.
Further, as a member of Congress Lowenthal would be in a position to do something about federal funding. If he were concerned that the feds hadn't kicked in enough money, he could simply pledge that he would go to Congress and vote for more HSR money, as opposed to a Republican who would presumably join the rest of his party in voting to defund high speed rail. Tellingly, Lowenthal made no such pledge.
Of course, if high speed rail isn't built in California, then presumably the growth in travel will require an expansion of both the airport footprint as well as in the number of flights serving Long Beach and Orange County airports. One wonders if Lowenthal's constituents are aware he is more willing to subject them to airplane noise rather than help build quieter, more sustainable trains that would help relieve the pressure on those two airports.
The OC Register article claims Lowenthal is a "high speed rail advocate" but that is a convenient fiction Lowenthal has maintained in order to try and hide his true opposition to the project. But Lowenthal will have an opportunity to prove that conclusion wrong later this year when he gets to vote on whether to release the voter-approved Prop 1A bonds for high speed rail construction. Republicans don't want that to happen, preferring to kill a signature initiative of President Obama's that California Congressional Democrats support.
So Lowenthal has a choice in front of him. Will he side with Obama, Brown, and Congressional Democrats and vote to build high speed rail in California in 2012? Or will he side with Tea Party Republicans and vote against high speed rail?
California is eagerly awaiting the answer to this question, even if he wouldn't give his fellow Orange County Democrats an answer last week.