Most politicians start out small - perhaps the local school board or a jab at an open city council seat.
Pleasanton resident Jerry McNerney, however, decided to take a shot at U.S. Congress.
In his first election, McNerney, 57, knocked off Republican Richard Pombo, an entrenched incumbent with deep connections. True, McNerney had the full backing of California's powerful Democratic party, and Pombo suffered from voter discontent and allegations of political impropriety, but many were still surprised to see McNerney win. If the election was a challenge, McNerney said his initiation to Congress was even harder.
"The first few months were murder," McNerney said, of the transition from CEO of a tiny alternative energy startup to a lawmaker in D.C.
After the election, McNerney caught bronchitis and suffered through ill health while committing to a grueling schedule of meeting with constituents on the West Coast and balancing meetings with lobbyists and other legislators on the East Coast.
During a recent interview in a restaurant on Pacific Avenue, McNerney said he's ready for another term in office and said he's going to focus on alternative energy and supporting the needs of those who elected him.
Most of McNerney's professional background is in wind energy.
Jerry McNerney at a glanceAge: 57.
Occupation: Member of Congress.
Family: Wife, Mary; children, Michael, Windy and Greg.
- Contractor, Sandia National Laboratories.
- Senior engineer, U.S. Windpower.
- Former CEO of energy startup HAWT Power, which developed wind
turbine gears and components.
Campaign contributions (Through June 30)
Large PAC donations:
American Association for Justine, Washington D.C., $16,000
Airline Pilots Association, Rosemont Ill. $12,500
AFSCME Washington D.C. $10,000
Ironworkers Political Action League, $10,000
MAC-PAC, Danville, $10,000
AFL-CIO, Washington D.C., $10,000
EDO Corp. New York, $9,500
NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, Washington D.C., $9,000
Sheet Metal Workers International, Washington, D.C., $8,500
For more information on McNerney's supporters, visit www.fec.gov
During his first campaign, McNerney left his fledgling startup, HAWT Energy Inc., to his partners. That startup followed several decades of working on turbine designs for other companies.
McNerney said he's a strong advocate for investment tax credits to spur the development of alternative energy. He also drafted a bill that committed $75 million for a 100-gigawatt geothermal project.
And he said his background in science and engineering means he's sought out by firms that look to his expertise to make smart decisions regarding federal tax dollars.
"They want to support me," he said. "They like having a good, rational speaker in Congress."
It's that willingness to support companies that support him that has given some of his opponents ammunition.
McNerney has routinely posted his Congressional funding earmarks online. Some of the companies that have benefited from McNerney's earmarks in turn supported him with campaign donations.
Dean Andal, the Republican challenging McNerney, calls this a "culture of corruption" that he would take no part in if elected.
Andal says all federal funding decisions should go through the standard appropriations process or be at the request of a federal or local agency.
"That's the way I'll do business if I'm elected," he said.
Andal specifically references a $1 million earmark that McNerney secured for New York-based EDO Corp., which has a Morgan Hill office. The company works on the radar systems for a new Naval vessel. After McNerney's earmark, the firm's political action committee chipped in $9,500 in campaign donations, according to Federal Election Commission records.
McNerney does not shirk from his work sending dollars back home. He said all the earmarks fund excellent projects, and they're keeping local workers employed.
"I'm happy. I'm proud that I did it," he said.
He asked his opponent which local business would he not want to support and which defense project shouldn't get funded.
"Which one does he want to take away?" he said.
The normally laid-back McNerney - who has a quip or a joke for nearly every question - bristled when asked about his opponent's charge that McNerney has voted against supporting U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.
McNerney said he has voted to improve troops' body armor and weapons. He will not, however, vote for a spending bill that does not include a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq.
"The one thing I will not do is vote for a spending bill that does not have a timeline," he said.
McNerney said ensuring that the troops' mission has a definite end shows his support for them.
During his term in office, McNerney made it a point to visit Lodi as much as he could. His regular visits to local coffee shops gave what he said is a strong understanding of Lodi's values.
Those "conservative" values are "by and large good values," and McNerney said he hopes to represent Lodi's interests once more.
He said he recalled a great back-and-forth session with members of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. And the Democratic congressman said he "held his own" during the meeting.
In a largely moderate district, McNerney said he will hear the concerns of any constituent.
"I'm there for them. I listen to them."