Bay Area transportation and transit gurus are eyeballing newly elected Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell like a man stranded 40 days in the Mohave looks at a tall glass of ice water.

The Bay Area has no representative on the House Transportation Committee -- its Californians are all from Southern or Central California -- and the young prosecutor and Dublin councilman who unseated 20-term incumbent Pete Stark says he wants the job.

Transportation cash is key for Bay Area residents, who will see with the resurging economy the far less welcome boost in highway and transit congestion.

The next generation national highway and transit spending blueprint is in the congressional pipeline and to the squeakiest participants go the spoils. The Bay Area has transportation aplenty at stake with its three major airports, scads of bridges, BART, railroads, buses, ferries, highways and seaports. Not only does the region have a list of new projects but its existing system is aging.

"Transportation is one of my top priority committees," Swalwell said via phone from the Capitol, where he is one of 13 California freshmen preparing to take office in January. "The Bay Area and this district have huge needs in this area and I have expressed my interest with the House leadership."


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It's no coincidence that Swalwell's transportation spark dovetails with that of former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher: She is mentoring her one-time intern and advising his transition team.

Tauscher was House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's transportation point person and pivotal in major Bay Area projects, including the widening of the Sunol Grade and breaking a logjam on the new Bay Bridge.

Swalwell's timing is good: Of the three California Democrats on the panel, two are retiring.

"Traditionally, the Bay Area has had strong representation on the Transportation Committee," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler. "(Former Bay Area Congressman) Norm Mineta ran the committee. We had Ellen Tauscher. And before her, (former East Bay Congressman) Bill Baker was very instrumental in the BART extension to the San Francisco Airport."

NO party HERE: Three days after the Nov. 6 election, re-elected Concord Councilman Dan Helix quietly left the Republican Party and registered as an independent.

The 83-year-old military veteran said he made the switch because he no longer shares the GOP platform.

Helix said he registered Republican many years ago when he worked in the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan was president.

Since then, he has come to "admire the integrity and honesty of (Rep.) George Miller and (Assemblywoman) Susan Bonilla, and (to) like other Democratic officeholders in this area," he said.

And even though he was a Republican, Helix said he often voted across party lines for the person he felt was most qualified regardless of affiliation.

As for the Democrats, he said he tried early in the campaign to register online in the party but the transaction failed to go through for unknown reasons.

He intended to try again, but late in the campaign, one of his opponents teamed up with the Contra Costa Democratic Party and sent out a mailer that branded Helix with a giant, red Republican warning label.

"I relearned in this campaign that there is nothing as partisan as a nonpartisan local election," Helix said. "I just feel more comfortable continuing to support people that I believe are committed to serving honorably regardless of party label."

GOT POLITICS? Read Politics With LisaV at politicswithlisav.blogspot. com:

  • California Republican Party registration leading into the Nov. 6 election dipped below 30 percent for the first time in state history. Check out a fever chart showing Republican and Democratic Party registration trends since 1922.

  • To all you nonbelievers, the Bay Bridge Troll is no myth. Read how the troll protected this reporter's expensive sunglasses during a trip deep into the bridge's bowels.

    AND FINALLY: When voters tossed Rep. Pete Stark out of office, they elevated Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, to dean of the California congressional delegation.

    The title goes to the longest-serving member, although technically speaking, Miller and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, both took office on Jan. 3, 1975.

    It's an alphabet thing, what with "M" coming ahead of "W."

    That's all very reasonable and in keeping with protocols, no doubt.

    But an arm-wrestling contest would be more fun.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com, politicswithlisav.blogspot.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.