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1,000 mark Congressman Mike Thompson's 25 years in office

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joined about 1,000 people celebrating Rep. Mike Thompson’s 25 years of public service Sunday at an upscale Napa Valley winery.

The crowd included Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, federal and state legislators, local officials and Kevin Jorgeson of Santa Rosa, who made history climbing the Dawn Wall route on Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan in January.

“This has to be the ‘A’ party of all the parties that’ve been held in the Napa Valley,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who was mistress of ceremonies.

Thompson, 64, was marking his unbroken quarter-century in office, going undefeated in 12 elections for the state Senate and House of Representatives dating back to 1990.

Pelosi hailed Thompson for his support of natural resources and, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, “making the fight for America’s middle class.”

Panetta, who served as a California Democratic congressman as well as Central Intelligence Agency director, joked that the “main reason I’m here is because his grandfather was Italian.”

Panetta, whose family owned a walnut orchard in the Carmel Valley, said that Thompson has “built a legacy of devoting himself to making people’s lives better.”

When he was elected to Congress in 1976, Panetta said, his father told him he was “well trained to go to Washington because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.”

Eshoo noted that Thompson and his wife, Jan, live in the house in St. Helena once owned by his parents and grandparents. When he took the stage, Thompson remarked that Hall Wines in St. Helena, where Sunday’s event was held, occupies the site of the former Napa Valley co-op where local grape growers pooled their crops and where Thompson worked as a young man.

Thompson gave a shout-out to Jorgeson, seated at a table with his girlfriend, Jacqueline Becker, saying that he had brought along a flag flown over the Capitol to be presented to the climber.

Earlier, Jorgeson told a reporter that he is a Sonoma County registered voter and has voted for Thompson.

John Shafer, a Napa Valley vintner, was among many shaking Thompson’s hand in an open courtyard at Hall Wines. “You’re the best,” Shafer said.

Kathryn Hall, who hosted the event with her husband, Craig, is a former U.S. ambassador to Austria.

Thompson, a Vietnam War combat veteran who received a Purple Heart, broke into politics by narrowly beating Republican incumbent Jim Nielsen for what was then the ?4th District seat in the California state Senate in 1990. Termed out after eight years in the Senate, he challenged another GOP incumbent, Frank Riggs, for the North Coast congressional seat in 1998, prompting Riggs to retire in the face of Thompson’s strong name recognition.

Thompson has handily won nine straight terms in the House and due to redistricting in 2012 switched from the North Coast to an inland district that includes Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sonoma Valley, all of Napa County and parts of Lake, Solano and Contra Costa counties.

The seat in a heavily Democratic district is Thompson’s for as long as he wants to serve, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.

Thompson is a “master political strategist” who has, as a moderate Democrat and member of the party’s Blue Dog Coalition, succeeded with voters in liberal districts, McCuan said. In a highly partisan, Republican-controlled Congress, Thompson also has the ability to “cut deals across the aisle,” McCuan said.

As chairman of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, Thompson has gained some national stature, and he is a well-established Democratic rainmaker, raising far more money than he needs for re-election and donating it to Democrats in more competitive districts.

Thompson’s seat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, known as a “juice committee,” helps him raise more than $1 million in each election cycle, McCuan said.

A vineyard owner, he is also a co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Wine Caucus, which consists of more than 215 senators and House members.

Should the Democrats gain the White House in 2016, Thompson would get consideration for several administrative positions, including secretary of the interior, McCuan said.

Thompson has declined to say how long he intends to serve in Congress, but did say last year that he won’t be commuting to work on The Hill in his 80s.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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