Crowded field in North Coast congressional race
With Huffman considered favorite, 11 opponents vie for second spot in November runoff to fill 2nd District seat
Published: Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 11:49 p.m.
In the North Coast's congressional race, it all comes down to second place.
The June 5 primary election will narrow the field of 12 candidates down to two finalists, who will compete in November for the $174,000-a-year job awarded by about 400,000 registered voters from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael is considered the favorite based on his $865,000 in campaign funding, 800-plus endorsements and name recognition after six years in the Legislature, securing approval of more than 60 bills.
A feisty competition for second place pits Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams, businesswoman and political newcomer Stacey Lawson and activist/author Norman Solomon.
The other eight — four more Democrats, two Republicans and two candidates with no party preference — are long shots, their chances diminished by lack of funding, obscurity and Democrat domination of the district.
A series of candidate forums established little difference among the Democratic contenders on issues such as Afghanistan, health care and the environment. But two of them focused attention on Lawson, a well-funded political newcomer.
The winner will replace Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat whose liberal politics, including early and vocal opposition to the Iraq War, endeared her to North Bay Democratic voters for 20 years.
Woolsey's retirement and California's redistricting set up a wide open race in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers a long stretch of the entire North Coast, excluding Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and the Sonoma Valley.
Huffman is competing as the only Sacramento legislator, termed out of the Assembly; Adams as a county lawmaker with a health care background; Lawson as an entrepreneur and Solomon as a liberal advocate with a national following.
“In this district, you have to be progressive, you have to care about working people and you definitely have to care about the environment,” said Lisa Maldonado, North Bay Labor Council executive director.
Adams, Huffman and Solomon said they would join the House Progressive Caucus, which Woolsey previously led, but that group's influence is waning, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Assuming Republicans retain control of the House, the progressives, in the wake of Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich's primary election loss, will have “marginal influence” in the chamber, McCuan said.
Running on record
Huffman, 48, a former environmental attorney, is running on his record of getting bills passed amid the partisan gridlock in Sacramento. “I'm the only candidate who's been tested that way,” he said.
His favorite measures, Huffman said, include a law that compensates residents for surplus energy they spill into the grid from renewable sources such as wind and solar arrays, and lighting efficiency standards that have been adopted into federal law and will cut electricity use for lighting in half by the end of the decade.
His endorsements include more than 50 current and former female elected officials from around the district, a clear bid for consideration by voters who may consider the North Coast a “woman's seat” in Congress.
Huffman also pointed to endorsements from across the political spectrum, including environmentalist Bill Kortum and business-oriented former Sonoma County Supervisor Tim Smith.
But the notion that he's the front-runner, Huffman said, is “a dangerous thing to start thinking in politics.”
In April, the campaign — by then about 9 months old — turned testy as Adams, Lawson and Solomon began publicly trading shots.
“There's no doubt this is a fierce competition,” Solomon said last week.
Adams and Solomon faulted Lawson's voting record, missing eight of 12 elections from 2003-08, and some of her business credentials.
Lawson, a self-made millionaire in business who moved into the district three years ago, apologized for her spotty voting and bristled at the other attacks that she said were off the mark.
“There's no secret why folks are coming after me,” Lawson said, describing her candidacy as a “big threat” to the other Democrats.
Huffman, or any other Democrat, would easily defeat a Republican in the November election. Democrats account for 50 percent of registered voters in the six-county district, compared with 23 percent Republicans.
But in a two-Democrat runoff, seen as the more likely outcome, Huffman would face the greatest challenge from Lawson, perceived as the most moderate of the leading Democrats.
Touts county experience
Adams, a three-term supervisor, said it was “fair game” to challenge the credentials proffered by another candidate. “That's debate, not negative campaigning,” she said, regarding her public criticism of Lawson.
A single mother with a background in nursing, Adams, 55, said her 10 years as a supervisor, balancing a county budget and dealing with issues such as energy, health care and transportation, distinguish her candidacy.
Adams cast the deciding vote in 2008 to establish the Marin Clean Energy program, which aims to provide county residents with electricity 50 percent to 100 percent from renewable sources.
Her gender will be an asset in Congress, where 16 percent of members are women, Adams said. “Women are usually better at collaboration and cooperation.”
Adams brushed off Lawson's criticism that she and the other Marin supervisors were to blame for filmmaker George Lucas' withdrawal of plans to build a studio at Grady Ranch, injecting millions of dollars into the county's economy.
Adams said she worked with Lucas for 18 months on the “fast-tracked” project, which was derailed by the threat of litigation from neighbors in Lucas Valley.
Focus on jobs, economy
Lawson, 41, a virtual unknown when she announced her candidacy last year, made a splash by raising more than $740,000 — second only to Huffman — in a race on pace to spend a North Coast record total of more than $3 million.
Her campaign focus on jobs and the economy sets her apart, Lawson said. “It's the No. 1 issue on people's minds,” she said. “None of my opponents have effectively addressed that issue at all.”
A sound economic engine, she said, provides the revenue to support education, social services and public facilities.
Lawson's business career took a turn in 2004, when she visited India and met a guru named Baskaran Pillai, and began cultivating her spiritual life.
In 2007, she participated in Emerge California, a political candidate training program for Democratic women and connected with Susie Tompkins Buell, a San Francisco Democratic fundraising powerhouse.
History of activism
Solomon, 60, calls himself “an independent, progressive Democrat” with a history of activism, research and writing that dates back to his teenage years.
While some Democrats promote the need for bipartisan engagement with Republicans, Solomon said there are issues — such as women's reproductive rights and defending Medicare and Social Security — on which no compromise is possible.
“If your hand keeps getting cut off, why would you keep reaching across the aisle?” he said.
Solomon said he vocally opposed the bank bailout and troop surge in Afghanistan before either step was taken, and neither has achieved its ends.
Asked if he needs to expand his support beyond progressive circles, Solomon said the North Coast, a “deep blue, deep green” region, is a perfect fit for his politics.
Long-shot congressional candidates espouse range of views
Dan Roberts can do the math.
The stockbroker from Tiburon, one of 12 candidates for the North Coast congressional seat, knows that support from fellow Republicans isn't enough in the June 5 primary election.
“I need 3 to 5 percent of the Democrats to come my way,” he said.
Republicans are outnumbered more than 2-to-1 by Democrats among registered voters in the six-county 2nd Congressional District stretching from Marin to the Oregon border, and hold a base of less than 30 percent of the vote.
Roberts, a political newcomer who has loaned his campaign $160,000, probably had a chance at finishing second — and advancing to the November runoff election — until Michael Halliwell of Cotati, unsuccessful in three previous bids for Congress, registered for a fourth race.
In the 2010 Republican primary, Halliwell got 32 percent, limiting the winner, Jim Judd of Rohnert Park, to 68 percent.
Roberts, 69, a Vietnam War veteran, might appeal to moderate Democrats by advocating an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan “to halt the loss of life and limb” and the “drain on our national treasury.”
But he is otherwise in step with GOP orthodoxy, saying the nation “can't spend or borrow our way out of the malaise we're in” and advocating elimination of the Energy and Education departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.
If a liberal Democrat wins the North Coast seat, “we're going to live with them for years and years,” he said.
Roberts and Halliwell are among the eight long-shot candidates in the race, which has no incumbent.
Democrat Andy Caffrey of Garberville, a lifelong activist and organizer, puts the “climate crisis” foremost among the issues, saying at a candidates forum in February, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.”
“The task of our time is to get citizen leaders elected,” he said in an interview, because members of Congress “are not going to do anything.”
Larry Fritzlan, a Democrat and therapist from Mill Valley, insists that “politics is poisoned” by the influence of money and the “massive corruption of Congress.”
Democrat William Courtney of Mendocino, describes himself as a “cannabis physician” and says marijuana could be a lucrative legitimate industry and the basis for a heart attack remedy.
John Lewallen, a seaweed harvester from Philo, espouses a liberal platform — end the war, legalize marijuana and establish single-payer health care — as a no-party-preference candidate on a campaign budget of about $5,000.
Three others — Halliwell, Fritzlan and Brooke Clarke of Ukiah, also a no-party-preference candidate — reported no campaign funding.
Clarke, a small business owner, advocates electing independents like himself because Democrats and Republicans are the same on “big issues.”
Democrat Tiffany Renee, vice mayor of Petaluma, said she was obliged to scale back her fundraising to about $15,000 and still hopes to follow Rep. Lynn Woolsey's leap from the Petaluma council to Congress.
“I think this race is still very wide open,” said Renee, who said she would be the ninth Latina elected to the House.
The new 2nd Congressional District
Not since the 1960s has California's North Coast — from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border — been included in a single congressional district.
The new 2nd District, created last year by a citizens redistricting commission, includes the five coastal counties plus Trinity County.
However, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and the Sonoma Valley were lumped into an adjacent inland district.
Veteran North Coast Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson's home in Napa County also went into the inland district — the new 5th District — taking Thompson with it.
Petaluma Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey's retirement created an open seat in the 2nd District, attracting 12 candidates to this year's election.
It is Democrat-friendly territory, with 50 percent of voters registering as Democrat, a better than 2-to-1 advantage over the 23 percent of Republican voters.
Almost as many voters — 22 percent — have no party preference, the term for independents.
Marin and Sonoma County, anchoring the district's southern end, dominate with nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the district's 394,292 voters. In Marin, Democrats have a nearly 3-to-1 advantage over the GOP.
Slightly more than a third of the voters are in Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties.
Democratic strength declines in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Republicans have a slight advantage in Del Norte and Trinity, but the two counties total just 20,005 voters, or 5 percent of the district total.
Meet the candidates:
SUSAN L. ADAMS
Residence: San Rafael
Occupation: Marin County supervisor; nurse
Experience: Adjunct professor, Dominican University; Association of Bay Area Governments, Bay Conservation and Development Committee, Transportation Authority of Marin, Marin Housing Authority
Campaign funding: $158,909
Occupation: State assemblyman
Experience: Former civil rights and environmental attorney; former water district board member
Campaign funding: $864,567
Occupation: Educator, small-business advocate
Experience: Entrepreneur, corporate executive; co-founder, Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, UC Berkeley
Campaign funding: $740,797
Residence: Inverness Park
Experience: National co-chairman, Healthcare Not Warfare campaign; California Democratic Party Central Committee; co-founder, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting media watchdog group
Campaign funding: $538,503
Occupation: Green conversion consultant
Experience: Green Party and Earth First activist
Campaign funding: $10,528
Age: Declined to state
Occupation: Small-business owner
Experience: Engineer, sales, marketing and general manager
Campaign funding: None reported
Age: Not available
Experience: Medical cannabis advocate; inventor
Campaign funding: $47,419
Age: Declined to state
Residence: Mill Valley
Occupation: Marriage and family therapist
Experience: Author; adjunct professor, California Institute of Integral Studies
Campaign funding: None reported
Occupation: Retired college professor
Experience: Unsuccessful congressional candidate in 2006, 2008 and 2010; Sonoma County Republican Central Committee
Campaign funding: None reported
Experience: Author, activist; first treasurer of California Green Party; member of citizen action groups including Veterans for Peace Chapter 116, Mendocino Environmental Center
Campaign funding: $5,204
Occupation: Petaluma vice mayor; small-business owner
Experience: Assn. of Bay Area Governments; Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Commission on the Status of Women, Democratic Central Committee
Campaign funding: $15,322
Occupation: Securities broker
Experience: Strawberry Area Community Council, Citizens League of Marin, Bel Aire Flood Control District, San Francisco Better Business Bureau; Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran
Campaign funding: $177,792
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