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North Coast Up For Grabs

Second Congressional Race: Solomon v. Huffman

The June 2012 primary is still seven months away. But that does not mean that the race among Democrat candidates for the newly drawn 2nd U.S. Congressional District is not heating up. On the contrary, the lines are being drawn between the contenders. The North Coast promises to be the linchpin to the nomination. As reported earlier, there are those who believe that the stands on issues between the two principle candidates for the nomination (Jared Huffman and Norman Solomon) are all but indistinguishable. That is, indistinguishable if you accept the list of “usual suspects” that the politico-elite and media focus upon. Both of these candidates have similar views on the need to tackle unemployment, war and peace, the abuses of Wall Street, and entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid). This is to be expected of any Democratic candidate running for a historically “progressive” Congressional seat on the North Coast. The voter needs to drill down deeper to uncover meaningful differences between these candidates to make an informed choice.

For starters, there are two major issues that separate these candidates and that will continue to be a focus throughout the campaign. First, there is the issue of outside money and power. Second, there is the ever constant issue of water policy. And, one might add, there is the locus of voter power to consider.

There can be no question that the “locus of voter power,” in terms of sheer numbers, resides in Marin County. Both Jared Huffman and Norman Solomon live in Marin County, Inverness Park and San Rafael respectively. Up and down the 286 mile long coast that constitutes the new 2nd US Congressional District of California one county dominates the landscape. Marin County alone has 260,000 residents, with a two to one margin favoring the Democratic Party. The voter base of the four northern counties of the Congressional District (Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity), only slightly outnumbers Marin County, with 267,000 in population. The balance of the Congressional District is made up of the western portion of Sonoma County, some 90,000 plus. Little wonder, then, that both of the major contenders come from Marin County. Whichever candidate wins the 2012 primary, and thus almost certainly the general election in November, must do well in Marin County. No wonder that six of the seven announced candidates live in Marin.

Marin County voters do support many of the same issues as the North Coast. But there are differences worth noting between Jared Huffman and Norman Solomon. One important issue difference is on the call for a moratorium on Nuclear Power. Jared Huffman has taken pains to stress his support for the German position of decommissioning the existing nuclear power plants in California over a decade. However, according to the Marin Independent Journal, Huffman’s stance is somewhat equivocal. He would close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant “if studies reveal that there is a risk that would warrant immediate closure.” The recent Fukushima disaster, with a combined tsunami and earthquake event, is a case in point of a risk factor that was not considered in the licensing of nuclear plant facilities on the Pacific Coast. Jared Huffman’s position is to close California’s nuclear plants if there is sufficient evidence of risk supported by further studies. However, does anyone really believe that further studies by the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) could possibly support the existence of an unforeseen danger? For anyone living in earthquake country and on the Pacific Rim, the question is not if a disaster will happen but when. Norman Solomon, on the other hand, has not only always been against the building of nuclear power plants; he goes further by calling for ending our reliance on nuclear power plants and building a safe, green alternative energy future. He also supports efforts to reign in the funding of nuclear weapons research and development. As a congressman, he would join the list of 65 members of the Progressive Caucus in supporting U.S. Representative Ed Markey’s “Freeze the Nukes, Fund the Future” resolution. Interestingly, the current congressman, Mike Thompson, is not a co-signer. Lynn Woolsey, the other area congressperson, is a co-signer of Markey’s initiative.

As stated above, one of the major issues in this campaign is the question of money and access to power. Here, the contrast between Jared Huffman and Norman Solomon is vividly clear. Jared Huffman has a money advantage. To date, he has outraised Solomon in campaign contributions. So far, Huffman has a clear advantage on the money side. To date, he has raised in excess of $ 271,000 of the estimated $1,000,000 needed to win. This is not surprising given that he has been in the state assembly since 2006 and is currently the chair of the Water, Parks and Wildlife committee. The question that one needs to ask, however, is just where does all this money come from? Over time, Huffman has garnered major contributions from large corporate interests, such as E and J Gallo, AT&T, and Waste Management. The list, is impressive and instructive. As an earlier study of Hoffman’s campaigns for assembly reveal, in excess of $735,000 (70%) of his campaign contributions between January 1, 2007 and March 3, 2010, came from contributors outside his assembly district, especially the Sacramento area. Outside money has indisputably helped Huffman to win his elections for state assembly. Money speaks to power. It is conceivable that if not for being term-limited out and the impact of redistricting, Jared Huffman may have been satisfied to remain in the state assembly, at the head of the powerful Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. Given the issues surrounding the closing of state parks, such as Hendy Woods, and the ongoing controversy over the Peripheral Canal Project ballot initiative in 2012 Huffman has been a central player.

Before leaving the matter of money and access, it is instructive to consider the contrast Norman Solomon provides in this race. First, even though it may put him at a disadvantage, he has sworn off accepting any Corporate PAC contributions. In this day and age, when money seems to be the main ingredient to attain and hold on to power and access, Norman Solomon has foreclosed this option. He has chosen, instead, to seek the support and contributions of individual voters within the congressional district. Richard Rapaport on October 13, 2011, reporting in The Rap Report made an insightful observation when he characterized this race as one between “money and creativity.” On a larger scale, one beyond simply the welfare of the Congressional District, he states that the “nation is suffering from a dire shortage of Democracy.” The implication is clear, money and corporate access to power is at the root of this shortage of Democracy. In a typical election year, the advantage of corporate donations and endorsements goes a long way to guaranteeing who wins, who loses. In the “liberal” northern counties of California this has certainly been the case. What Solomon is counting on, however, is that principled actions of one person produce profound effects. One voice in Norman Solomon’s behalf is that of Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers fame. At a recent (9/29/2011) house party for Norman Solomon, Daniel Ellsberg stated;”I have no question at all that Norman Solomon would be one person who would stand up…”

High praise from one who had the courage to do just that.

The question of who will stand up for what matters to voters in the new 2nd Congressional District is a key to this race. Granted, Norman Solomon does not have a legislative record to run on. He has, however, a long and distinguished record of accomplishments that do speak to his candidacy. He is Co-Chair, with U.S. Congressman John Conyers, of the Healthcare Not Welfare national campaign. He was founder and director of the Institute for Public Accuracy for a dozen years. He is a third term delegate to the California Democratic Party State Central Committee. In less formal roles, he has travelled to Afghanistan and Iraq, directed hearings of the National Citizens Hearings for Radiation Victims, and was part of the National Advisory Board of Progressive Democrats of America. In short, his participation in issues that affect the national scope of political life is deeper and wider than any other candidate in this race.

Jared Huffman, while not as experienced on the national issues of the day, does have a solid record as a state assemblyman and committee chairperson. The Water, Parks and Wildlife committee, of which he is currently chair, oversees an array of water policy issues, to name just one focus. It was his committee that advanced the 2009 Delta Water Legislation, known as the Peripheral Canal Project. Amendment 3 of the 2009 Delta Water legislation proposed the “financing of a water supply reliability and water sources protection program, by providing the funds necessary…for…sale of bonds.” In current terms, this legislation, which will be on the November 2012 ballot as an initiative, would provide for upwards of 12 billion dollars for the purpose of building a Peripheral Canal. The National Academy of Sciences issued an 81 page report, by engineers and scientists, on the proposed canal on May 9, 2009, concluding that the plan for the Peripheral Canal is incoherent and ineffective. Senator Lois Wolk, Democrat-Davis, a longtime critic of the plan, commented that “What this process needs is a really heavy dose of realism.” She added, “this is not the era of great projects. We’re in a different economy, a different reality.” One can only speculate that what keeps the Peripheral Canal Project alive, since 1942, is the pressures of well-connected interests that seek to transport (transfer is the operant term) the water resources of Northern California to the south. Those who live in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region have overwhelmingly opposed the Peripheral Canal Project for decades. To a former senior attorney of the National Resources Defense Council and member of the board of directors of the Marin Municipal Water District, the question must be asked: Why carry water for the power elite that would leave much of Northern California high and dry? To be fair to Jared Huffman, there is wording in the proposed Peripheral Canal legislation that states (Chapter 7: Delta Sustainability) that such a canal would be built “…providing assurances that their priority to water resources will be protected…(and) the Delta will not result in reduction of unmitigated significant adverse impacts to the counties and watershed of origin.” As a lawyer, Jared Huffman must know that this clause anticipates both the need for assurances and for mitigation of significant adverse impacts. Otherwise, the wording would state something more definite than the need for vague “assurances” and admit that mitigation would be required because of the inevitable “significant adverse impacts” that are certain to result. Can there be any question why the overwhelming majority of Sacramento-Delta citizens vigorously oppose this entire project? Norman Solomon, on the contrary, has come out forcefully against the Peripheral Canal Project, as well as the current proposal before the U.S. Congress to provide some of the funding.

So it is that the North Coast has a choice to make in the upcoming June primary. Of the “progressive-liberal’ candidates running, which will better serve the new 2nd U.S. Congressional District?

On the “usual suspects” issues lists both candidates have put forth the differences appear to be few. By definition, a liberal Democrat is for bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, for supporting entitlement programs, for stimulating jobs, against trickle-down economics, for ending tax breaks for the rich and multinational corporations, and for rebuilding our infrastructure. On these matters, both candidates are credible. The choice, however, may come down to differences in principles and style. Which candidate will stand up against the forces of big money and insider influence and not go-along to get-along? Which candidate will dare to take up unpopular stances within the Democratic Party in spite of pressures to fall in line? It would be easy to conclude that pragmatism trumps principles in politics. But this is shaping up to be anything but a typical election year. Perhaps it is time to commit to the concept that principles are pragmatic. The North Coast has an opportunity in this election to make the difference. Marin County is not the only dog is this race.


  1. Jerry Cadagan November 4, 2011

    The article badly misstates Huffman’s role and position on both the Peripheral Canal and the 2009 water legislation in general. His positions may not have always been right down the hard core environmental line that I personally hold, but they have been reasonable and thoughtful. I don’t know his exact position on the $12 billion “Bondoogle” that the article mentions, but I’d strongly guess that he’s not enamored of it.

    BTW, one of the many errors in the paragraph about water is that the BondDoogle would provide money to build the canal. That is simply not true. When there are so many inaccurate statements about a subject that I do know a little bit about — water policy — that raises questions about the reliability of the rest of what is said in the article.

  2. Sal Marino November 8, 2011

    You beat me to it, Jerry. And thanks for your many years of working on California water issues. I too know a thing or two about water and the Delta, and I was shocked to read the inaccuracies in this AVA article. Huffman’s campaign is probably hoppin’ mad about this (which was obviously ghost written by Solomon), but it’s probably best to just ignore it. Anyone who knows water issues or actually reads legislation will see this for what it is!

  3. Rico Boccia November 11, 2011

    Jerry and Sal say the article misrepresents Huffman, but don’t say how. Jerry doesn’t “know [Huffman’s] exact position” on the reborn Peripheral Canal because Huffman hasn’t stated one, which is a shame. He’s probably waiting to see which way the crowd marches so he can jump in front of it and pretend to be leading. Huffman has in the past taken some pretty big corporate donations, so it shouldn’t be a shock that he hasn’t come out yet against a Canal.

    As for whether a “Bondoogle” would provide money to build the Canal, “Bondoogle” doesn’t appear in the article above, despite Jerry’s quote marks, so it’s a little hard to tell what he is talking about.

    There are two different bonds at issue with respect to the Peripheral Canal. One is the 2012 California Water Bond worth $11.1 billion for a variety of projects, including $1.4 billion for “integrated regional water management projects” and $2.25 billion for projects that “support delta sustainability options,” money that could become a down payment on the Canal project. The other bond has not yet been written and named but has been discussed as at least $13 billion specifically for the Canal (though reasonable estimates put the cost in excess of $20 billion). Jerry Brown and Canal supporters tabled this separate bond idea earlier this year when it became clear how wildly unpopular it was. Thus while the article compresses a couple of legislative steps into one, it is accurate in what it says about paying for a Canal.

    As for Solomon writing the article, that’s nonsense, and a sleazy insult to the AVA, a paper that does some great investigative journalism and goes a lot deeper into important issues than pretty much any other media outlet in California (and actually addresses facts, something that Jerry and Sal have failed to do here).

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