EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch the North Coast congressional candidates square off in their second debate tonight. Live video coverage begins at 6 p.m. on Watch Sonoma County. Click here for more info.
By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Five Democrats seeking to represent the North Coast in Congress agreed on the big issues — war, jobs, health care, marriage equality, supporting a commuter rail project, protecting the environment and defending organized labor — at a forum Tuesday night in Petaluma.
“There are many good Democrats in this race. You’re not going to hear a lot of differences,” said candidate Susan Adams, a Marin County supervisor, at the close of the 90-minute forum in the Petaluma City Council chambers.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael, San Rafael businesswoman Stacey Lawson, Petaluma City Councilwoman Tiffany Renee and Marin activist Norman Solomon also participated in the forum, sponsored by the Sonoma County Young Democrats.
The five are competing in a wide-open race for the congressional seat representing a district stretching from Marin County to the Oregon border, excluding Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s announced retirement in 2012 created an open race for the first time in 20 years.
Republican Dan Roberts, a prospective candidate, was not invited because the forum is part of the Young Democrats’ process of selecting a candidate to endorse, said Gabe Kearney, chairman of the group and forum moderator. Roberts and the five Democrats are scheduled to participate in a second debate Wednesday night staged by California North Coast Media.
Four of the Democrats endorsed the Obama health care bill, with Huffman, Adams, Lawson and Renee saying they would go a step further by pushing for a single-payer system in which the government pays for all medical care.
Solomon criticized the law for leaving hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry at the center of the health care system.
All five said they opposed capital punishment, citing the cost and constitutional issues. Renee, who said her father was murdered when she was 16, said that execution “does not bring the justice people are truly seeking.”
All five agreed on the principle of marriage equality, with Adams saying it is a personal matter for her as the mother of a lesbian.
And they were unanimous in saying they would seek federal funds for the SMART commute rail system now in the development stage.
Kearney asked the candidates to describe the first bill they would introduce as freshman members of Congress.
– Renee said she would create economic stimulus by lowering the interest rate on federal student loans.
– Huffman said he would pursue Woolsey’s goal, if unmet next year, for expanding two marine sanctuaries off the North Coast.
– Solomon said he would drastically cut military spending and propose a transaction tax on Wall Street.
– Adams said she would bring U.S. troops back from the Middle East and promote clean energy.
– Lawson said she would focus on the economy with investment in infrastructure to create jobs and changes to the banking industry.
Asked what House committee they would want to serve on, Lawson picked commerce to address economic development; Renee would opt for space and technology to serve the North Bay tech sector; and Huffman said he’d like to sit on and eventually chair natural resources.
Solomon said he would like a seat on the energy committee to push green energy; Adams said that freshman members of Congress seldom get their choice, but she would like a health committee seat.