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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


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:


Age: 55

Residence: San Rafael

Occupation: Marin County supervisor; nurse

Party: Democrat

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


Age: 48


San Rafael

Occupation: State assemblyman

Party: Democrat

Experience: Former civil rights and environmental attorney; former water district board member

Campaign funding: $864,567


Age: 41


San Rafael

Occupation: Educator, small-business advocate

Party: Democrat

Experience: Entrepreneur, corporate executive; co-founder, Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, UC Berkeley

Campaign funding: $740,797


Age: 60

Residence: Inverness Park

Party: Democrat

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


Age: 54

Residence: Garberville

Occupation: Green conversion consultant

Party: Democrat

Experience: Green Party and Earth First activist

Campaign funding: $10,528


Age: Declined to state

Residence: Ukiah

Occupation: Small-business owner

Party: None

Experience: Engineer, sales, marketing and general manager

Campaign funding: None reported


Age: Not available

Residence: Mendocino

Occupation: Physician

Party: Democrat

Experience: Medical cannabis advocate; inventor

Campaign funding: $47,419


Age: Declined to state

Residence: Mill Valley

Occupation: Marriage and family therapist

Party: Democrat

Experience: Author; adjunct professor, California Institute of Integral Studies

Campaign funding: None reported


Age: 69

Residence: Cotati

Occupation: Retired college professor

Party: Republican

Experience: Unsuccessful congressional candidate in 2006, 2008 and 2010; Sonoma County Republican Central Committee

Campaign funding: None reported


Age: 69

Residence: Philo

Party: None

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


Age: 40

Residence: Petaluma

Occupation: Petaluma vice mayor; small-business owner

Party: Democrat

Experience: Assn. of Bay Area Governments; Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Commission on the Status of Women, Democratic Central Committee

Campaign funding: $15,322


Age: 69

Residence: Tiburon

Occupation: Securities broker

Party: Republican

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

13 Responses to “Crowded field in North Coast congressional race”

  1. Richard says:

    Jared is assured of being on the November ballot and does not need your vote. Use it to choose the second candidate.

    The front-runners for this Congressional seat are in agreement on their key policy positions but Susan Adams would be the best challenger in a run off. Vote for her now and you’ll have six months to further vet these two candidates.

    Norm Solomon has made it clear why Stacy Lawson is flawed. Jared would use these issues to destroy Stacy in November. Norman is unelectable the very reasons liberals love him.

    While Adams shares Solomon’s liberal positions, she appeals to independent voters in spite of, not because of her policy positions. While Norm lectures, Susan listens.

    In a general election with two Dems running a lot of voters would NOT want to vote for Jared, the “Democratic Party Machine” candidate. Adams would appeal to all of those voters, left and right.

    Susan also has the closest ties to the Northcoast, with family on their Mendocino Ranch and a brother in Humboldt.

    Adams has a compelling life story of working class roots with 33 years as a registered nurse (and CNA member), smarts, with a PhD being a professor of nursing, and served three terms as a county supervisor.

    I believed this last October when I joined her campaign and I believe it more so today.

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  2. Commonsense says:

    Please provide the facts that back up your claim? Most companies contribute to both parties in order to assure access regardless of outcome, so I’m not quite clear on how you can state that the PD home corporation is “republican” and would like some actual facts to back that up.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  3. We have a lot of good choices for the Congressional race, I wish we could put all the ideas into one person.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  4. Liz says:

    @ nomacoma

    I don’t see how that matters at all.

    Blue, Red or Purple all the political parties stink!!!!!
    Just because the paper is Rep doesn’t make them good. I don’t care who owns it, what I read here just doesn’t add up when you look at past june elections.
    Participation in Republican primaries exceeds participation in Democratic primaries, according to a report by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University.

    The study, which looked at elections held through Sept. 1 of 2010, found that more than four million more voters cast ballots in Republican primaries than in Democratic primaries.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  5. Richard James Emory says:

    This group of 12 are about as exciting as watching paint dry. No, I take that back, paint covers mistakes, these clowns can’t even do that.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  6. Steveguy says:

    I wish we could vote- None of the above-

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 9

  7. nomacoma says:

    “Press Democrat” is owned by a Republican company. Hows that one, Liz?

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 7

  8. Kim says:

    To quote Paul Simon ” Going to the candidate’s debate. Laugh about it, shout about it. When you have to choose, anyway you look at it you loose.”

    In this field I can’t even hold my nose and mark a box.

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  9. Grapevines says:

    It really does not matter who runs because it’s already a foregone conclusion who the winner is going to be. And we the public are not going to be any better off because of it. Just another liberal to kick the can down the road instead of addressing the problem.

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  10. Camino Alto says:

    The major backers of Republican candidates are all behind Huffman this go-round. He is a Democrat in name only. Huffman is dancing with the 1% and will continue to do so.

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  11. Crowd(control)ed? says:

    It’s quite pitiful how the PD swoons over establishment pick JROD Huffman. It would not be a surprise to discover that some of his donors have ties to “Halifax.” This would be yet further proof of the agenda behind the disgusting propaganda that covers its pages daily.

    As for the other candidates, Stacey Lawson is an even bigger hoax than Huffman. Unfortunately I have to agree with the paper on this one.

    Norman Solomon on the other hand plays the hardcore liberal but I realized what his deal was when he boasted about the Van Jones endorsement, who many know is backed by the same kind of interests as the Huffman and others in the race.

    What I think we have here is a continuation of the political show that convinces people they live in a “free” society. The only person who at all seemed worth of voting for if the election wasn’t bought off is Dr. Courtney, although there’s no way he’ll make it past the primary.

    With Lynn Woolsey leaving office, it looks like the establishment is ready to move in and completely take out what remains of our freedoms…

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  12. GAJ says:

    Unfortunately Clarke and Roberts don’t stand a chance so it will be activism over pragmatism as usual.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 6

  13. Liz says:

    I just love how with the press democrat it’s always Dem’s vote for Dem’s and Rep always vote for Rep with no cross over whatsoever. And how they never factor in the DTS voters or the independent voters. Oh and how they assume that everyone votes in the june election. Generally in June more Republicans turn out to vote than Dem’s.
    I will agree however that Huffman will probably win this race. Glad I am not in that district.

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