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Lawson’s voting record, business tenure under fire

Democrat Stacey Lawson of San Rafael campaigns in Terra Linda for signatures to qualify her for the ballot in her bid for Congress. She is talking to Bill Werstler of San Rafael; in the background is Joe Diver, Lawson's field coordinator. (KENT PORTER/The Press Democrat)

By GUY KOVNER | The Press Democrat

A virtual unknown when she joined the North Coast congressional race last year, Stacey Lawson presented herself as a successful businesswoman and educator bringing her experience to the political arena.

Now, with absentee ballots arriving on doorsteps and the June 5 primary election less than a month away, questions from other Democratic candidates about Lawson’s business background and voting record are gaining prominence in the campaign.

That’s due in part to a consensus on most issues among the eight Democrats competing for votes in a liberal district, amplified by the perception that three of them — Lawson, Susan Adams and Norman Solomon — are competing for second place behind Assemblyman Jared Huffman.

Under California’s new top-two, open primary system, the two leading vote-getters, regardless of party, will move on to the November general election.

Two Democrats are likely to prevail in the primary, experts say, noting that two Republican candidates will split a minority portion of the vote.

At candidate forums since mid-April, Adams, a Marin County supervisor, and Solomon, a West Marin activist and author, have taken shots at Lawson, who made a sudden impact by raising about $740,000 in campaign cash, second only to Huffman with about $864,000.

Their ammunition includes Lawson’s record of voting four times in 12 elections as a San Francisco resident from 2003 to 2008, and her leadership of a high-end women’s purse company that failed to pay payroll taxes and manufactured its products in China.

Adams, who has a fraction of the other three contenders’ cash, said that Lawson’s poor voting record is reminiscent of Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s record, a factor in her 2010 loss to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Whitman, then a former CEO at eBay, came to electoral politics from the business world, as did Lawson.

“I think it’s an important indicator,” Adams said. “Women fought for the right to vote. There is no excuse (for not voting).”

Adams and Huffman have perfect voting records in Marin County since 1993 and 1995, respectively, and Solomon missed only once, in a local district election, in 21 elections since 1999.

Lawson acknowledged an “imperfect voting record” and called it a mistake. “Even missing one election is one too many,” she said in an interview Thursday.

At a candidates’ forum in April, Lawson said that she felt “disenfranchised” from the political system during the time she failed to vote, including the November, 2008 presidential election.

That was not long after Lawson had participated in Emerge California, a political candidate training program for Democratic women, in 2007, and donated $5,100 to Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2007-08.

In the interview, Lawson said she had campaigned for Clinton and then Obama, and had voted from overseas in November, 2008. But there is no record of her vote, she said, a fact confirmed by the San Francisco Department of Elections.

Solomon said he was “taken aback” by news reports of Lawson’s poor voting record. “It continues to be disturbing to me,” he said.

“Voting is sacred,” Solomon said.

Huffman, who is termed out of the Legislature this year, said he was not getting involved in “the crossfire between several of my opponents.”

Adams and an anonymous website called “Who Is Stacey Lawson?” have faulted Lawson’s role as board chairman of Chelsey Henry Inc., a Seattle-based women’s handbag and luggage retailer that failed to pay about $350,000 in payroll taxes from 2006 to 2009.

Huffman and spokesmen for Adams and Solomon said that neither the candidate nor the campaign had any connection with the website, which is also active on social media.

The website appears to represent a violation of campaign finance law because no independent expenditure for or against Lawson has been reported to the Federal Election Commission, Lawson spokesman Jason Liles said.

Chelsey Henry also outsourced product manufacturing to China, which Adams said was “not exactly a stunning or stellar example” of creating jobs in America.

The company, which is still in business, was eventually taken over by creditors, Adams said.

Lawson said Chelsey Henry, during her tenure as board chairwoman, came up short on cash for paying taxes during the recession. The board took “immediate action,” she said, requiring company managers to negotiate a payment plan with the Internal Revenue Service.

The company sold its assets and brand name to a creditor, and the tax liability is still being repaid, she said.

Lawson said her critics do not understand the hardship small companies endured during the recession, and are focusing on a single episode in her career.

She also said the criticisms amount to the “dirty attack politics” that have sullied public perception of the political process.

A Harvard Business School graduate in 1996, Lawson made $6 million on the sale of her first company and went on to corporate executive jobs paying as much as $300,000 a year.

Chelsey Henry did not “send jobs overseas,” but contracted with a Chinese company for product manufacturing, she said.

Her proposals to generate high-wage jobs on the North Coast are “the whole basis for my candidacy,” Lawson said. That does not include bringing the “needle trade” — the low-skilled manufacture of clothing and related items — back to the United States, she said.





13 Responses to “Lawson’s voting record, business tenure under fire”

  1. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Rick Santorum – “When Obama is inaugurated in January, you won’t have anyone else to blame but yourselves.”

    Well, not me… I see through him today, just as I saw right through his socialist heart four years ago. Voting for him now and voting for him then is just another train wreck, just like those that voted for the SMART train.

    The only thing Obama has accomplished so far, and the only real thing he can run on, is the ‘Blame Game’. He’s a shadow of the person that he originally campaigned as; it will be too bad for all of us that the voters here in Sonoma County and California won’t admit their mistake by helping to putting him in office the first time. Sure, he’ll push all the right buttons, pander to those that he needs to pander to, and he’ll get his second term. Then the rest of his facade will come off so he can implement the finishing touches of his ‘evolving socialist plan’…

    Can America really stand listening to him blaming everyone but himself for all his failures for another 4 years? Sure… he’s going to be handing out free ear plugs from his ObamaCare plan.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  2. Jean Anderson says:

    @Rick Santorum

    The sanity and intelligence of anyone who would vote again for an incompetent, irresponsible amateur and bozo like Obama really needs to be questioned. People who care deeply about this country and its economic and political future will stand up in November to boot out this pathetic lightweight who blames others for his huge inadequacies and failure of his stupid policies.

    Then Obama can get a show on MSNBC and reveal more of what a professional liar and woeful clown he is.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 23

  3. Jim says:

    Not that I’m defending her but can someone explain why her voting record matters?

    As i see it, someone who DID vote over the last decade should be attacked. Look at the complete fools that were voted into every single office in the state and country. A bunch of lying weasels. So someone running to be a lying weasel should be commended for voting for lying weasels??

    Example…look at Obama’s recent announcement (like we didn’t know already) that he supports gay marriage. I wonder what he really believes in. I wonder what ANY OF THEM actually believe in. All we know is that whatever way the wind blows is what they follow. It is all about being elected. When someone with an actual backbone, with actual beliefs runs for something let me know. Until then, who cares about whether a slimy politician voter for their equally slimy colleagues.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 18

  4. Rick Santorum says:

    @Ricardo Sorentino

    “…with Obama heading out the door.”

    Conservatives aren’t happy with Obama, liberals aren’t happy with Obama, the Republicans might have had a chance if ONLY it wasn’t full of wingnuts who have Mitt Romney in their corner.

    MR is going down in flames, as he should. Dog lovers ALONE will make sure he doesn’t get anywhere near the White House.

    When Obama is inaugurated in January, you won’t have anyone else to blame but yourselves.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 16

  5. Missy says:

    I can’t believe that I agree 100% with Lisa M but I do. Good one Lisa.

    Now wth happened to WATCH SONOMA COUNTY in this paper? It’s gone as a link, I only found this by going to the “Forums” link and it was there. Did the paper dump this area?

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Chief Looking Left – “When a candidate has to start explaining, its over.”

    Sure hope that holds true on a national level. Looks like another White House remodeling project is on the way, what with Obama headed out the door…

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 12

  7. Camino Alto says:

    re: Vetting

    You are absolutely right there. Huffman is the preferred candidate of the Republican Party. Just look at his list of endorsers and donors for proof. They’ve bought and paid for him.

    Norman Solomon will dance with the 99% faction, I’m sure of it.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 12

  8. Vetting says:

    Not only is it useful to have experienced candidates running, it also takes care of the public vetting….which unfortunately for Lawson has all but doomed her candidacy this time around. Had she already been politically active or held a pubic office, all of this stuff would have been old news and she would be making amends by demonstrating a commitment to vote and serve on a city council or something. My suggestion would be for her to abandon the race at this point and support one of the other candidates…it’s simply NOT her time.

    Stepping out at this juncture, ahead of the primary, would show that she is actually in touch with reality (despite her blogs which at times put that in question), and that she realizes that diluting votes for more viable candidates…seriously, at this point it’s looking like it did back when this started, a race between Huffman (the more conservative candidate), versus Solomon (the candidate for the 99%).

    If you want a professional politician who wheels and deal with Republicans, go with Huffman. If you want to put up a firewall against the Tea Party, go with Solomon. Simple as that. Voting for anyone else at this point is simply a wasted vote. Sorry, but that’s reality. In this election, consider doing what the PD did in the assembly race and support Solomon – Huffman is inevitable for November, but the point is who would you like to see run against him, being mindful that even if Solomon loses in November, if he makes it past the primary, it will simply help balance Huffman’s conservatism..remember, Republican Onita Pelligrini and Healy threw house parties for Huffman.

    And Republicans Brian Sobel and Mike Harris are also supporting Huffman. As a progressive Democrat (if you are one), why not at least help Norman steer the debate so even if Huffman wins, he will be pressured to adopt more progressive positions. That’s not voting against Huffman, that’s voting for a more spirited debate for November.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 27

  9. J L Anderson says:

    More proof that the North Coast going off the rails on the crazy train!

    What a collection of wing nuts.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 9

  10. 0 Representation says:

    I agree with Susan.. There isn’t any excuse for not voting. Lawson won’t be getting my vote.

    Thumb up 35 Thumb down 3

  11. Chief Looking Left says:

    When a candidate has to start explaining, its over.

    Thumb up 31 Thumb down 1

  12. Lisa Maldonado says:

    Just a quick reminder in American history for Ms Lawson. The “needle trade” and clothing manufacturing WERE good middle class jobs once upon a time in the US. After YEARS of union organizing , fighting for safe conditions and the right to bargain collectively for wages in this country,unions such as the ILWU and UNITE made sure that workers in clothing and other factories had benefits, health care and retirement. It was only when big business started the “race to the bottom” by moving to Mexico, China etc in order to exploit workers for the lowest dollar and avoid environmental and working regulations, did these become low wage jobs again. ALL work would be low wage work if many in business had their way. One of the few things standing between all of us working for pennies again is the right of workers to bargain collectively through unions.

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 15

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