As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CA-10 Impressions

The CDP Convention didn't only kick off the start of the 2010 Governor's race, but the start of the various Congressional campaigns throughout California as well. I'm going to have a full cattle call tomorrow, with my opening rankings for the races, both the potential primaries and the races with Republican incumbents. But I wanted to give the special elections some attention in a separate post. In CA-32, we have an election in just a few weeks on May 19, and Judy Chu has racked up a lot of local endorsements, while Gil Cedillo has made the worst kind of headlines over campaign spending and personal gifts. Given the demographics of the district, I think it'll be a close race either way.

But I wanted to hone in on the upcoming special election in CA-10, because I had the chance to talk with three of the five announced Democratic candidates while up in Sacramento. We don't know when Ellen Tauscher will be confirmed as a State Department undersecretary, and thus when the seat will open up and when the election will be scheduled. What we do know is that there are several good candidates in the race, all of whom offered interesting perspectives at the convention.

Mark DeSaulnier was anointed the successor to Tauscher inside the district by the local establishment, but since other candidates have jumped into the race, he's going to have to work for his victory. And that's absolutely as it should be. But though you would expect someone who appeared to be riding endorsement coattails to Congress to be some kind of creature of the establishment, I and some of my colleagues did not get that impression when we cornered DeSaulnier at the Netroots Nation Party last Friday night. DeSaulnier is an ex-Republican who joined the party as a youth in Massachusetts to vote for Edward Brooke, the first African-American Senator elected by popular vote in the United States. DeSaulnier was a liberal Republican then and grew far more progressive as he went on, eventually leaving Massachusetts to get out of politics (he was the son of a political family whose name was besmirched by corruption charges). But the bug caught him and he returned. DeSaulnier talked to us about revitalizing the public square, about reversing the trends found in Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone, and about how the Internet and blogs can go a long way toward doing that. He talked about how his first instinct with the special election was to tell the Republicans to go hang on their crappy deal. He talked about the importance of transportation in his district, which includes several bedroom communities, and how that can connect to solving our energy problem. He seemed like a serious and earnest public servant who was committed to using public policy as a lever to make progressive change.

On that score, he has a formidable opponent in Lt. Governor John Garamendi, who has been in the policy game for over 30 years. At a late-afternoon meeting, Garamendi reminded bloggers that he created the first tax credits for solar and wind energy in 1978, leading to the windmills in the Altamont Pass that stand to this day. He first looked at cap and trade in the early 1990s when he helped write some of the Clinton Administration briefs (while working in the Interior Department) for the Kyoto Protocols. He recalled his international peace efforts in Ethiopia and the Congo. He threw out dates from 15, 20 and 30 years ago talking about all the legislation with which he has been intimately involved, from energy to health care to the insurance industry to regulatory reform to the environment. He brings a unique and diverse skill set and a deep knowledge of the issues. And he can drill down to particulars. On health care, while he supports a single payer plan as the most efficient and effective policy, he can see a role for private insurance to play, as an add-on or a fiscal intermediary (but "we won't allow them to rip the system off"). However, he wants to make sure that whatever comes out of Congress, which is more likely to be a lesser reform, cannot be gamed by the insurance companies. "ERISA has become a great way for insurers to avoid the rules. A real guaranteed issue (where companies cannot deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition) would be fine, but a sham guaranteed issue would just be ERISA II, which the states wouldn't be able to fix. So the states can help, they can do things, but they cannot get there without real federal action."

Garamendi, as a knowledgeable figure, would be an asset in what he called "preparing the public to deal with" the realities of issues like climate change and rising sea levels. We have to adapt in California to an already-changing climate, and making the necessary changes will require leadership and authority, telling the public that they must "use the wealth of the nation to protect themselves." Garamendi projects a seriousness and a knowledge that would be crucial to this effort - you tend to believe him when he tells you "there are places in this state where we should not be building." On the question of CA-10 being a moderate district, his view is that the district has a set of issues, which you take into account, and then you try to conform those views with the facts and personal opinions, and "try to get the district to see your side - that's the essence of political leadership."

In addition to the establishment endorsee and the policy heavyweight, there's the fresh perspective of an Anthony Woods, who has this amazing bio (two tours in Iraq, biked cross-country for Habitat for Humanity, Harvard's Kennedy School, took a stand by coming out to protest the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy) and yet it new to the political scene. In my interview with Woods you saw that he has a head for public policy. I view him as a compelling story who can mature into becoming a compelling candidate. He has something of a low-key demeanor that will have to change for the stump. But I was definitely impressed with his leadership ability, his confidence, and his expressed desire to ride that wave of change sweeping the country and enter Washington without the baggage of the same old politicians pushing the same old ideas.

There's also Joan Buchanan and Adriel Hampton, and this should be an extremely interesting race throughout the summer, as we may even get a serious policy debate about where to best take the country.

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