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Susan Adams Wants to Heal the House

With a Ph.D. in healthcare, Marin Supervisor hopes her nursing experience will help her in her run for Congress.

“It’s a testament to our staff that we didn’t bring out angry people from one of the affected districts.” Marin County Board of Supervisor’s President Susan Adams is quick to share credit over a largely angst-free, late-July vote to approve various Marin County-wide districting adjustments.

With only 10 people and four supervisors in the Civic Center board chambers, Adams’s adjourns the meeting to laud the county for a redistricting plan so non-controversial, she observes, “that not a single person testified in the open hearing.”

“How different from the state and national governments,” Adams muses as she heads for her Civic Center office. Part of the advantage she notes, is Marin’s “special status” as a “wonderful, low-debt, high-bond-rating county.”

This more or less unique economic status, Adams affirms, helps free Marin from the party politics responsible for what she calls “America’s current political bad-patch.”

It is a proposition that Adams will be testing as in California’s 6th Congressional District. One thing is certain, if anyone can bring a healer's touch to a dysfunctional political system, it is Adams, a healthcare professional with a master’s degree in nursing, a 1998 Ph.D., and a dissertation addressing the care of pregnant women and new mothers addicted to crack cocaine. Her healthcare-related political mantra is simple and powerful: “Healthy Planet, Healthy People.”

It was in part because of what she saw as the failing American healthcare system that led Adams to get into politics in the first place, winning a seat on the Marin County Board of Supervisors in 2002. “I jumped in,” she recalls, “because nobody else was talking about healthcare,” which she identifies as “the number one reason for bankruptcy in the U.S.”

Adams remains sharply critical of the national healthcare system. It is, she contends, “the most expensive system in the world,” for which “we spend twice as much money and don’t live nearly as long as other industrialized nations.”

Since her election, Adams played a major role in such health-related projects as the county’s new in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, the creation of bicycle routes and bike parking areas, organic gardens in county schools and other advanced health and welfare-related schemes.

More than bringing a healthcare focus to elected office, however, Adams singles out her ability to bring Marinites together in a wide variety of legislative realms. Among these is her work gaining community buy-in to reopen San Rafael’s . Adams dug deep, taking a course in mining operations in order to build her knowledge base. This deeper understanding enabled Adams to find a solution satisfactory both to residents and quarry operators.

“I’ve been able to help reach agreements at a local level,” she says of her “persistence and ability to work both sides of an issue” while on the board. It is an ability to help achieve compromise that, she believes she “can translate to Washington, D.C.”

First, of course, Adams must win what will be a very tough and expensive race against Assemblyman Jared Huffman, activist Norman Solomon and other potential candidates including former Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliot, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and others. It is also a race in which the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, will have to go through a subsequent run-off. This new twist has the potential to change the race’s calculus in a number of unpredictable ways.  

Adams’s response will be a campaign geography that seeks to make her the home team.

"I’m the only candidate with such deep roots,” Adams contends about her upbringing as a fifth-generation San Franciscan, Lowell High School graduate, as well as member of a fourth-generation California ranching clan with a Mendocino County spread near Boonville. She laughingly denies being fluent in “Boont,” the weird, sub-dialect spoken around Boonville and the Anderson Valley.

Adams’s roots have a modern caste. Some of her family members lived and are buried in northern coastal California, including her 24-year-old nephew, Thomas Adams, a California Highway Patrol Officer who was killed in February in a car crash near Eureka.

In general, Adams feels that her resume “will be attractive to people in the north counties” regardless of the shape of the upcoming redistricting. And though Adams’ parents were Republicans, she identifies deeply with the bi-partisan, ‘50s and ‘60s “golden age” under the benign governance of Pat Brown.

Adams also references her brother, Michael, a non-com in the Air Force, who is currently on his sixth deployment overseas. His service has led her to focus on issues such as, Adams notes, “a whole new onslaught of homeless veterans.” It is to these and other vets, she says, “that we owe a debt that includes helping them reintegrate into society.” Adams also seems ready to pick up the anti-war cudgel wielded by Lynn Wolsey, at least to the extent, Adams notes, “that we begin to invest at home, rather than abroad.”

What may be Adams' political “ace-in-the-hole” is her close ties to state healthcare organizations including the California Nurses Association. The CNA is a hugely powerful political force in its own right, representing many of the 2 percent of the California population engaged in healthcare occupations. Anyone who watched the CNA and its labor allies dismantle Republican senate and gubernatorial hopefuls Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in the 2010 election understands the importance of having California’s nurses on your side.

Neither the nurses nor statewide labor unions have endorsed for the 6th Congressional District, but it is hard to see how Adams can win without endorsements and a large infusion of cash from her medical and healthcare allies.

Adams is also pitching her campaign towards women, believing that the loss of Woolsey could mean one less seat in the House held by a woman. “We don’t want to lose a woman’s seat,” she says.

Bill Bagley, the legendary former State Assemblyman, lobbyist and Democratic Marin County’s favorite Republican, says that virtually any geographic identifier such as “Marin County Supervisor,” “Sonoma County Assemblyman,” or “Mayor of Petaluma” will automatically lose votes in other geographic areas. Bagley, with tongue slightly in cheek, said he owes his own electoral success to identifying himself on the ballot simply as “Attorney at Law,” at a time, he adds, “when lawyers were still regarded socially as being ahead of used car salesmen.”      

Tina McMillan August 06, 2011 at 05:03 AM
Matt Susan Adams is your Supervisor if you are from San Rafael, my district is Novato and so Judy Arnold is my Supervisor. My experience is that Jared Huffman has been responsive to the people that elected him as well as those that may not have. I am sure you have reasons for feeling the same about Susan Adams but so far the articles in the Patch have not addressed the issues so much as glorified the candidates. I would like to have an article that compares each candidate's point of view on specific issues so we can get a look at how they will vote if they are elected. This is the litmus test I am interested in. There are people who may feel that Norman Solomon has an even stronger record than Susan Adams when it comes to protecting the environment and taking a stand against war. It just depends what issues are most important to each voter. I believe the integrity of all the candidates is beyond reproach. So it comes down to issues.
Doris Law Bagley August 06, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Susan has been and is a great Marin Supervisosr. She has what Congress needs some "common sense." I like ( and I hope Susan will supports) the measure that the California Nurses Association is behind that would tax Wall Street on each of their trades. Barbara Boxer went from Marin Supervisor to Concress to the US Senate. Susan Adam you have my support and best wishes.
Mark Schoenbaum August 07, 2011 at 12:52 AM
No Granny, I prefer not to have yet another special interest thinking that their campaign donations and free campaign workers can influence a politician into making sure that they vote the way they want them to when their interests are at stake. This is no democracy, this is anti-democracy. This is the want of the few overridding the needs of the many. This is bribary. Unions served their purpose a hundred years ago. Now they only serve their best interest at the expense of the public. Looks like your opionions are stuck in the early nineteen hundreds as well.
Tea bags for Liberty August 12, 2011 at 03:51 AM
She is a poor choice. no understanding of the deficits and pension issues!
Aubrey Wade September 25, 2011 at 04:43 AM
What drivel some of these nasty comments are. Why don't you just ask for a nice table that lists all the candidates, and quotes them on their positions on issues? Why imagine or criticize without hard data? I'm a nurse with a similar background to Susan, so I'm naturally biased ~ almost all nurses begin with a strong sense of desire to help in any way, and pair that with ethics as their primary value. That's why we win that silly contest every year for "most ethical profession". Why not find any way possible to ameliorate the tawdry mess that is greedy politics and posturing of those desperately clinging to an imagined power stance? Nurses think of others before themselves, usually. I've observed Susan Adams functioning that way for 7 years, in many situations. I'll bet all my nurse friends, union or not, will be delighted to think we might actually get our voice heard when Lynn Woolsey's gone. Please vote for Susan!

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