Five Democratic candidates in the 2nd Congressional District race held their first debate Tuesday in Petaluma, highlighting their positions on everything from job creation to the SMART rail project to Palestinian statehood in an effort to differentiate themselves in what will likely be a tight race for Rep. Lynn Woolsey seat.
The candidates include:
- Stacey Lawson, a Harvard MBA who co-founded the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at UC Berkeley who on Tuesday emphasized job creation as a central part of her platform,
- Assemblymember Jared Huffman, a former environmental attorney who has represented Marin and Southern Sonoma in Sacramento since 2006 and who stressed his political experience, including overcoming Sacramento gridlock to pass more than 50 pieces of legislation,
- Norman Solomon, a media critic, labor and anti-war activist who repeated his pledge to not take any corporate donations as well as his experience on foreign policy issues, and questioned the notion that taking money from special interests was required to win elections,
- Marin County Supervisor and nurse practitioner Susan Adams who called healthcare the single most important issue facing the district and described herself as a healer who could “fix Washington’s sickness” and
- Petaluma Councilwoman and web designer Tiffany Renee, who recounted her experience as defender of women’s rights and described herself as someone who knew how to listen to constituents.
The newly created district is roughly 600 miles long, stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. And whoever is sent to Congress in 2012 may very well stay for a long time because of voters’ tendency to reelect incumbents.
Asked about what they thought posed the greatest threat to national security, many of the candidates said they were worried about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.
“We have tremendous threats that we face in terms of the deterioration of our own society, infrastructure, education, healthcare, housing and chronic unemployment,” said Norman Solomon. “Frankly a lot of the threat in Washington is well-meaning people who keep their mouths shut and pursue policies that are injurious to the well-being of our country.”
Lawson, who lives in San Rafael, said that in addition to growing poverty, she viewed energy dependence as the biggest threat to the country.
“We have a major addiction to foreign oil that causes a whole bunch of unfortunate ramifications in our foreign policy and we are not yet taking the steps we need to take and investing in alternative energy sources and renewables in order to thrive and be competitive in the global economy,” she said.
Another issue candidates were asked about was whether federal monies should be used to fund the , which has been plagued by cost overruns and, more recently, a recall effort. All said they favored federal assistance and said they continued to back the project because it would reduce traffic congestion and create construction jobs.
“One of the challenges we’re seeing now is that when SMART was put before the voters, there was only a quarter cent sales tax that was asked and it probably needed a half cent sales tax and now with the recession, we’re seeing the ramifications of that,” said Susan Adams.
“We have an opportunity with the current transportation bill to work to make sure SMART is eligible for federal funding, but we have to work with the SMART board to get it done,” said Renee, adding that she helped approve $3 million in extra funding for trails along the railway.
On the topic of helping small businesses stay afloat in the tough economy, the candidates focused on different things, with Solomon saying that fighting for a living wage was crucial to the economic sustainability of communities, while Huffman highlighted specific remedies such as Small Business Administration loans, an infrastructure bank and other policies that free up lending by financial institutions.
“Right now the biggest challenge to small business is having access to capital and that’s something that’s been frustrating to me as a state legislator because my toolbox has been fairly limited,” Huffman said, adding that more options were available on the federal level.
Lawson, meanwhile, called for a more transparent set of regulations for businesses.
“The economic recovery will be fueled by small business, it’s the engine of economic growth, so we need innovation support, incubators in every county as well as training our youth to be equipped in this very fast-paced, hyper connected environment.”
More than 100 people came out for the first 2nd Congressional District debate, held at Petaluma's City Hall and organized by Sonoma County Young Democrats. Terry Kolkey, a Petaluma resident and attorney, was one of the attendees and said he still hadn't made up his mind about who to back in the race.
"I'm looking for someone who not only has my values, but the strength and passion to stand up for them and the ability to express them," Kolkey said. "Democrats in Congress have been muted for too long."
The candidates, along with Republican candidate Daniel Roberts and Mendocino County pot doctor William Courtney, will reconvene Wednesday night at Pixel Corps studios in Petaluma for a 6pm debate that will stream online at cncm.us as well as be aired on public access and commercial television stations and YouTube.