Huffman, Solomon reflect on West Marin

05/03/2012

At first glance, congressional candidates Jared Huffman and Norman Solomon have much in common. Both are democrats hoping to inherit Lynn Woolsey’s seat, and both campaigns emphasize the need for job creation and environmental protection. They even share endorsements from Forests Forever, the California Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union.

Both men are vying for the second congressional seat, which, due to redistricting, now extends north to the Oregon border and is the largest district in California. Because of the state’s newly adopted Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, all candidates compete in one primary, regardless of party affiliation—meaning these two could be running against each other this November 6. Most polls show Huffman in the lead, with Solomon as a close second. Both weighed in on the issues that effect West Marin, and what they plan to do about them.

Originally from Independence, Missouri, Huffman was educated at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and has been a Marin resident for the past 22 years. Since his election to the state assembly in November 2006, he has earned a reputation as a legislator willing to “reach across the aisle” to forge consensus on seemingly intractable issues. He has received over 700 endorsements from an array of organizations and officials, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Marin County District Four Supervisor Steve Kinsey and the Sierra Club.

On housing and immigration issues in West Marin, Huffman had a lot to say.

“Immigration as a policy has a lot to do with the challenge to find affordable housing,” he said. “Efforts to address that challenge would include more flexible work visas and more opportunities to go between countries for work, so that year-round housing would not always be needed.” This problem has been far more difficult to tackle with a border policy in place that discourages workers from going back to Mexico, he added.

“With seasonal workers, there is a pressure to stay and not go home,” Huffman said. “I want to give undocumented workers a path to citizenship, and those that don’t want that should still benefit from a more flexible policy regarding agricultural workers.”
But even under such a policy, agricultural workers would still need seasonal housing—and a strong congressional advocate to help them get it.

“A member of Congress has to understand the unique character of West Marin, and agriculture is a strong element. It is unique because of the federal land ownership,” Huffman said.

A number of issues related to agriculture in Point Reyes National Seashore will come to a head under the watch of the next member of Congress, and Huffman said he hoped and believed there will be a solution that will respect environmental values and wilderness policy, while also sustaining local agriculture in the seashore.

“Agriculture should remain a part of the seashore in perpetuity,” he said. “Many who are leasing ranchlands are very nervous about how the park views that. I’m hoping that as the next member of Congress, I can secure assurances that can begin to ease the divisiveness and conflict around their long-term status.”

Local journalist and media critic Norman Solomon describes himself as being very much in synch with the politics that prevail in West Marin.

A resident of Inverness Park since 1998, Solomon is the author of a dozen books on media, political discourse and public policy, including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He has written extensively in opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the national co-chair of Healthcare Not Warfare, along with Congressman John Conyers and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association.

He has been endorsed by United Farm Workers of America co-founder Dolores Huerta, who just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Solomon described Huerta as “the one living person who epitomizes the struggle for human rights for farm workers” and said he was “really honored” by her endorsement. “We share that commitment to all working people, including farm workers,” he said. Solomon has also received endorsements from an array of other influential people, such as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, actor Sean Penn and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich.On providing affordable housing in West Marin, Solomon said it is part of the quest for a society that takes care of people, rather than Wall Street.

“We need a massive increase in Section Eight housing,” he said. “I’ve gone up and down the coast, talking with veterans and others who have been on the waiting list for years. It’s just wrong.”

He said this problem was compounded by the “outrageous profit-taking” by the major banks, via the foreclosure process.

“I am the candidate with the most emphasis on challenging Wall Street,” he said.

But creating affordable housing will require a drastic change in priorities coming out of Washington. ”The working population, homeowners and renters alike, need a strong advocate in Washington. This is about budget priorities.”

“We’re told we don’t have money,” he said, “But we have plenty of money for wars. Meanwhile, people are suffering.”

Solomon is also the co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay.

“That’s ‘green’ as in sustainable,” he explained. “What’s needed is massive public investment, and the money can come through a reordering of priorities.”
One of the measures that could help accomplish this would be a .25 percent “transaction” tax for Wall Street to create jobs. This would create $150 billion for job training and job creation, Solomon said.

“Traveling the coast from Marin to Eureka, I’ve seen roads, offices and public buildings that were all built as part of the New Deal of the 1930’s,” he said.

The hope is that the Green New Deal will help counter what Solomon calls the “tremendous assault” on the public sector.

About the debate over Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, he stressed the need for transparency and science with integrity.

“The park service has failed in both those realms,” he said. While he said he does not support politicians “trying to micromanage” such issues, he nevertheless underlined the importance of scientific integrity.

“Scientists can’t determine people’s values, and there are legitimate debates that people should have over maintaining a public ethos for parks. We need science that gives us information to base our debates on.”

Huffman agreed that the process and science must have integrity. While he conceded that there had been some questions regarding both, he said he hoped the parties were on a better track now. “I have good friends, good people on both sides.  It’s troubling to see it become so vitriolic.”

On health care in West Marin, Huffman said it would be important for the next member of Congress to understand the particular nature of rural needs.

“Rural clinics are really the frontline facilities for primary care for many people in that district, including West Marin,” he said. “Real pioneering work to provide innovative care is being done there, and I want to support that in any way I can.” Huffman is advocating for more emphasis on funding digital recordkeeping and telemedicine, and vows to defend the Affordable Care Act.

Solomon, whose wife, Cheryl Higgins, is a family nurse practitioner in Point Reyes Station, said he’ll fight for long-term funding for the Coastal Health Alliance, and will stand up against insurance and pharmaceutical conglomerates.

The candidates also commented on the state of schools in West Marin. Huffman said that he hopes to secure better funding for special education programs.

“The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is essentially an unfunded mandate,” he said of the federal program requiring kids with disabilities and learning difficulties to be given the opportunity to study in a mainstream school setting.

“As an unfunded mandate, a small district like Tomales can have a student or two [with special needs] literally break the bank, with teachers being laid off very abruptly,” Huffman said. “The federal government has a unique responsibility to prevent that from happening.”

Solomon stressed that while local teaching methods shouldn’t be micromanaged from Washington, local schools needed enough funding to “help them help themselves.”

“The money is there,” Solomon added, “we just need to rearrange our priorities.”
Democrats also running in the race are Marin County Board of Supervisors member Susan Adams, Andy Caffrey, William Courtney, Larry Fritzlan, businesswoman Stacey Lawson, and Petaluma Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee. The republican candidates are professor Mike Halliwell and investment company president Daniel Roberts.