Mike McGuire, his election assured, remains little known in Marin

03/20/2014

The election of Sonoma Supervisor Mike McGuire as state senator for California’s Second District can be predicted with near certainty, even though the primary isn’t until June 3 and McGuire won’t be officially elected until November 4. 

State Senator Noreen Evans previously oversaw the district—created in 2010 through redistricting and stretching from Marin County to the Oregon border—but she is retiring this year. Several prominent Democrats initially declared that they would run for the seat, but all have withdrawn. In some cases, they have endorsed McGuire, as have more than 80 elected officials. Republican Laurence Wiesner is running, but has failed two previous attempts in this very blue region. Attorney Harry Lehmann, an independent, who has been a prominent critic of affordable housing proposals in Novato, has also entered the race. 

Although McGuire is very popular in Sonoma County, he is almost unknown in Marin. Local media have paid little attention to this seat for many years, largely because Point Reyes National Seashore and other federally owned lands are a major part of the West Marin landscape, bringing greater attention to national officials. One of these is Jared Huffman, the congressman who represents Marin and much of the same territory as the Second District. Like McGuire, who appears to be his protégé, Huffman can be nearly certain of his re-election this year. Unlike Huffman, McGuire presents Marin voters with a lesser-known track record.

McGuire has shown that he is an adept politician. He started as the president of his high school class, and at age 19 he became the youngest person ever elected to the local school board, where he also served as president. Not long afterwards he was elected to the Healdsburg City Council, where he remained six years, some of the time as mayor. In 2010 he became a Sonoma County supervisor. Some people, including a popular political columnist, have criticized him for having spent so much of his life in politics and therefore not having real-world experience. 

So what’s the big deal about this state election, if there is no controversy over McGuire? Despite the predominance of federal jurisdiction in West Marin, the state controls many essential aspects of life in the region. Among other things, there are prominent state parks and facilities, including Samuel P. Taylor and Tomales Bay State Parks and the Marconi Conference Center. Five years ago, then Governor Schwarzenegger threatened to shut down a good portion of state parks to reduce the state’s financial crisis during the Great Recession. Those parks have survived in Marin, due in some measure to state legislators’ responses. 

Many roads in the area are operated and maintained by the state. There has been increasing discontent over gridlock on Highway 101, a solution to which may involve legislative action. Other important issues intertwined with transportation are housing and commercial development along the coast and in the inland corridor of the Second District. The state legislature will be called upon to find remedies for these challenging issues.

Among McGuire’s principal concerns are the water shortage caused by the drought and rising sea levels that both threaten development and contaminate fresh ground water sources needed for agriculture and human consumption. A related threat to the water supply is fracking, partly because of the tremendous amount of water involved, partly because of resulting water contamination and air pollution. McGuire is unequivocal in his opposition to fracking. 

As a state legislator, McGuire promises to develop positive proposals to deal with both freshwater shortages and sea-level rise. He feels that in addition to conservation, other measures are needed to protect available water supplies. As an example he points to efforts in one Southern California county to purify wastewater and return it to the aquifer. He has not endorsed this particular approach, but says inventive solutions like it are needed. 

Another water-related controversy surrounds Governor Brown’s proposal to build two 30-mile tunnels, at a cost of billions of dollars, to provide water to agricultural regions in Central California and for general consumption in the south. McGuire is adamantly opposed to the peripheral tunnel project. 

The protection of the Pacific Coast from seawater damage is an equally challenging problem that McGuire wants to address. The California Coastal Commission has a lot to say about what happens in this arena, and it is certain that a bill or bills will come before the state legislature seeking to increase the commission’s power. A major reason a similar bill failed last year was action by State Assemblyman Marc Levine, who represents this area, but Levine promises to sponsor a new bill that eliminates provisions he found objectionable. The new state senator will also play an important role in this proposed legislation. 

The commission currently must get a court order to levy fines for violations, but it wants to be able to levy fines without first going to court. Many people in West Marin are skeptical about this shift. They complain that the commission has unjustly persecuted Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, for example, and that court oversight is necessary to assure fairness and due process. Although McGuire has steadfastly refused to take sides in the controversy over the oyster company, claiming that federal courts will settle the matter, he does support the commission’s efforts to directly impose fines without judicial review.

Those interested in learning more about soon-to-be Senator McGuire can listen to a half-hour interview with him, which aired on Wednesday, March 19 on KWMR’s new series, Politics 101. The show includes a half-hour interview with Supervisor Steve Kinsey—who spoke about critical county issues, including the impact of the new county budget on West Marin—and is archived and available at kwmr.org. Politics 101 airs from 1 to 2 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month at 90.5 FM in Point Reyes Station and 89.9 FM in Bolinas. On May 21, Supervisor Susan Adams and her challenger, San Rafael City Councilman Damon Connolly, will be interviewed. Their race has serious implications for the future of affordable housing in Marin County. Other future shows will feature Congressman Huffman, as well as other elected officials and their challengers.

 

Herb Kutchins, an Inverness Park resident, is still enrolled in Politics 101.