Three Democrats are vying to represent Marin County in the state Senate—incumbent Carole Migden, Assemblyman Mark Leno and former Assemblyman Joe Nation. Marin is in California’s Third Senate District, which also includes western San Francisco and southern Sonoma County. About 744,000 people live in the district, 472,500 of them registered voters. Over half of those voters live in San Francisco, about a third live in Marin and the remaining 18 percent reside in Sonoma. Migden and Leno are from San Francisco; Nation recently moved to Sonoma from Marin.
It’s interesting to consider how the geography of the district might influence the results of the June 3 primary election. Will Migden and Leno split the San Francisco vote, while Nation captures the North Bay electorate and wins handily? Sounds logical, but Nation entered the fray late and hasn’t made much political news in the two years he’s been out of office. Will Migden, a fiery competitor, cruise to victory as incumbents often do? The political winds haven’t been at her back of late. That leaves Leno. He’s neither the four-year incumbent who’s endured turbulent times nor the local boy made good. Will being a new political voice in the North Bay help him? Or hold him back?
“It’s going to be a real barn burner,” says attorney Dick Spotswood, former Mill Valley mayor, opinion page columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and the county’s unofficial political pundit. He maintains the number to watch is not voter registration, but turnout. “Demographics such as age and affluence point to north-of-the-bridge districts having a higher turnout than their urban counterparts, and that’s what counts,” Spotswood says. “It’s been a hard-fought campaign among three Sacramento veterans.”
What Migden, Leno and Nation have in common is that all served six years in the state Assembly, all are in their fifties (Nation is 51, Leno 56, Migden 59) and all, of course, are Democrats. Given the district’s overwhelmingly Democratic and Independent registration (Independents can vote Republican or Democrat in a primary election), whoever wins the primary is all but assured of winning the seat in November’s general election.
We asked each candidate two questions:
• What are Marin County’s three most pressing problems?
• How are you best qualified to resolve them?
Read on and listen for the similarities and the differences in their answers.
Political Experience: Third District, Senate, 2004 to present; state Board of Equalization, 2002 to 2004; Third District, Assembly, 1996 to 2002; San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 1990 to 1995.
Major Endorsements: U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; Rep. Lynn Woolsey; Marin County Supervisors Hal Brown, Judy Arnold, Susan Adams and Steve Kinsey.
Campaign Statement: “Marin County faces challenges on many different fronts including a dearth of affordable housing stock, increased traffic congestion, and the need for major infrastructure upgrades of levees and sewer systems. I delivered real solutions on these issues through legislation and budgetary negotiations, whether it was securing $105 million for Highway 101 or bringing back $25 million to the county for affordable housing services through legislation (SB418 in 2007).
“However, I would have to say that the three most pressing issues facing Marin County currently are the continued protection of the environment, cuts to education funding, and access to truly affordable health care.
“On the environment, I authored the nation’s strongest clean water act and saved thousand of ancient redwoods with legislation securing the purchase of the Headwaters Forest. Moreover, I wrote the law that will bring greener and cheaper power to Marin County through community choice aggregation. I am proud that Marin County is moving forward with a model to realize a public green power system as provided by my work.
“On school funding, I enacted a state law (SB 556 in 2005) to ensure that the Novato schools are backfilled $500,000 annually for revenue losses to charter schools. Moreover, I will continue to stand with teachers and parents at rallies in Ross Valley, Novato and San Rafael to fight the governor’s budget cuts. I refuse to accept a proposal that hands out hundreds of pink slips to Marin teachers.
“On health care reform, I have led the state by enacting laws that give patients whose care has been denied by their HMO the ability to seek review from an independent group of doctors. I am a coauthor of Single Payer Healthcare (SB 840), a bill that would bypass the insurance industry to ensure that every California receives coverage. I created California’s Safe Needles program to ensure that accidental needle sticks do not infect nurses. I am extremely proud to have made California the first state in the nation to formally oppose President Bush’s escalation of the war in Iraq. This war costs more each week than what it would cost to provide health care to every Californian.
“On these and other fronts I am proud of my work for Marin County. I would be honored to continue to do this work and would love the opportunity to continue to deliver for the residents of Marin.”
Political Experience: Third District, Assembly, 2000 to 2006; Marin Municipal Water District, director, 1992 to 2000.
Major Endorsements: Thirty current or former city and county leaders, 50 current or former school district trustees, and 20 community leaders, all from Marin and Sonoma.
Campaign Statement: “I believe that protecting our environment is one of the most important issues facing not only Marin County, but this district, this state, this country and this planet. It is the primary reason I am running for the state Senate. As a climate change adviser for an environmental consulting firm and teacher on climate change policy at Stanford University, I know we can make real progress in solving our environmental crisis.
“As an Assembly member representing Marin and Sonoma counties, I coauthored one of the most aggressive global warming pieces of legislation passed in this country, AB 32. As state senator, I will continue this work and fight for policies to develop clean alternative energy sources and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I will author legislation requiring carbon labeling of products to let consumers know how much global warming pollution is emitted by products they buy.
“I have lived in the North Bay nearly all my adult life and can tell you the progressive thinking of Marin residents puts us in a unique position to lead the state on environmental health. Our cancer rate is staggering; there are toxins in the air and water that are making us sick. We absolutely must tackle this problem head-on, and right now.
“Also, as a parent of two daughters who are attending Marin public schools, I know firsthand the importance of protecting education funding. While I was in the Assembly, the governor proposed to suspend Prop. 98, the constitutional guarantee to fund public schools and increase per-pupil funding to greater than the national average. I opposed the governor’s proposal and the suspension. I’ve pledged to again oppose any suspension. Education is vital to the future of our state and our community. By destroying our children’s education, we will destroy their future chances of providing for themselves and their community. Undermining education is a dangerous path and I won’t support going in that direction.
“Finally, health care is not a privilege, but should be a right for every Californian. I fought to pass universal health care in the assembly, and I will do it again. My plan closely resembles those advanced by Senators Clinton and Obama. My goal is to develop a system of shared responsibility among government, employers and individuals, so that everyone has a stake in the outcome.”
Political Experience: Thirteenth District (eastern San Francisco), Assembly, 2002 to present; San Francisco Board of Supervisors, 1998 to 2002.
Major Endorsements: Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and 16 current Assembly members; former state Treasurer Phil Angelides and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese (a former rival candidate); and Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan.
Campaign Statement: “I believe the most pressing problems Marin faces today are the breakdown of our health care system, the lost prioritization of education, and the threat climate change presents to our environment.
“Regarding California’s health care system, nearly 6.5 million Californians—almost one in five—have no health insurance and those who do are required to pay far too much only to receive inadequate care and minimal coverage.
“SB 840—the Single-Payer Universal Health Care Act—embodies the comprehensive plan we need to provide health care for all. I am proud to be a principal coauthor and dedicated proponent of Sen. Shelia Kuehl’s bill and will take up her leadership on this issue (she’ll be termed out this year) if elected to the state Senate.
“California is the world’s eighth-largest economy, yet our education system doesn’t reflect this strength. California ranks 46th out of 50 states in per-pupil spending. Next year we will spend more on incarcerating criminals than on our colleges and universities. This is unacceptable.
“One of the best solutions to the state’s financial crisis is restoring the 50-year-old Vehicle License Fee that Gov. Schwarzenegger eliminated. This irresponsible act has cost California more than $6 billion annually and it is the reason 100,000 teachers may be laid off this year.
“My record of supporting education is strong and that’s why both the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have endorsed my candidacy.
“There is no issue more important to our global community than climate change. I have earned a 100 percent rating from the California Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and Environment California. Further, I have authored and have enacted more solar energy legislation than any other member of the state Legislature. Because of my work on renewable energy, I recently received Vote Solar’s Legislator of the Year award, and I received Friends of the Earth’s Legislator of the Year award on May 16.
“In conclusion, I’m particularly proud of recently coauthoring and seeing signed into law, with Assemblyman Jared Huffman, AB 1056, the California Ocean Protection Act. In addition, I have teamed up with Assemblyman Huffman, Friends of the Earth, and Baykeeper to author the Clean Water Act of 2008, AB 2986.”