If you’re looking for the arch, absolute, antipodal response to Tuesday’s Republican Party Presidential debate at Dartmouth College, look no further than last week's debate among eight candidates vying to represent the reapportioned 2nd Congressional District.
Billed as “the first multi-party candidate forum For California Congressional District 2,” the debate was held in the downtown Petaluma studios of Pixel Corp., which co-produced it with California North Coast Media, a group affiliated with Petaluma Community Access.
It was clear from the outset that has attracted politicos from across the geographically massive district, which stretches from the north anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge and up the entire 286-mile California coastline to Crescent City and the Oregon border. Central casting could not have picked a more representatively liberal Northern California group of candidates.
That cast included smooth, accomplished state ; , whose life seemed like a dress rehearsal for this run for Congress; , the nurse/ professor/Marin County Supervisor who views her career as a healthcare professional as part of a continuum of good government services; , whose early life struggles as a Hispanic single mother seemed to spark in her the need to do good; , the high-tech business exec whose calling card includes the creation of high tech jobs across the region; and Dr. William Courtney, who is using the election to highlight the wonders of hemp and medical marijuana.
The race's Republican-in-reverse motif also included an actual Republican, , who seemed intent on letting his opponents know that he knew the difference between local, statewide and national political responsibilities, refreshingly ducking questions unless they had to do with the actual business of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The forum began with a bit of controversy, as North Coast New Green America Party activist Andy Caffrey said he was none too pleased that he hadn't been told about the debate until that morning. Caffrey had declared his candidacy in February and the debate's co-hosts Connie Madden and Jason Davies wisely decided to split the difference. With the agreement of the seven other candidates, Caffrey was allowed a two-minute introduction, after which he stood down and let the other candidates give their opening statements and answer questions.
In doing so, Caffrey got off one of the best lines of the evening with his Gore Vidal-esque call to “retreat the American empire” and asking President Obama to declare a national emergency in the face of what Caffrey viewed as a global environmental and economic crisis.
The questions were posed by the hosts, who frankly looked a bit frazzled. But Madden and Davies were nevertheless able to take advantage of their stage-fright to run a refreshingly ego-less debate.
Seated in a semicircle behind the hosts, the candidates each took their turns at answering the same question, creating plenty of déjà vu. The “greener than thou” litanies were strangely similar to, although the exact reverse of, national Republican battle-cries on issues like abortion, government regulation, education and climate change.
It seems likely that Caffrey, Roberts, Courtney and Renee will wind up as the Democratic Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum, enforcing ideological purity but incapable of putting together what would be a winning coalition.
There were the “resume candidates” like Huffman, who wanted to draw attention to his broad legislative agenda, and Lawson who tailored each answer to reflect her role as a business leader and the only candidate who, in her words, actually has created “thousands of jobs.”
There were also what might be called the “lifestyle” candidates, including Renée and Adams, the latter of whom polished her working class bona fides by admitting to “having emptied a few bedpans” and emphasized the idea of “sending a nurse to Washington to heal the government.” Courtney and Solomon are similarly clever and corresponding in a weird way to doctrinaire Republicans like Gingrich, Romney and Huntsman.
Solomon believes that the nation is suffering from what he calls “a dire shortage of Democracy” and tried to distinguish himself by pushing his Middle Eastern foreign policy experiences and managing to work his friend and supporter Sean Penn into his appeal for liberal support.
In the end, this race likely hinges on money and creativity.
For money, look to Huffman, Lawson and Roberts. For creativity, keep an eye on Solomon. His voter card is actually a seed packet containing several dozen Non-GMO Lemon Queen sunflower seeds that, if planted today, will, at very least, make a crackerjack, organic reminder to vote in District 2 on Election Day where the large number of candidates actually magnifies the importance of each vote.