By Ryan Burns
North Coast Journal
In a wide-open race, candidates sell charming personas to romance the electorate
(MARCH 15, 2012) Considering how unpopular the U.S. Congress is these days, it’s kind of surprising that anyone wants to join its ranks. Last month, Congress’ job-approval rating reached a historic low-water mark of just 10 percent, according to a Gallup survey. And yet here on the North Coast we find ourselves in the midst of the most exciting — and crowded — Congressional primary race in more than a decade...(for full article text, click here)
Candidate: Jared Huffman
Persona: The Anointed
Hometown: San Rafael
Day job: State Assemblyman
Campaign contributions through Dec. 31:
Jared Huffman grew up in Independence, Mo., Harry S. Truman’s hometown, and as a kid he’d sometimes see the former president walking around the town square. “He was really a hero of mine from a very young age,” said Huffman, who was 8 years old when the ex-president died. Just a boy and already he idolized Truman, a Democrat who championed civil rights, battled Joseph McCarthy, supported workers’ unions, cut defense spending and advocated for national health insurance — in 1948.
That’s the type of shining credential that makes Huffman seem like The Chosen One in this race. The assemblyman from California’s 6th District has already perfected the demeanor of a congressman. He looks the part. He acts the part. And the Democratic hierarchy has evidently chosen him for advancement.
As a civil rights attorney, an environmental attorney and a legislator, Huffman has made friends in high places while assembling an impressive résumé. He has passed more than 60 pieces of legislation including ocean and fisheries protections, renewable energy bills and health care industry reforms. He loves fishing and home winemaking, has a beautiful family and once played on the World Champion USA Volleyball team. With blue eyes, perfect teeth and the dulcet voice of a network news anchor, Jared Huffman may as well have been dreamed up by the Democratic Party and assembled in a lab.
Huffman claimed frontrunner status early in the race by nabbing endorsements from Mike Thompson, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, fellow Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, numerous civic and community organizations and literally hundreds of elected officials.
Sitting in a window seat at Ramone’s in Old Town Eureka, Huffman spoke at length about numerous policy issues. He supported Prop. 19 and said marijuana legalization should be a long-term goal. He’d like to see loopholes closed in the corporate tax code and supports a transaction tax on Wall Street. Asked about jobs he said that consumer demand and consumer confidence need to be restored. “One of the biggest things holding back consumer confidence is this lingering mortgage foreclosure crisis.” He suggested perhaps charging banks that are “sitting on a record amount of cash at the Federal Reserve” and assessing fees on lenders that refuse to work with underwater borrowers.
There’s an Obama-like polish to his oratory, an offhanded eloquence that allows him to unroll long, artful sentences, using phrases like “creative debt-equity sharing arrangements” and “a more nimble estate tax” without sounding pretentious. The downside, as with Obama, is that his polish can be read as detachment. Huffman may seem like the perfect politician, but right now politicians aren’t especially popular.
His opponents, particularly Norman Solomon, have pointed to certain campaign contributions. The top donor to Huffman’s congressional campaign is the Fisher family, which owns The Gap as well as Mendocino and Humboldt Redwood companies. He also took money from two professional lobbyists, though he says they don’t lobby him directly. While running for Assembly in 2008 Huffman accepted donations from large corporations including PG&E, AT&T and Chevron, and from political action committees (PACs) representing the insurance industry, an oil marketers association, Wells Fargo and more.
Huffman argued that his legislative record proves he’s not beholden to corporate interests, adding that he has supported campaign finance reform throughout his career. He coauthored the California Disclose Act, which would have increased transparency in political ads had it not been shot down by Republicans earlier this year. And he supports a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for corporate political spending.
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