News

Marin Assembly seat up for grabs

California’s 6th Assembly District is considered so liberal that even the
leading Republican touts himself as an environmentalist. Candidates in the
district, which spans all of Marin County and part of Sonoma County, hold
fund-raisers at mountain-biking parks and put pictures of egrets strolling
marshes on their Web pages.

And yet, the current assemblyman, Democrat Joe Nation, is considered a
conservative by some in the district and also is a member of the Assembly’s
moderate caucus, despite his efforts to tax oil companies and curb global
warming.

Nation followed former Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni, another moderate
Democrat who went on to serve as Governor Gray Davis’s education secretary.

So, why does this liberal district keep electing moderate candidates?

Part of the reason is the crowded Democratic primaries in this district.
And, often, those primaries have more than one strong liberal candidate and
one strong centrist Democrat in the mix. Moderates have thrived while
liberals have split the vote.

This year, there are five Democrat candidates for the Assembly seat; four of
them are considered serious contenders. Crowded primaries are the norm here.

In 2000, Nation emerged from the Democratic primary, edging out five other
credible candidates with a mere 26.5 percent of the vote in the open
primary.

Nation says he took advantage of the state’s open-primary laws during his
campaign, laws that since have changed. June’s contest will be a closed
primary, and the winning candidate likely will need at least 30 percent of
the vote to win. Nation freely admits that he did a mailer to over 20,000
“high-propensity” Republicans in order to attract crossover voters.
Marin County Supervisor Cynthia Murray is banking on those same dynamics yet
again, even though Republicans will not be able to vote for her in June.

Murray, a pro-business Democrat, heads a strong field of Democrat
challengers all vying for the seat in June. Murray describes herself as a
“pro-economic development” candidate and has an endorsement from the
California State Sheriffs’ Association (CSSA). She is campaigning on a
platform of fiscal responsibility. She touts her countywide experience as a
Marin supervisor, as well as her seven years on the Novato City Council, a
town on the Marin-Sonoma border.

“I have the most experience with both counties,” she said.

While the district has a history of electing candidates from the Marin
portion of the district, Pamela Torliatt is hoping her Sonoma base from her
years on the Petaluma City Council will propel her to victory in June. About
40 percent of the district’s voters live in Sonoma County, and Torliatt
hopes those voters will turn out en masse.

Torliatt serves on the board of both the Metropolitan Transit Authority and
the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. She is on the verge of
securing the endorsement of the California Teachers Association (CTA); she
already has the support of the National Organization for Women California
and Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata. If elected, she says she will try to
continue the work of Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, in passing a
single-payer health-care plan, and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley’s, D-Agoura
Hills, with her work on climate change.

“That is something we need to be a leader in, because we certainly aren’t
getting that from the federal government,” she said.

Torliatt has been endorsed by the California Federation of Teachers and is
expected to secure the endorsement of the CTA. The local CTA chapter has
recommended Torliatt’s endorsement, but the official vote is scheduled for
Saturday.

Torliatt also has received a number of key, non-education labor
endorsements, including support from the Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) and SEIU Local 1000.

Two of the other Democrat candidates have strong backgrounds in the issues
that consistently are among the most important to voters in the district:
education and the environment.

Jared Huffman is the senior attorney for the Natural Resource Defense
Council (NRDC), one of the most powerful environmental-interest groups in
the nation. Huffman says his Sacramento experience working on behalf of NRDC
makes him the best qualified candidate in the field. Huffman has spent years
lobbying and writing legislation, such as SB 350, the San Joaquin River
restoration bill sponsored by Senator Mike Machado, D-Linden.

“I’m the only one who has been working in the state Legislature through my
work at the NRDC,” Huffman said. “I’m not going to have to spend the first
year figuring out how the Legislature works.”
Huffman has received the backing of the League of Conservation Voters and
the California Nurses Association.

Deputy attorney general and Dixie school district board member Damon
Connolly has wrapped up a high percentage of the education endorsements.

While Torliatt is expected to get the big CTA endorsement, Connolly hopes
his background on the local school board will help with district voters.

Connolly says education is his “top priority,” and reforming public
education is the reason he decided to run for the Assembly.

The district is more complex than the “rich-liberal” stereotype that some
like to throw at the area, and also does not break on easy ideological or
geographic lines. Candidates will face a well-educated electorate and will
have to overcome a crowded field filled with well-qualified candidates who
hold similar positions.

“There are a lot of candidates down there,” said Mazzoni, who held the seat
before Nation. “I think people are politically aware and interested in
policy.”

All four top contenders have significant war chests, with between $110,000
and $170,000 cash on hand, according to March 17 state filings. But the race
is expected to get expensive. A fifth Democrat, 34-year-old lawyer John
Alden, is a political newcomer with only about one-tenth as much to spend.

Recently, Murray changed her mind about accepting the voluntary $446,000
spending limits for the June primary. Though she originally said she would
abide by the Proposition 34 limits, she changed course, citing
“special-interest” attacks that she was preparing to defend herself against.

All of the other candidates in the race have accepted the spending limits.
But with so many credible candidates, there still will be a lot of money in
so far as state-Assembly races.

“We are used to very large fields in Marin and Sonoma counties,” Nation
said. “The Republican primaries are not crowded, for good reason.”


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