Let's not fool ourselves: Jackie Speier, the former state senator from San Mateo County, will be replacing the late Tom Lantos in Congress. The odds are pretty good that she'll emerge with enough votes in the special election April 8 to take the seat immediately, and she's bound to win the Democratic primary in June and get elected to a full term in November.
And that's not a terrible thing. Speier's an experienced legislator, was a solid advocate for consumers and for privacy rights in Sacramento, and is already better on the war than Lantos was. Speier told us that she favors immediate troop withdrawal, and that she would was unlikely to vote for any more appropriations for the war unless the money was earmarked for drawdown and withdrawal activities.
But on a lot of issues, she's something of a disappointment to progressives in the district. She talks about single-payer health care, but wants to keep the private insurance companies in the picture and she talked a lot to us about forcing consumers to limit medical expenses to contain costs. She wasn't willing to commit to seeking to overturn the privatization of the Presidio and she supports Don Fisher's plans to build a private museum there. Although she wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire, she was very, very shaky about raising taxes on the very rich (even capital gains taxes). When we asked her what she would do about preventing the financial-services mess that created the home mortgage crisis, she only said she would be "more willing to support an increased regulatory environment than not."
In other words, she's promising to be a mainstream Democrat who's unwilling to push the edge on a lot of issues that people in her district care about.
So, if only as a protest vote (and to remind Speier that she has to be accountable to the progressives) we're backing Green Party candidate Barry Hermanson.
Hermanson, who for years ran a small business in town, talks openly not just about ending the war but about dramatically cutting defense spending, which, he points out, sucks up more than 60 percent of the entire federal discretionary budget. He's for government-run single payer, for tighter regulation of the financial sector and for a massive public investment in infrastructure and green technology.
Michelle McMurry, who is running as a Democrat, is a physician, a smart and articulate person with a thoughtful approach to health care. We'd love to see her stay active in politics, but she needs a bit more seasoning before she's ready for Congress.
So we'll go with Hermanson in the April 8 special election.