San Francisco, meet Joe Nation

Progressives should vote for Leno
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OPINION How would you like to be represented by someone who flacks for the insurance industry, serves real estate developers and landlords with zeal, opposes consumer privacy, and is a role model for corporate Democrats with a firm allegiance to big business?

You wouldn't know it from the vague aura of his slick ads, but Joe Nation is hoping to be that someone in the state Senate. He's the third candidate in the hotly contested race that includes two stalwart progressive politicians — incumbent Senator Carole Migden and Assemblymember Mark Leno.

Nation jumped into the Senate race in the 3rd District just three months ago. He's trying to win in a sprawling district that includes half of San Francisco along with all of Marin and parts of Sonoma County. And he could pull it off.

The real danger of a Nation victory hasn't been apparent to many San Francisco voters. Eyes have been mostly focused on the Leno-Migden battle, and Nation has never been on the ballot in the city before. But those of us who live in North Bay are all too familiar with Joe Nation.

When Nation's campaign Web site trumpets him as an "advocate for universal health care," the phrasing is typical of his evasive PR approach. While in the state Assembly, Nation pushed for legislation that would force consumers and taxpayers to subsidize the health insurance industry. Meanwhile, he continues to oppose a single-payer system that would guarantee publicly financed health care for all in California.

Likewise, Nation leaves out key information when he calls himself an "international expert on climate change" for an "environmental consulting firm," ENVIRON International. He's not eager to disclose that much of his work at the firm is for Coca-Cola, which excels at greenwashing its image to obscure its dubious environmental record.

In the Legislature, where he supported charter schools, Nation was problematic on public education. He earned distrust from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, both of which endorsed Leno in the Senate race.

When lawmaker Jackie Speier put forward a tough bill to safeguard consumer information rather than allowing financial institutions to sell it to the likes of telemarketers, Nation worked to undermine the legislation.

In 2006, nearing the end of his six corporate-friendly years in the state Assembly, Nation launched a Democratic primary challenge to US Rep. Lynn Woolsey — who has strong support in the North Bay congressional district because of her courageous leadership against the Iraq war and for a wide range of progressive causes. Nation attacked her from the right. She trounced him on Election Day.

Nation's long record of siding with powerful economic players inspired the San Francisco Apartment Association and other landlord groups to throw a big fundraiser for his Senate campaign a couple of weeks ago. To big-check donors with an anti-renter agenda, plunking down money for Nation is a smart investment.

Independent polls now show a close race between Nation and Leno, with Migden a distant third. As a practical matter, the way for progressive voters to prevent Joe Nation from winning the state Senate seat is to vote for Mark Leno. *

Norman Solomon is the author of many books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (Wiley, 2005).