Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making The Progressive Case For Jane Harman

I wasn't going to write about this.

For the last few months, I've dealt with a series of family health crisis that culminated first in the death of my elderly mother, then my father exactly four weeks later.

The outcome of a contested primary in a safe Blue district hasn't even been on my radar. But in the last couple of weeks I've had too many neighbors, too many friends ask about the race.

For better or worse, they want an opinion from me. So here it is.

On June 8th, I'll be voting for Jane Harman. And I'll be doing it as a Progressive.

If you're an avid Winograd supporter - if you've volunteered in her office, canvassed for her, donated to her campaign - chances are what I'm about to write will piss you off. But I'm going to ask you to read on anyway. Because I understand why you're volunteering and I deeply respect your need to make our country a better place. I'm the child of public school teachers who felt that need too and fought every day to lift their students up while everyone else worked to keep them down. I gave up 6 months of my life and worked unpaid as a regional field organizer on the Obama campaign precisely because I feel that need myself.

If I thought for a second Marcy Winograd was the best candidate to bring us one step closer to making that dream a reality, I'd be right there with you. But she's not and she won't.

Being a progressive is about moving forward - sometimes dramatically, sometimes incrementally - but always, and relentlessly, forward. And because politics in this country is a messy and inefficient process stuck in institutional inertia, being an effective progressive means the willingness to coalition-build with people you may not agree with on every issue.

Winograd, who's never held even local elective office, has not yet demonstrated the ability or desire to be a coalition-builder, nor has she demonstrated the ability or desire to build consensus beyond her core group of supporters.


When Winograd ran against Harman in 2006, capitalizing on constituent frustration with the Iraq War, she managed to take 37.5% of the vote after a brief 3-month campaign. But instead of building on what was a very respectable showing, she gave up the Marina del Rey condo she'd rented for the duration of the campaign and moved out of the district and back to Pacific Palisades.

Winograd could have sold her Pacific Palisades home and actually put down stakes in CA-36. But she didn't - buying a new home in Santa Monica (Henry Waxman's district) in 2009 for $1.8 million. While our state faced the worst political and economic struggles in its history, Winograd could have dug in and run for State Assembly, State Senate, or even as a city council member for San Pedro, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Torrance or El Segundo. But again, she chose not to.

Voters in our district wouldn't hear from Winograd again until a byzantine scandal surfaced last April involving Harman, AIPAC, the House Intelligence Committee and a prominent Democratic Party donor named Haim Saban. As scandals go, this one had all the staying power of cotton candy on hot asphalt (for a very comprehensive - and hilarious - review of the saga, check out this segment from the John Stewart Show ), but it was enough to give Winograd the opening she needed. Within a month she announced she would run against the suddenly vulnerable Harman.

Winograd moved into another rented condo in Marina del Rey and the race was on.

Now, Winograd isn't doing anything "wrong" (there's no legal requirement that a candidate has to live in the same district they are running for, only the same state), but when a candidate puts more effort in creating the illusion of representing her potential constituents than actually participating in the daily, mind-numbing grind local politicians have to go through to make their constituent's lives better, that ought to raise some red flags.

Even as she seeks to ride the coat-tails of progressive candidates Bill Halter (elected Arkansas Lt. Governor in 2006) and Joe Sestak (who spent 31 years in the Navy and served in the Clinton White House as Director for Defense Policy, and is now serving his second term as Congressman for PA-07), she chooses not to pay her dues as they did.

It's one thing to say you want to change the political landscape, it's quite another to grab a shovel and start digging.


If you're a registered Democrat in California, right around election time, some helpful soul will hang a brochure on your front door knob that lists all the official California Democratic Party (CDP) endorsements for the election in your district.

So here's how a Congressional candidate in California gets that endorsement: Local CDP delegates, county committee members and representatives of local Democratic clubs get to vote in something called a pre-endorsement conference for the Congressional candidate they would like to see endorsed. If 70% of the voters at that conference endorse a candidate, then that recommendation is sent to the full CDP Convention a month or so later where, usually, the recommendation is accepted by unanimous consent and placed on the coveted CDP Door Thingee.

If you're a candidate with relatively low name recognition and even less money (Winograd), and you're in a contested primary with an opponent who has high name recognition and a lot of money (Harman), you can see why getting your name on the coveted CDP Door Thingee would be very helpful indeed. In fact, candidates in this state would kill for a place on the damn thing, and the ensuing drama surrounding the acquisition of said Door Thingee is entertaining indeed.

Jane Harman received 72% of the local delegate vote, enough to send the recommendation to the full CDP Convention. But it wasn't that simple. Before the Convention, opposing candidates can collect 300 signatures from delegates across the State to force another endorsement vote among local delegates at the Convention, which is exactly what Winograd did. This time, the only participants were CDP delegates in the 36th Congressional District. At that endorsement caucus, Harman got a whopping 82% of the vote - far more than the simple majority she needed to put her name back on the consent calendar for ratification. But at the Convention, Winograd was able to gather the 300 signatures from delegates outside the district needed to pull the recommendation off the consent calendar yet again and send it to the Convention floor for a vote. Winograd lost that floor vote 599 to 417, and Harman ultimately received the endorsement.

There's a reason why you, as a non inside-baseball-California-Democratic-Party-delegate-nerd-geek-policy-wonk, should care about this.

Winograd's campaign didn't do substantial outreach to the local CDP delegates - her potential constituents - to make the case for Winograd. I know, because I'm one of those delegates who voted in the pre-endorsement meeting. I received not one phone call from Winograd's campaign. No emails. Nothing.

Contrast this with Harman's campaign - who reached out to all the delegates regardless if they were known Winograd supporters or not - to secure their vote for that meeting. They worked the phones, they held meetings, they asked questions and heard concerns. They organized and made the case for Harman to her own constituents and, in the end, the work paid off.

Winograd chose to reach out to supporters outside the district to get the recommendation of Harman's constituents overturned. And when the final vote didn't go her way, instead of thanking her supporters and moving on, she questioned the validity of the vote.

Again, Winograd didn't do anything "wrong" - she followed CDP rules. But every action she took, every statement she made during the Convention process and afterwards was only meant to play to her base. She had the chance to organize support and build a winning coalition within CA-36 and beyond her choir of hard-core supporters and usual suspects. But she made a conscious choice not to, spending more time creating the illusion of constituent support than building it.


Winograd, describing herself as the only "real" Democratic candidate in the race, has consistently gone after Harman as being "someone beholden to big banks, Wall Street, or the weapons industry."

Winograd has made Harman's wealth a prominent issue in the campaign, and has called on Harman to divest from Dow Chemical after the EPA identified Dow as a potentially responsible party for toxic pollution in the Harbor-Gateway area, suggested Harman's vote on extending biologic drug patent protections was tied to her investments in Pfizer, Abbot Labs and Johnson & Johnson, and most recently "rebuked" Harman for a wave of spring-time foreclosures that hit CA-36 during the first three months of 2010.

“If Harman were to suddenly lose her 300-million dollar portfolio and find herself unable to pay a mortgage on her three-lot home in Venice, she might feel some compassion for the hundreds of homeowners in West Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Harbor City, San Pedro, and Wilmington facing foreclosure because of her support for draconian bank legislation.”

Winograd hopes to paint Harman as someone irredeemably corrupt and out of touch, an insular multi-millionaire profiting from Big Pharma, Big Banks and Big Polluters.

Frankly, this argument would be more effective if Winograd herself wasn't a multi-millionaire heavily invested in Big Pharma, Big Banks, and Big Polluters too.

Winograd, who owns two properties in Santa Monica and a Four Seasons Resort time share in Carlsbad, CA (combined worth over $2 million), also has a substantial investment in Wells Fargo, one of the banks at the forefront of a $1.4 million-a-day lobbying assault to stop reform efforts in Washington and which is currently embroiled in numerous consumer lawsuits, including one involving the city of Baltimore, which charges the financial giant with targeting African-Americans for questionable sub-prime loans that resulted in hundreds of foreclosures.

Lastly, Winograd has smaller investments with the timber and paper industries. One of those companies, Clearwater Paper Corporation, was charged with violating federal and state air-emission standards more than 50 times in 2009.

It's important to note that Winograd's investments aren't part of a mutual fund package - these are direct, chosen, targeted investments and annuities, that as a trustee, Winograd herself would have been responsible for executing. She knows exactly what companies she's invested in.

Are any of these investments illegal? Nope. But, again, Winograd is talking the talk, not walking the walk. If you're going to portray yourself as the moral authority in this primary race, railing against the financial sector, health insurance, pharmaceuticals, and polluters, you'd better be as pure as the Dalai Lama in a snowdrift or else you're traveling in the same circles of hypocrisy as George "lift my luggage" Rekers or Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford.


In 1998, during a failed bid to win the Democratic nomination for California governor against Gray Davis and Al Checchi, Harman infamously said she was proud to be called the "best Republican in the Democratic Party."

It was a statement her opponents would use against for the next 12 years.

By the time Marcy Winograd ran against Harman in 2006, she'd become a target of national Progressive frustration, thanks mostly to her support of Bush's NSA warrentless eavesdropping program and her vote to authorize the Iraq War in 2003.

The irony of that ill-fated statement? She was attempting to describe herself as a coalition builder, who could reach across party lines. Harman actually ran to the left of Gray Davis, vowing to repeal 1996's Proposition 209, the ballot measure that outlawed racial and gender preferences in state hiring and school admissions, and to sign gay marriage into law if elected.

And therein lies one of the great weirdnesses of modern Progressive politics in this country - that Jane Harman, a lawmaker who scores better for her voting record on War and Peace legislation than Dennis Kucinich, should become so synonymous with the disastrous foreign policy of George W. Bush, that Harman's detractors have literally said support for her equaled killing babies.

For the past 4 years, Winogorad has made a cottage industry out of promoting Harman as the House version of Joe Lieberman, but it took me all of 15 minutes of web surfing to find that even as Harman took positions on national security issues and the military that drove Progressives (and me) nuts, she amassed one of the most liberal voting records in Congress on almost everything else.

The liberal website Progressive gives Harman's voting record an lifetime progressive score of 81.43. NARAL has given her a 100% pro-choice rating.

I also found:

In 2006, the ACLU praised her efforts to improve FISA, and that 18 months before Barack Obama became president, she introduced legislation to close Guantanamo.

She strongly opposed DADT when it was first implemented in 1993 and was one of 77 lawmakers who signed a letter to Barack Obama demanding it's repeal. She voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (one of only 67 lawmakers, Republican or Democratic to do so), and for modifying bankruptcy rules to help consumers avoid foreclosures.

In December, she objected to Obama's Afghanistan "surge", saying that expanding our military footprint would be a mistake.

Earlier this month, she co-sponsored the West Coast Protection Act, legislation that would end new oil and natural gas leases on the West Coast.

(For an exhaustive list of her voting record, go to this link.)

Folks, a legitimate conversation can be had about Harman's stands on national security, defense issues and Israel (As a J-Street Jew, I actually have issues with both Harman and Winograd when it comes to Israel), but baby killing? Really?

Look, I don't doubt for a second Winograd's passion and the passion of her supporters. The goals she promotes - withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, single-payer health care reform and a new economy built on green technology - are good, solid, progressive goals I agree we should all be working towards.

Yet I have no confidence she'll move us one step forward in that direction if elected. Marcy Winograd is a protester, not a legislator, and for all the reasons I've listed above I have serious concerns about her judgment, values, and ability to provide effective representation for me and my neighbors.

Contested primaries are healthy - I do believe Winograd's challenges may have had a hand in moving Harman to the left on national security issues (although I doubt they've had any effect on her when it comes to social issues, since Harman was already pretty far to the left). But I can think of any number of progressive politicians in our congressional district who've put in years of public service (Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen immediately leap to mind) who'd I'd love to see make a run for Congress instead.

Until that happens, for me at least, the choice is simple.

Jane Harman remains the progressive choice for my district and I'll be voting for her June 8th.

I hope you will too.