Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Venice For Change Endorses Debra Bowen For Congress

This announcement probably doesn't come as a shock to anyone who's read the blog over the last few weeks.

In reality, however, I've found myself struggling ever since Jane Harman announced her resignation on February 7th. The next day, I received a call from Janice Hahn, asking me to endorse her. We had a very pleasant conversation, but in the end I told her I needed to wait to see who else would get in the race (Debra Bowen wouldn't announce for another week).

Before we hung up, I told her I'd be happy if either she or Bowen ended up replacing Harman in Congress.

At the time, I meant it. But over the last few weeks, as I've researched and written about both candidates, I no longer feel that way.

The choice between Debra Bowen and Janice Hahn, in fact, could not be more clear.

It's the choice between the transformational vs. the transactional, between having a partner in congress or having a broker, between having someone who is willing to stand up for what is right in spite of the consequences or having someone who will be buffeted by the competing wishes of special interests.

It is the difference between having as our advocate in Congress an experienced and nationally respected lawmaker who's already represented our district for 14 years or having a termed-out LA City Councilwoman looking for a place to land.

That's why today, without hesitation or reservation, I endorse Debra Bowen for Congress.


In the late 1980's, Debra Bowen began her life of public service as a community organizer (a label decades away from being fashionable) who volunteered for her local Neighborhood Watch and Heal the Bay, where she helped stencil stormwater run-off warnings on drains that fed into the Santa Monica Bay. Using her training as a business lawyer, Bowen became intensely involved in environmental and neighborhood issues posed by an explosion of development in her home town of Venice.

On behalf of the Venice Town Council, she sued to stop developers from building a $160-million regional shopping mall at the western tip of Culver City. She formed community and non-profit groups that dealt with everything from responsible growth and development to creating a shuttle bus program that would mitigate parking and traffic congestion along the beach.

In 1992 she survived a brutal campaign and won her first term to the CA State Assembly in what was then a Republican-leaning district. For the next 14 years she served in both the Assembly and the State Senate. From the very beginning, her time in the California State Legislature would look very different than that of her peers.

On her office door is a sign that says she accepts no gifts--and she has been known to send staff members running down the hall to return gifts as simple as a single flower. She sees lobbyists as an information resource, but is wary of them. "The scariest thing for freshmen," she said, "is figuring out whom you can rely on, whose analysis you can trust, because you can't do everything yourself.
Bowen would go on to author the first-in-the-world law that put legislative information online in 1993, giving everyone immediate online access to information about state lawmakers’ bills, voting records, and more. In 1995, Bowen was the first California legislator to voluntarily put her campaign finance reports online.  In 2001, she took a leadership role during the Enron-generated energy crisis that caused rolling blackouts across California. That same year she pushed through a state law that protected consumers by forcing banks to protect their customer's Social Security numbers.

During her tenure as Chairwoman of the Senate Energy, Utilities & Communications Committee and as Chairwoman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, Bowen earned her reputation as one of California’s leading advocates for conservation and environmental protection, receiving a 100% rating from the California Sierra Club and California League of Conservation Voters.

On social issues, NARAL Pro Choice has given Bowen a 100% rating, as has Equality California. In 2008, before the passage of Proposition 8, Bowen even officiated at the wedding of several same-sex couples.

It was her work as California's Secretary of State, however, that brought Bowen to national prominence.

Only the sixth woman ever to hold Constitutional statewide office in California when she was elected in 2006, Bowen made headlines within days of being sworn in when she ordered a top to bottom review of California's voting machines.

"We are going to do a top to bottom review of every voting system in use anywhere in California," Bowen said in an interview. "Yes, I would consider decertifying machines that my predecessor approved. Unfortunately, we've spent a lot of money on equipment that's not ready for prime time. Any Fortune 500 company would have sent those machines back with a letter saying they just don't do what they're supposed to."

Eight months later, under intense pressure from both state officials who had already invested $450 million in electronic voting machines and the manufacturers who stood to profit from them, Bowen made good on her threat.

With only minutes to spare before a midnight deadline to determine whether the various electronic voting machines used by counties were reliable, California's bleary-eyed secretary of state concluded there was the potential for serious security breaches. She decertified the voting machines used in 39 counties, including Los Angeles County, whose InkaVote system could be reinstated in time for the February primary. She also imposed a slew of security protections for upcoming elections.

It was an astonishing and unprecedented act of political courage.

"She's one of the few people who, when they make a splashy decision like this, it's not about the headlines," Ned Wiggelsworth, a former policy advocate for Common Cause, which lobbies for campaign finance reform, said at the time. "It's about the issue."

In 2008, Bowen was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage Award for her work to protect voting integrity in California. On the organization's website, the award is described as a celebration of "individuals who choose principles over partisanship – who do what is right, rather than what is expedient."

That phrase, more than any other, encapsulates why I'm supporting Debra Bowen.

I want someone who puts principle above partisanship. I want someone who will do what is right, rather than what is expedient.

I want Debra Bowen to represent me in Congress.


  1. Great choice. When you really take a long and objective look at the candidates, Bowen is really the right choice.

  2. Marta:

    This is Noel Weiss.

    I want to tell you why I support Janice Hahn for Congress.

    Janice Hahn has been (to use your words) incredibly 'transformational'. Let's start with the 'living wage' ordinance she got passed for the Hotel Workers at the airport hotels back in 2006. No other City Council in this Country has passed such an ordinance. These hotels were not in her district. In your words, Janice 'discovered' those workers. She produced a result which has put over $20 Million into their pockets; and did so against one of the most powerful business interests in this Country – the Hotel Owners. This living wage ordinance came to the people precisely at a time when they needed the money the most. . After the recession hit – All because of the skill, commitment, and courage of one person. . . Janice Hahn.

    “Transformational' is what Janice did with the $50 Million Citizen Empowerment Fund she negotiated for the benefit of the citizens of Wilmington and San Pedro. This fund is controlled by the people. . . citizen empowerment in its truest form. . Again, something until now not done. It is as transformational, important, and citizen-empowering as the good work Debra Bowen has done as Secretary of State. More importantly, Janice's work was hailed by business and environmentalists alike. . . effectively bridging a very important gap while making the system work for the people.

    Early in her career, when everyone told Janice it was not possible to switch the schedules of the freight haulers out the port, Janice found a way. . . decreasing both traffic and pollution. . . another successful transformational effort.

    As for Venice, the most vigorous member of the City Council who stood up for the tenants at Lincoln Place when no one (other than Bill Rosendahl) would do so was Janice Hahn. She did so because it was the right thing to do and because she cared about the tenants at Lincoln Place. So Marta, I suppose you can say that Janice 'discovered' the Lincoln Place tenants; and it is a good thing she did. . Janice Hahn provided much needed support to them when they needed it the most. I know because I was there.

    In 2007 as middle class tenants in this City were being evicted by speculators who demolished rent control buildings to build luxury condos, one person and one person only was there to fight for the people . . Janice Hahn. . . I can tell you Marta that even the tenant advocates at the time thought I was completely 'nuts' in advocating a raise in the tenant relocation fees from $3450 to $9000 for non-seniors, non-disabled, non-family; and from $8450 to $17,000 for seniors, disabled, and families. . . I found one ally on that City Council willing to fight for the people to get this done . . Janice Hahn. . . . when it counted and when no one else would take the lead. Janice did it because it was the right thing to do. . . I can tell you Marta that Janice entered the fray against the advise of her staff and her advisers. The easy path would have been to have done nothing; or introduce a 'study' motion, as other council members did.

    To be Continued in the next Comment.

  3. (Continued from last Post from Noel Weiss)

    Later, Janice, on her own, without any prompting from me, got the relocation fees raised for the mobile home park occupants.

    None of this was (to use your term) 'transactional'. . . It represented both 'transformational' leadership and transcendent leadership. . . The kind of leadership not found anywhere on the City Council. It took guts and it took courage. But more than that, it took great skill as a legislator in a male-dominated City Council.

    The fact that you chose not to mention these things, and I am just scratching the surface, is not right Marta. . . Again, I respect your affection for Debra Bowen. . . and we are truly blessed to have two good candidates. . . But to go out of your way to demean Janice Hahn in such a biased and contrived manner is intellectually dishonest, it is wrong, and it is unfair, both to Janice and to Debra Bowen.

    I admit to not knowing Debra Bowen. . . but I do know Janice Hahn and Janice is, by any definition, strongly committed to progressive values and empowering the people. She has demonstrated it time and time again. She will represent Venice and this District in Congress with skill, passion, persistence, and passion.

    If I were to describe Janice Hahn, I would say that her 'ego' is in balance with her 'imagination'. . That she is an athlete with heart; an idealist without illusions, and authentic. She is imbued with a generosity of spirit unique among political leaders and is possessed with the commitment, competence, courage, and character to well represent and deliver for the people of the 36th Congressional District.

    Noel Weiss

  4. I applaud her accomplishments you mention in your article. We need more of those types of things to happen. All the more reason that I feel she should remain Secretary of State though. I personally cannot and will not vote for politicians who ditch out on their term to seek another office. (the exception to that being the office of the President). It's one thing to ask for (and even deserve) our vote, it's another altogether to then turn around and ask us to put her in ANOTHER office 6 months later. It's a disturbing trend that needs to stop...Public service is not musical chairs! She sounds like a decent person and I agree with her on some issues, but Bowen really should be doing the job she was elected to and stop campaigning already.

  5. Troy - do you feel the same way about Hahn? She still have two years left to serve on the LA City Council. Or how about Winograd? While not in elected office, she will be abandoning the students she committed to teach at Crenshaw High School.

  6. I absolutely feel the same way about Hahn, actually. She campaigned for Lt Gov last year (and lost) and now she's running for Congress. I imagine if you ask the people she represents on the council, they will likely tell you she should spend more time on the job she was elected to as well. (I only mentioned Bowen because it was the topic of your post) As for Winograd, I did not vote for her to be a teacher, so my point about office holders campaigning for other offiecs doesn't really apply. And if she does win, I don't see it as abandoning the students she teaches. I think she would go to Congress and fight for better education and opportunity for ALL students, not just those at Crenshaw High.

  7. Huh, that's funny, I could have sworn there was a third candidate in this race, but I guess I must be imagining things.

    I also seem to remember voting for Debra Bowen a few months ago for a job that I thought came with the pre-condition that you do that job for 4 years. But I guess quitting your job a few months into it, is pretty cool. I think it sets a great example.

  8. Actually, there are 19 candidates who have filed so far. It's going to be a crowded race!