I THINK IT’S APPARENT to most Democrats in California that after six years of a Republican actor as governor, it’s time to elect a qualified candidate from among our own ranks in 2010. But please forgive me if I’m underwhelmed by our choices right now.
The indefatigable Jerry Brown hasn’t even officially declared yet and has already raised seven times as much money as his nearest Democratic competitor, Gavin Newsom, a likeable but flawed candidate.
On the short list of alternates often mentioned is Jackie Speier, a dynamic freshman Congresswoman from San Mateo. So when I was recently invited to hear her speak at a luncheon hosted by the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, I happily accepted.
With a friendly nature, indomitable spirit and ambition to spare, the popular Speier spent 18 years in Sacramento in both the Assembly and the Senate and was elected with 75 percent of the vote last fall to the 12th Congressional District. She lost a primary contest for lieutenant governor in 2006 by a very narrow margin to John Garamendi.
Few in the mostly female audience disagreed with her assessment that we need more women in public office. “The fastest way to change society is to mobilize the women of the world,” Speier said, quoting Charles Malik, former president of the United Nations.
But while California has two female senators, currently only 17 percent of the U.S. House is female. And giving up her House seat to run for governor would be a “difficult” decision, she said.
But we urgently need someone who isn’t afraid to stand up to the special interests, Speier maintained. “I won’t support anyone who won’t take on the prison guards union.”
That’s a pretty fearless statement considering the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is one of the most powerful unions in the state and has funded many an independent expenditure attack on candidates who cross them.
But Speier is well known for her courage. While a young staffer to Congressman Leo Ryan in 1978, she was part of the delegation ambushed in Guyana by members of the Peoples Temple. She was shot five times, left for dead and waited 22 hours for medical attention. Congressman Ryan and four others were murdered. The next day, more than 900 members of the cult committed suicide.
In 1994, Speier’s first husband died in a car crash while she was pregnant with their second child.
AND SO, IN COMPARISON, political obstacles seem far less formidable. She’s been a prolific legislator with more than 300 bills signed into law, many focusing on consumer protection issues and financial reform, and she chaired the state Senate committee investigating fraud in state government. On her first day in Congress, she delivered a gutsy but rousing speech against the Iraq war.
Speier recently held a town hall forum on health care in her district which was peaceful. “There is no point in pursuing health care reform without a public option,” she said. What would she do to fix California politics? Get rid of term limits (which give us a perpetual crop of rookies) or limit each legislator to 12 years, jettison the two-thirds vote needed to pass a budget and bring on open primaries (which will encourage moderates).
So perhaps instead of a fake action hero for governor, we’ve found a real one.
Marie Lakin is a community activist and writes the Making Waves blog for the Ventura County Star