Tag Archives: Anthony Woods

CA-10 Impressions

The CDP Convention didn’t only kick off the start of the 2010 Governor’s race, but the start of the various Congressional campaigns throughout California as well.  I’m going to have a full cattle call tomorrow, with my opening rankings for the races, both the potential primaries and the races with Republican incumbents.  But I wanted to give the special elections some attention in a separate post.  In CA-32, we have an election in just a few weeks on May 19, and Judy Chu has racked up a lot of local endorsements, while Gil Cedillo has made the worst kind of headlines over campaign spending and personal gifts.  Given the demographics of the district, I think it’ll be a close race either way.

But I wanted to hone in on the upcoming special election in CA-10, because I had the chance to talk with three of the five announced Democratic candidates while up in Sacramento.  We don’t know when Ellen Tauscher will be confirmed as a State Department undersecretary, and thus when the seat will open up and when the election will be scheduled.  What we do know is that there are several good candidates in the race, all of whom offered interesting perspectives at the convention.


Mark DeSaulnier was anointed the successor to Tauscher inside the district by the local establishment, but since other candidates have jumped into the race, he’s going to have to work for his victory.  And that’s absolutely as it should be.  But though you would expect someone who appeared to be riding endorsement coattails to Congress to be some kind of creature of the establishment, I and some of my colleagues did not get that impression when we cornered DeSaulnier at the Netroots Nation Party last Friday night.  DeSaulnier is an ex-Republican who joined the party as a youth in Massachusetts to vote for Edward Brooke, the first African-American Senator elected by popular vote in the United States.  DeSaulnier was a liberal Republican then and grew far more progressive as he went on, eventually leaving Massachusetts to get out of politics (he was the son of a political family whose name was besmirched by corruption charges).  But the bug caught him and he returned.  DeSaulnier talked to us about revitalizing the public square, about reversing the trends found in Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, and about how the Internet and blogs can go a long way toward doing that.  He talked about how his first instinct with the special election was to tell the Republicans to go hang on their crappy deal.  He talked about the importance of transportation in his district, which includes several bedroom communities, and how that can connect to solving our energy problem.  He seemed like a serious and earnest public servant who was committed to using public policy as a lever to make progressive change.

On that score, he has a formidable opponent in Lt. Governor John Garamendi, who has been in the policy game for over 30 years.  At a late-afternoon meeting, Garamendi reminded bloggers that he created the first tax credits for solar and wind energy in 1978, leading to the windmills in the Altamont Pass that stand to this day.  He first looked at cap and trade in the early 1990s when he helped write some of the Clinton Administration briefs (while working in the Interior Department) for the Kyoto Protocols.  He recalled his international peace efforts in Ethiopia and the Congo.  He threw out dates from 15, 20 and 30 years ago talking about all the legislation with which he has been intimately involved, from energy to health care to the insurance industry to regulatory reform to the environment.  He brings a unique and diverse skill set and a deep knowledge of the issues.  And he can drill down to particulars.  On health care, while he supports a single payer plan as the most efficient and effective policy, he can see a role for private insurance to play, as an add-on or a fiscal intermediary (but “we won’t allow them to rip the system off”).  However, he wants to make sure that whatever comes out of Congress, which is more likely to be a lesser reform, cannot be gamed by the insurance companies.  “ERISA has become a great way for insurers to avoid the rules.  A real guaranteed issue (where companies cannot deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition) would be fine, but a sham guaranteed issue would just be ERISA II, which the states wouldn’t be able to fix.  So the states can help, they can do things, but they cannot get there without real federal action.”

Garamendi, as a knowledgeable figure, would be an asset in what he called “preparing the public to deal with” the realities of issues like climate change and rising sea levels.  We have to adapt in California to an already-changing climate, and making the necessary changes will require leadership and authority, telling the public that they must “use the wealth of the nation to protect themselves.”  Garamendi projects a seriousness and a knowledge that would be crucial to this effort – you tend to believe him when he tells you “there are places in this state where we should not be building.”  On the question of CA-10 being a moderate district, his view is that the district has a set of issues, which you take into account, and then you try to conform those views with the facts and personal opinions, and “try to get the district to see your side – that’s the essence of political leadership.”

In addition to the establishment endorsee and the policy heavyweight, there’s the fresh perspective of an Anthony Woods, who has this amazing bio (two tours in Iraq, biked cross-country for Habitat for Humanity, Harvard’s Kennedy School, took a stand by coming out to protest the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy) and yet it new to the political scene.  In my interview with Woods you saw that he has a head for public policy.  I view him as a compelling story who can mature into becoming a compelling candidate.  He has something of a low-key demeanor that will have to change for the stump.  But I was definitely impressed with his leadership ability, his confidence, and his expressed desire to ride that wave of change sweeping the country and enter Washington without the baggage of the same old politicians pushing the same old ideas.

There’s also Joan Buchanan and Adriel Hampton, and this should be an extremely interesting race throughout the summer, as we may even get a serious policy debate about where to best take the country.

CA 10: Summoning The Courage of Our Convictions

All my life, I’ve heard politicians in Sacramento and Washington promise to change the way they do business, and to take action to solve our most pressing problems.

When I was born almost thirty years ago, millions of Americans lacked access to health insurance, millions of families couldn’t afford to send their kids to college, and the scourge of discrimination kept even more Americans from realizing their dreams.

Thirty years ago, tens of thousands of veterans who answered their country’s call in Vietnam were already calling the streets their home, and thousands more would soon follow.

Thirty years ago, the United States was coming out of an unprecedented energy crisis, vowing to change the way we powered our nation.

And thirty years later, despite year after year of politicians promising change, these problems haven’t just gone unsolved–just about all of them have gotten worse.

For me, like most Americans who live and work far from the halls of government, these are not issues that live in the political abstract or as talking points used to sell hastily crafted budgets.  They’re very real, very consequential, and very personal.

As the son of a single mother from Fairfield, I’ve lived the fight for a quality education (earning a Congressional Appointment to West Point), while facing the uncertainty of being without health insurance for most of my life.  I served two tours as a combat platoon leader in Iraq, led recovery missions to help rebuild the lives of fellow citizens abandoned by their government in New Orleans and challenged the military’s failed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” policy here at home-even when it meant my career.  

Ultimately, I’ve seen too many Americans pay a big price for the convenient choices of politicians.   And I believe the only way to break this vicious cycle is to elect leaders who are willing to make the courageous ones.    

That’s why I have come home to begin the process of forming a campaign to become the next Congressman from California’s 10th Congressional District.

In the weeks and months to come, I am looking forward to sharing my values, my vision, and my priorities for moving our district, our country, and our politics in a new direction.

And while standing up to an unjust policy cost me my dream of serving the country I love in the military just six months ago, that experience has only strengthened my resolve to fight for the solutions we all deserve—and with the real world sense of urgency that is too often missing from public debate on issues like universal healthcare, expanding economic opportunity, keeping faith with America’s veterans, and eliminating the cancer of inequality from the world’s greatest democracy once and for all.

I consider myself a proud member of the “Millenial Generation,” and though some will call me young, I have spent more time on the front lines of battles than most politicians do in a lifetime.  

Like the “Greatest Generation’s” battles against economic depression, segregation, and World War, the Millenial Generation also finds itself at the crossroads of history.  

I believe that we too have greatness within our grasp.  But to seize it, we must be willing to forego the convenient politics of the past, to hold one another accountable for the difficult choices that lie ahead, and most importantly, to summon the courage of our convictions.

Together, I know we can.

Anthony Woods

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CA-10: Exclusive Calitics Interview With Anthony Woods

The race to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher in Congress received a jolt yesterday with the announcement of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi that he expects to be a candidate for that seat.  And just today, Joan Buchanan has decided to enter the race as well.  But these are not the only candidates poised to jump into the race.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Woods, a young West Point graduate who served two tours as a platoon leader in Iraq.  Woods was born in the district on Travis AFB in Fairfield, to a single mother who worked as a housekeeper.  He was raised in the area, and after his stint at West Point, he volunteered and took command of two separate platoons that shipped out to Iraq, once in 2004-05 and again in 2005-06, engaging in service for which he received the Bronze Star.  Returning to the states, he took graduate studies in public policy at the Kennedy School for Government at Harvard, and in his second year, he entered into a relationship that made him realize the absurdity of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  Tired of shutting down his gay identity and hiding himself, he came out to his commander – “I wasn’t going to lie about it anymore” – kicking off a lengthy investigative process that resulted in an honorable discharge (for “moral and professional dereliction of duty”) in December 2008.  Woods was also forced to pay back his education benefits. (A full bio on Anthony Woods can be found here.)

Here is someone willing to serve his country, able to perform honorably on the battlefield, yet because of his identity as a gay American cannot be a member of the military.  The insanity of this official policy has been well-documented around here.  What is striking about Woods is that he foregrounds the concept of service instead of the injustice of the policy, and would rather not dwell on that incident but instead find a new way to serve.  He is close to making a decision on whether to enter the 10th District race, and on the flip, you can read a paraphrase of the rest of my interview with him.

Calitics: I suppose there’s a tension between having this incredibly compelling story and not wanting to be pigeonholed into being “the gay candidate” or the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” candidate.  How will you smooth over that tension, if you choose to run?

Anthony Woods: I think it’s much more important to the people of this district that I didn’t have health care until I was 18 years old.  I believe the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is wrong, and I won’t shy away from taking strong stands, but I don’t want to be seen as a single issue candidate.  All of my life experience will help me, from being raised by a single mother to not having health care to having to strive for a good education to my experience with veteran’s aftercare to my service in Iraq.

Calitics: Let’s talk about Iraq for a second.  You served two tours there.  What do you think of the President’s policy, to honor the status of forces agreement and commit to a full withdrawal of all forces by the end of 2011?  Is that too soon, not soon enough?

AW: I think the President’s policy is right on point.  The end of 2011 gives us enough time to wind down this war.  I didn’t support the war from the beginning – I entered the conflict to bring my platoon home and to serve my country.  In 2008, at my commencement address at Harvard I questioned the war and some people didn’t like that.  But I have always believed that the longer we stayed, the longer we would delay that sense of urgency among the Iraqis to make the choices necessary to take responsibility for their country.  So setting a definite timeline of leaving will provide that internal pressure for the Iraqis to reconcile.

Calitics: The Senate Armed Services Committee released their long report about interrogation tactics by the military, and this is the latest in a series of disturbing disclosures about torture.  How do these reports make you feel, as someone who served, and what do you think ought to be done in the name of accountability?

AW: You know, I first got to Iraq shortly after the revelations at Abu Ghraib, right after our reputation in Iraq and around the world was sullied.  The tactics undertaken by the previous Administration directly put me and my soldiers at risk.  They did not make us safer at all.  I’m glad that the President put the memos out there, so we can all see the truth.  At first I agreed with the decision of the President not to go after CIA personnel who followed orders they believed to be legal by the Justice Department, but with the more facts that come out, I think there’s a major need for accountability.  Someone needs to have a reckoning for these actions committed in our name.  I’m very big on accountability and trust.

Calitics: Have you made a final decision yet on running in this race?

AW: I haven’t made a final decision, but I’m real close.  If I do decide to run, I will make this race about issues that are personal to me.  The challenges we face today are not new, you can see them over the last 30 years.  The struggles I faced early in life are the same struggles families are facing right now.  The fact that I didn’t have health insurance until I was 18, or that my mom’s premiums are skyrocketing today, these are all the same problems.  And I think there’s a need for some new leadership around them.

Calitics; Let’s talk about health care, since you have personal attachments to the issue.  What would you like to see in a major health care reform?

AW: I support universal health care with a public option.  I would like to see an increase in SCHIP to cover all children, an early buy-in for Medicare, maybe at 55 years of age, and subsidies for those in the middle, so they can purchase quality health insurance.  And everyone should have that public option so that they don’t have to rely on a private insurer that may deny them coverage for a pre-existing condition.  I think this is a major issue for families, but also a huge issue for businesses, who have such a burden of health care costs that it’s stopping them from being competitive.

Calitics: How has you experience with the VA system colored your sense of this issue:

AW: Very much so.  Veteran’s aftercare is in kind of an ugly state right now, so I wouldn’t want to model the VA system completely.  But I do think we can address a lot of the bureaucratic slowness in that system and apply it to the overall health reform.

Calitics: Another big issue we’re seeing debated in congress is energy.  The legislation being debated in Congress right now is massive, and includes renewable energy standards, cap and trade, etc.  I don’t want you to have to summarize the whole thing, but what parts of energy policy are important to you?

AW: You know, having been to Iraq, I would say it’s not out of the question that a big reason why we were over there instead of other trouble spots in the world is because of their oil reserves.  The case can be made.  And so I would like to stress that our national security is tied up with our energy security.  We have to move beyond the dependence on fossil fuels like oil.  Offshore drilling is just a band-aid, it will not solve the problem.  I think we have to look to other sources of energy like wind and solar and biodiesel, and it’s crucial to our national security in the future.

Calitics: One thing I see not mentioned in these debates is the need for more livable communities, so that people don’t have to commute such long distances to get from home to work.  The 10th has a lot of bedroom communities, do you think smart growth and livable communities make sense?

AW: Since I left the district, I’ve lived in places like Boston and Washington, DC, where there is a major focus on public transportation and mass transit.  California definitely needs to focus on that, and we need that right here in this community.  I also like what you’re saying about smart growth.  We can build commercial space closer to where people live, and through information technology we can increase telecommuting.  There are a whole number of ways to decrease commute times and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  We need to invest in things like high speed rail, in infrastructure projects that also have the added benefit of aiding our environment.  Obama did a good job in that aspect in the stimulus package.

Calitics: Last question.  Obviously, there’s a lot of attention in this race, from the likes of State Senators and State Assemblymembers and even the Lieutenant Governor of California.  You’ve never held elected office.  What will be your pitch to people in the 10th to give you the opportunity to serve?

AW: We’re at a time when we’re frustrated with the solutions we have, but we keep sending the same politicians back to Washington to work on those solutions.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  I have respect for everyone who will be in this race, but these are old problems that have not been solved by the same people.  It’s time for a fresh perspective, and new energy, and a new generation of leadership.  That’s what I believe we saw with Obama’s election last year, and that’s what I think people are still wanting to see.  And while I think that elected office is obviously important experience, I’m also coming at this with a different set of experiences.  I was a platoon leader in Iraq, I have taken strong stands in my life, things that cost me personally.  I have dealt with the health care system, the veterans aftercare system, the education system.  I believe I am ready to serve this district with courageous leadership drawing on my personal experiences.

Calitics: Thanks for your time.

AW: Thank you.

CA-10: Anthony Woods

We’ve been hearing rumors about this for some time, but Lisa Vordebrueggen went public, so now we can begin to tell this story.  Anthony Woods, an African-American, openly gay Iraq War veteran with two tours of service who publicly came out to challenge the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, may enter the race to replace Ellen Tauscher in CA-10.

Harvard Magazine’s January-February edition features a very interesting story about Woods’ decision to leave the Army. Woods has a masters degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Woods was born on Travis Air Force Base and attended high school in Fairfield, according to a spokesman. He is now considering moving back home and running for Congress.

Woods was traveling and unavailable for comment today but as soon as I have an opportunity to speak with him at length, I will file an updated post about him.

I was able to speak with someone knowledgeable about Woods and his decision-making process today, and he told me that he would figure out whether or not to run “in the coming weeks.”  With no timetable for Tauscher’s confirmation, certainly Woods, who also staffed for New York Gov. David Paterson, has some time.  

Everyone who I’ve talked to about this characterizes Woods as a deeply impressive individual.  He fought in Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq for two tours before deciding to take a stand on their discriminatory policy with respect to gays and lesbians.  Here’s a bit from that Harvard Magazine article Vordebrueggen cited:

In early November, Woods learned he would be “eliminated” from the army on the grounds of “moral and professional dereliction” and required to repay $35,000-the amount of his scholarship to attend the Kennedy School.

A military career may seem a curious choice for a young man who is gay or even questioning his orientation. But for the son of a single mother, growing up in an Air Force town in northern California, acceptance to West Point was an honor-and an opportunity-beyond compare. Woods focused on the professional to the exclusion of the personal; with the country at war, that wasn’t hard. But two years at Harvard gave him space to think-and to face his dismal prospects for upward mobility in an organization with an explicit homosexuality ban and a strong culture of marriage and children. Even if he had stayed closeted, he says, “It wasn’t going to be possible for me to fit the mold, and I knew that because of that, there was going to be a glass ceiling.”

Even after the invasive court-martial process-the military conducts interviews with friends and family to verify homosexuality, presumably to prevent fraud, for instance by soldiers who wish to avoid an additional tour in Iraq-Woods is reluctant to malign the officers who carried out his investigation. He says they are simply implementing a policy. Change might come from Congress, but Woods believes the Supreme Court is a more likely venue: “I think it’s going to take a landmark court case, like Brown v. Board of Education.”

That we would bar talented people who want to serve their country from that option makes absolutely no sense at all.  But perhaps this is a blessing.  Perhaps Woods can return to his hometown and find another way to serve – as part of a fresh group of lawmakers who have a new insight to these time-worn challenges we face and maybe some new strategies to tackle them.  I hope to interview Woods very shortly should he decide to enter the race.  Stay tuned.