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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Race for open Calif. seat heats up early over nuclear power

Originally published by Environment & Energy Daily.

(Thursday, July 14, 2011)
Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter

Nuclear activist and author Norman Solomon has a simple plan for beating California Assemblyman Jared Huffman in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D) for the state's 6th District: Run to the left of him.

Huffman, a three-term assemblyman, has been pegged by political experts as the early odds-on favorite to follow Woolsey in a district likely to be redrawn by a state panel before the 2012 election cycle (E&E Daily, July 6). But Solomon is questioning Huffman's progressive credentials in a region of the country, just north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, that may qualify as the most liberal in the nation.

To Solomon, Huffman's lifetime 100 percent score from the California League of Conservation Voters for votes in the Assembly doesn't stack up because of his positions on a cap-and-trade market for carbon, nuclear power, water infrastructure, desalination and smart meters.

On each topic, Solomon is trying to separate himself from Huffman and others in the field -- including Marin County Board of Supervisors chief Susan Adams -- by tacking to the hard left on environmental issues. Solomon says he is trying to make the campaign about the issues and feels his positions resonate more closely with historically crunchy voters in Marin, Sonoma and Humboldt counties.

"I'm the only candidate taking strong progressive positions on energy and the environment," said Solomon, as he argued for an abolition of nuclear energy, opposing "cap and charade," rethinking smart meters until more studies are complete and halting a local desalination plant that could hurt marine life.

In an extensive interview, Solomon also insisted his record is more in line with Woolsey's, the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and one of the more prominent anti-war politicians in the United States. Solomon co-wrote a book on atomic radiation published in 1982, for instance, and feels an immediate ban on nuclear power in California to mirror Germany's policy shift is consistent with the views of Northern California voters.

"I've thrown down the gauntlet on the nuclear power issue," he said, pointing to a recent full-page ad his campaign purchased in the Pacific Sun that taunts Huffman on the issue and to an editorial in the Marin Independent Journal that calls for a nuclear freeze in the wake of Japan's Fukushima meltdown.

Solomon adds that he would take his brand of activism to Washington, where he feels the Energy Department and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been "nuclear friendly" for decades. As for whether Huffman is a "shoo-in" to win the district, however it is drawn, Solomon calls that "the conventional wisdom from D.C. and Sacramento," where he says politicians are too cozy with the nuclear power industry and other energy sectors in the wake of Fukushima and the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I'm ready to take on these regulatory failures from the administration," he said.

Tacking from 'pale green' to a deeper shade

Asked if he is a radical, Solomon called the question a "key point" to be vetted in the Democratic primary, noting that Woolsey -- a tried-and-true Yellow Dog Democrat -- won re-election in her district "time after time" by big margins.

He also pointed to the $100,000 his campaign has raised early in the cycle, which was followed, according to Solomon, by $11,000 in online donations from 133 individual voters the day after Woolsey announced her retirement in June. That matches the $100,000 Huffman has raised so far, in a district that will likely cost at least $1 million to win.

Solomon's strategy is to replicate the campaigns of President Obama and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), who financed their efforts with small, repeat donations from many individual donors.

"We're on the ground, we're raising money, we're doing door to door," he said.

As for Huffman, who so far has declined to talk more extensively about the issues but has been widely praised by environmental groups, Solomon believes his opponent's "enabling" position on nuclear power and prominent role in helping get an $11 billion water bond passed in 2009 could come back to haunt him.

"The difference is between deep green and pale green," he said. "It's a different stripe of environmentalism."

Click here to see Solomon's full page ad in the Pacific Sun on nuclear energy. (Subscription only)