Editor's note: the file below contains a correction, updated May 5 2010.
The Republican Party is targeting this race as one of its top national priorities, and if the GOP can dislodge a three-term senator from California, it will be a major blow for the party (and agenda) of President Obama. The pundits are happily talking about how much danger Barbara Boxer faces, how the country's mood is swinging against big-government liberals.
But it's always a mistake to count out Boxer. In 1982, as a Marin County supervisor with little name recognition in San Francisco, she trounced then-SF Sup. Louise Renne for an open Congressional seat. Ten years later, she beat the odds and won a hotly contested primary and tough general election to move into the Senate. She's a fierce campaigner, and with no primary opposition, will have a united party behind her.
Boxer is one of the most progressive members of the not-terribly progressive U.S. Senate. She's been one of the strongest, most consistent supporters of reproductive rights in Washington and a friend of labor (with 100 percent ratings from the AFL-CIO and National Education Association). We've had our disagreements: Boxer supported No Child Left Behind, wrote the law allowing airline pilots to carry guns in the cockpit, and was weak on same-sex marriage when San Francisco sought to legalize it (although she's come around). But she was an early and stalwart foe of the war in Iraq, split with her own party to oppose a crackdown on illegal immigration, and is leading the way on accountability for Wall Street. She richly deserves reelection, and we're happy to endorse her.
It's odd that the representative from Marin and Sonoma counties is more progressive by far than her colleague to the south, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi. But over the years, Lynn Woolsey has been one of the strongest opponents of the war, a voice against bailouts for the big Wall Street banks, and a foe of cuts in the social safety net. We're proud to endorse her for another term.
George Miller has been representing this East Bay district since 1974, and is now the chair of the Education and Labor Committee and a powerhouse in Congress. He's too prone to compromise (with George W. Bush on education policy) but is taking the right line on California water (while Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on the wrong side). We'll endorse him for another term.
We've never been terribly pleased with San Francisco's most prominent Congressional representative. Nancy Pelosi was the author of the bill that created the first privatized national park at the Presidio, setting a horrible standard that parks ought to be about making money. She was weak on opposing the war, ducked same-sex marriage, and has used her clout locally for all the wrong candidates and issues. But we have to give her credit for resurrecting and pushing through the health care bill (bad as it was — and it's pretty bad — it's better than doing nothing). And, at a time when the Republicans are trying to derail the Obama presidency, she's become a pretty effective partner for the president.
Her fate as speaker (and her future in this seat) probably depends on how the Democrats fare in the midterm Congressional elections this fall. But if she and the party survive in decent shape, she needs to take the opportunity to undo the damage she did at the Presidio.
Barbara Lee, who represents Berkeley and Oakland, is co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House, one of the most consistent liberal votes in Congress, and a hero to the antiwar movement. In 2001, she was the only member of either house to oppose the Bush administration's Use of Force resolution following the 9/11 attacks, and she's never let up on her opposition to foolish military entanglements. We're glad she's doing what Nancy Pelosi won't — represent the progressive politics of her district in Washington.
Most politicians mellow and get more moderate as they age; Stark is the opposite. He announced a couple of years ago that he's an atheist (the only one in Congress), opposed the Iraq war early, called one of his colleagues a whore for the insurance industry, and insulted President Bush and refused to apologize, saying: "I may have dishonored the commander-in-chief, but I think he's done pretty well to dishonor himself without any help from me." He served as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee for exactly one day — March 3 — before the Democratic membership overruled Speaker Pelosi and chucked him out on the grounds that he was too inflammatory. The 78-year-old may not be in office much longer, but he's good on all the major issues. He's also fearless. If he wants another term, he deserves one.
Jerry Brown? Which Jerry Brown? The small-is-beautiful environmentalist from the 1970s who opposed Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Diablo Canyon nuke and created the California Conservation Corps, the Office of Appropriate Technology, and the Farm Labor Relations Board (all while running a huge budget surplus in Sacramento)? The angry populist who lashed out at corporate power on a KPFA radio talk show and ran against Bill Clinton for president? The pro-development mayor of Oakland who sided with the cops on crime issues and opened a military academy? Or the tough-on-crime attorney general who refuses to even talk about tax increases to solve the state's gargantuan budget problems?
We don't know. That's the problem with Brown — you never know what he'll do or say next. For now, he's been a terribly disappointing candidate, running to the right, rambling on about preserving Proposition 13, making awful statements about immigration and sanctuary laws, and even sounding soft on environmental issues. He's started to hit his stride lately, though, attacking likely GOP contender Meg Whitman over her ties to Wall Street and we're seeing a few flashes of the populist Brown. But he's got to step it up if he wants to win — and he's got to get serious about taxes and show some budget leadership, if he wants to make a difference as governor.
Not an easy choice, by any means.
Mayor Gavin Newsom jumped into this race only after it became clear that he wouldn't get elected governor. He sees it as a temporary perch, someplace to park his political ambitions until a better office opens up. He's got the money, the statewide name recognition, and the endorsement of some of the state's major power players, including both U.S. Senators and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He's also been a terrible mayor of San Francisco — and some progressives (like Sup. Chris Daly) argue, persuasively, that the best way to get a better person in Room 200 is to ship Newsom off to an office in Sacramento where he can't do much harm and let the supervisors pick the next mayor.
But it's hard to endorse Newsom for any higher office. He's ducked on public power, allowing PG&E to come very close to blocking the city's community choice aggregation program (See editorial, page 5). His policies have promoted deporting kids and breaking up families. He's taken an approach to the city budget — no new revenue, just cuts — that's similar to what the Republican governor has done. He didn't even bother to come down and talk to us about this race. There's really no good argument for supporting the advancement of his political career.
Then there's Janice Hahn. She's a Los Angeles City Council member, the daughter of a former county supervisor, and the sister of a former mayor. She got in this race way before Newsom, and her nightmare campaign consultant, Garry South, acts as if she has some divine right to be the only Democrat running.
Hahn in not overly impressive as a candidate. When we met her, she seemed confused about some issues and scrambled to duck others. She told us she's not sure she's in favor of legalizing pot, but she isn't sure why she's not sure since she has no arguments against it. She won't take a position on a new peripheral canal, although she can't defend building one and says that protecting San Francisco Bay has to be a priority. She won't rule out offshore oil drilling, although she said she has yet to see a proposal she can support. Her main economic development proposal was to bring more film industry work to California, even if that means cutting taxes for the studios or locating the shoots on Indian land where there are fewer regulations.
On the other hand, she told us she wants to get rid of the two-thirds threshold in the state Legislature for passing a budget or raising taxes. She supports reinstating the car tax at pre-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger levels. She supports a split-roll measure to reform Prop. 13. She wants to see an oil-severance tax to fund education. She's one of the few statewide candidates who openly advocates higher taxes on the wealthy as part of the solution to the budget crisis.
We are under no illusions that Hahn will be able to use the weak office of lieutenant governor to move on any of these issues, and we're not at all sure she's ready to take over the top spot. But on the issues, she's clearly better than Newsom, so she gets our endorsements.
Debra Bowen is the only Democrat running, a sign that pretty much everyone in the party thinks she's doing a fine job as Secretary of State. She's run a clean office and we see no reason to replace her.
Like Bowen, John Chiang has no opposition in the primary, and he's been a perfectly adequate controller. In fact, when Gov. Schwarzenegger tried two years ago to cut the pay of thousands of state employees to the minimum wage level, Chiang defied him and refused to change the paychecks — a move that forced the governor to back down. We just wish he'd play a more visible role in talking about the need for more tax revenue to balance the state's books.
Bill Lockyer keeps bouncing around Sacramento, waiting, perhaps, for his chance to be governor. He was attorney general. Now he's treasurer seeking a second term, which he will almost certainly win. He's done some good things, including trying to use state bonds to promote alternative energy, and has spoken out forcefully about the governor's efforts to defer deficit problems through dubious borrowing. He hasn't, however, come out in favor of higher taxes for the rich or a change in Prop. 13.
There are really only two serious candidates in this race, Kamala Harris, the San Francisco district attorney, and Rocky Delgadillo, the former Los Angeles city attorney. Harris has a comfortable lead, with Delgadillo in second and the others far behind.
Delgadillo is on his second try for this office. He ran against Jerry Brown four years ago and got nowhere. And in the meantime, he's come under fire for, among other things, using city employees to run personal errands for him (picking up his dry-cleaning, babysitting his kids) and driving his car without insurance. On a more significant level, he made his reputation with gang injunctions that smacked of ethnic profiling and infuriated Latino and civil liberties groups. It's amazing he's still a factor in this race; he can't possibly win the general election with all his baggage.
Harris has a lot going for her. She was among the first California elected officials to endorse Barack Obama for president, and remains close to the administration. She's a smart, articulate prosecutor and could be one of the few women atop the Democratic ticket this year. We were never comfortable with her ties to Willie Brown, but he's no longer a factor in state or local politics. These days, she's more closely allied with the likes of State Sen. Mark Leno.
That said, we have some serious problems with Harris. She's been up in Sacramento pushing Republican-style tough-on-crime bills (like a measure that would bar registered sex offenders from ever using social networking sites on the Internet) and forcing sane Democrats like Assembly Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Tom Ammiano to try to tone down or kill them (and then take the political heat). If she didn't know about the problems in the SFPD crime lab, she should have, and should have made a bigger fuss, earlier.
But Harris has kept her principled position against the death penalty, even when it meant taking immense flak from the cops for refusing to seek capital punishment for the killer of a San Francisco police officer. She's clearly the best choice for the Democrats.
Two credible progressives are vying to run for this powerful and important position regulating the massive — and massively corrupt — California insurance industry. Dave Jones and Hector De La Torre are both in the state Assembly, with Jones representing Sacramento and De La Torre hailing from Los Angeles. Both have a record opposing insurance industry initiatives; both are outspoken foes of Prop. 17; and either would do a fine job as insurance commissioner. But Jones has more experience on consumer issues and health care reform, and we prefer his background as a Legal Aid lawyer to De La Torre's history as a Southern California Edison executive. So we'll give Jones the nod.
Betty Yee has taken over a job that's been a stronghold of progressive tax policy since the days of the late Bill Bennett. She's done well in the position, supporting progressive financial measures and even coming down, as a top tax official, in favor of legalizing (and taxing) marijuana. We're happy to endorse her for another term.
Two prominent Democratic legislators are running for this nonpartisan post, state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles and Assembly Member Tom Torlakson of Martinez. It's a pretty clear choice: Romero is a big supporter of charter schools who thinks parents should be able to move their kids out of one school district and into another (allowing wealthier white parents, for example, to abandon Los Angeles or San Francisco for the suburban districts). She's been supported in the past by Don and Doris Fisher, who put a chunk of their GAP Inc. fortune into school privatization efforts. Torlakson wants more accountability for charters, opposes the Romero district-option bill, and has the support of every major teachers union in the state. Vote for Torlakson.
Sen. Leland Yee can be infuriating. Two years ago, he was hell-bent on selling the Cow Palace as surplus state property and allowing private developers to take it over. In the recent budget crisis, he pissed off his Democratic colleagues by refusing to vote for cuts that everyone else knew were inevitable (while never making a strong stand in favor of, say, repealing Prop. 13 or raising other taxes). But he's always been good on open-government issues and has made headlines lately for busting California State University, Stanislaus over a secret contract to bring Sarah Palin in for a fundraiser — and has raised the larger point that public universities shouldn't hide their finances behind private foundations.
Yee will have no serious opposition for reelection, and his campaign for a second term in Sacramento is really the start of the Leland Yee for Mayor effort. With reservations over the Cow Palace deal and a few other issues, we'll endorse him for reelection.
Correction update: Yee's office informs us that the senator suports an oil-severance tax and a tax on high-income earners and "believes that Prop. 13 should be reformed," although he hasn't taken a position on Assemblymember Tom Ammiano's reform bill. 
Fiona Ma's a mixed bag (at best). She doesn't like Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and supports public power, but comes up with strange bills that make no sense, like a 2009 measure to limit rent control in trailer parks. Why does Ma, who has no trailer parks in her district, care? Maybe because the landlords who control the mobile home facilities gave her some campaign cash. She faces no opposition, and we're not thrilled with her record, but we'll reluctantly back her for another term.
When the history of progressive politics in modern San Francisco is written, Tom Ammiano will be a central figure. His long-shot 1999 mayoral campaign against Willie Brown brought the left to life in town, and his leadership helped bring back district elections and put a progressive Board of Supervisors in place in 2000. As a supervisor, he authored the city's landmark health care bill (which Newsom constantly tries to take credit for) and the rainy day fund (which saved the public schools from debilitating cuts). He uses his local influence to promote the right causes, issues, and candidates.
And he's turned out to be an excellent member of the state Assembly. He forced BART to take seriously civilian oversight of the transit police force. He put the battle to reform Prop. 13 with a split-role measure back on the state agenda. And his efforts to legalize and tax marijuana are close to making California the first state to toss the insane pot laws. As chair of the Public Safety Committee, he routinely defies the police lobbies and the right-wing Republicans and defuses truly awful legislation. We're glad Ammiano's still fighting in the good fight, and we're pleased to endorse him for another term.
Nancy Skinner has taken on one of the toughest, and for small businesses, most important, battles in Sacramento. She wants to make out-of-state companies that sell products to Californians collect and remit sales tax. If you buy a book at your local bookstore, you have to pay sales tax; if you buy it from Amazon, it's tax-free. That not only hurts the state, which loses hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, it's a competitive disadvantage to local shops. Skinner's a good progressive vote and an ally for Ammiano on the Public Safety Committee. We're happy to endorse her for another term.
Sandre Swanson represents the district where BART police killed Oscar Grant, but he wasn't the one out front pushing for more civilian accountability; that was left to SF's Ammiano. And while Swanson was generally supportive of Ammiano's bill, he was hardly a leader in the campaign to pass it. This is too bad, because Swanson's almost always a progressive vote and has been good on issues like whistleblower protection (a Swanson bill that passed this year protects local government workers who want to report problems confidentially). We'll endorse him for another term, but he needs to get tougher on the BART police.