Jun 11 2012
Nearly a week after voters went to the polls in California Congressional district 2, the race remains too close to call between Progressive candidate Norman Solomon and Republican Dan Roberts. The two are vying for a second place finish behind Democrat Jared Huffman who is assured a place on November’s ballot. Solomon declined to admit defeat last Tuesday night after coming within two thousand votes of Roberts, citing the tens of thousands of provisional and absentee ballots still uncounted from his left-leaning northern California district representing Marin County. California’s new primary system mandates that the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, be placed in a run-off. As of Friday, Solomon trailed Roberts by just 1.1%, a difference of only 1,379 votes. Elections officials have said an official result could come as late as June 15th.
Last September, on Uprising Radio, Solomon described his campaign goals of a “Green New Deal”, a jobs plan based on sustainable, environmentally responsible industry and a revitalization of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Solomon is the Co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay and the Healthcare Not Warfare national campaign co-chair, along with Congressman John Conyers and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association. He is a Former member of the national advisory board for Progressive Democrats of America and the Co-founder of the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Solomon has authored a dozen books on media, political discourse and public policy, including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”
GUEST: Norman Solomon, congressional candidate for District 2
Visit www.solomonforcongress.com for more information.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Let’s talk about what the latest is in your race before we get into some of the reasons why you ran and what you might’ve learned in this race. I mentioned some numbers—what is the latest in terms of the gap between you and your closest candidate?
Norman Solomon: Well, it’s still about 1400 votes, and the other big figure that’s looming is that there remain about 40,000 votes yet to be counted. And it is sort of astonishing, but it’s a reality that here we are, as you’ve noted, almost a week after election day. How could we have 40,000 votes that haven’t even been opened, let alone counted? And the answer is that so many people who receive ballots in the mail and ostensibly vote by mail actually carry their votes into the local precinct voting station on election day, and those votes have piled up. That’s where the 40,000 votes are that remain to be counted in this race.
Kolhatkar: And do you have any sense of which areas those votes represent and any sense that they might tilt toward you versus the Republican candidate?
Solomon: Yes, that’s really a key question, because the areas where there are the most votes yet to be counted are the areas where I ran ahead of the Republican, Dan Roberts. Also, those who voted closer to election day or on election day favored me over him, and those who sent in their ballots weeks before favored Roberts, and the reality is that we know that, because a few minutes after the polls close, the numbers come in for the backlog of votes that had been mailed in weeks ago. So in other words, both in terms of the timing of the uncounted votes, and the location of those votes make us believe that the gap is going to narrow and quite possibly or probably close. That remains to be seen.
Kolhatkar: So what’s the process, at this point, of counting the votes, and is there a deadline by which you might know? 40,000 votes is not that much.
Solomon: Well, the signatures have to be checked in each of six counties. That’s why our campaign has moved into election protection mode. Every vote has to be counted and counted properly, and we have people arrayed in five different counties now, monitoring the votes, making clear that we need to make sure they’re counted correctly. People can remember from Florida, from Ohio and less publicized instances, not necessarily through any sort of malfeasance but just the realities of the situation, that election protection has to be active by a campaign. It does make a difference, and that’s why if people over this weekend have gone to our web site, have actually contributed to our election protection effort, because this is going to go on for the next couple weeks. And I certainly would invite people to visit us on the web at solomonforcongress.com. You know, democracy doesn’t end when election night ends, and counting every vote is really a core progressive principle, and in this case, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s what has to be done if we’re going to have a realistic chance to get onto the November ballot.
Kolhatkar: Let’s talk about your candidacy. Your Democratic colleague Jared Huffman is in the running for the general election because he did win the highest number of votes, and the seat that you’re running for was vacated by Lynn Woolsey, a very progressive member of Congress. Interestingly enough, however, Woolsey herself endorsed Jared Huffman rather than you. One might argue that your politics were more in line with her politics. How much role has the Democratic Party establishment support of Huffman played in this election?
Solomon: Well, the Woolsey endorsement came after the primary election last Thursday. It is a key question you’re asking. I’m challenging the establishment of the Democratic Party as well as, you might say, the political economy dominated by corporations and so forth. Folks will remember a couple of years ago, perhaps, when Jane Harman, a very pro-war member of Congress, was being challenged by the great progressive Marcy Winograd, the anti-war candidate. Alas, Lynn Woolsey, although an anti-war member of Congress in our district here, endorsed Jane Harman, something I publicly criticized strongly at the time. And in a way, so it’s, as Yogi Berra might have said, it’s déjà vu all over again. She’s endorsed here in the last few days my opponent, if indeed I do proceed to November. It’s really about, unfortunately, ways in which members of Congress all too often close ranks, even when doing so undermines a lot of their espoused principles in some cases.
Kolhatkar: What role did money play in this election, regarding what you have raised, and what Jared Huffman might have raised?
Solomon: Well, I should say that in a way, the possibility of how this vote count goes is a paradigm of how we need to strive to widen the discourse and the debate and the battle, the electoral battle, because if I am successful in getting onto the ballot, if the votes are counted fully, then it will be the genuine progressive against a corporate Democrat. If we fall a few votes short, then it will be a corporate Democrat versus a Republican, and that’s exactly the configuration that we as progressives around the country need to challenge. We can’t as progressives afford to leave the electoral battlefield to corporate Democrats and Republicans. And in this case, I’m running against somebody who raised a lot of money early on. He’s raised over a million dollars in this race. We’ve raised $700,000, and we did it with an average donation of $94, compared to about $400. So it’s been really grassroots versus Astroturf, a lot of smaller donations versus a relatively small number of big ones.
Kolhatkar: Now, the new open primary system that only allows the two top vote-getters to get to the November election seems to have played in your favor here, because certainly while it shuts out or has a tendency to shut out third parties, in this case, had we had a traditional primary, the choice between you and Jared Huffman might have resulted easily in Jared Huffman going through to November and facing off against a Republican candidate. Has the top two system benefited you, if you win?
Solomon: In this case, it has. I think your point is a very, very accurate one. I was opposed to Prop 14, I think it’s unfair to third, fourth, fifth parties, or the Green Party, or whatever, and also denies a party and its members the right to nominate a candidate to go to November, but in this case, the top two has given us the potential to have a reconfiguration if I do get onto the November ballot. A lot of the people who vote in this race for candidates who came in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth for that matter, because there were twelve candidates overall, are to the left of my prospective opponent, the corporate Democrat Jared Huffman. So there would be a realignment of forces, and I would certainly pick up a lot of progressive votes which went to other candidates.
Kolhatkar: If you do go through to November, of course the benefit of being part of a November race is that you not only have more time to campaign, but it’s generally a much better attended race, and in this year, with the presidential election, it’s going to probably have the highest turnout of the races that we tend to see.
Solomon: That’s right. It would be a much bigger universe of voters and we from the beginning, I mean this campaign has been going on for sixteen months from our standpoint. And again if people go to our site, it’s solomonforcongress.com, you’ll learn more about our politics, what we’re doing now for election protection, and how you can help. The reality is that there are different models of how you win elections and the traditional one is, you have some name familiarity, you dump money at the top of the machinery, and at the bottom comes out votes. And our approach continues to be the opposite—that you’re able to raise money because you do grassroots work and because you resonate with people, not an Astroturf sort of approach that is traditional and frankly, usually successful, unless we’re able to counter it with genuine grassroots campaigning. So that’s why I call this race grassroots versus Astroturf.
Kolhatkar: Norman Solomon, you have been doing progressive activist work for a very long time. You are experienced not only outside of the electoral process, but also, being involved with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, you’re certainly not naïve about the party. And yet, what we saw happen, for example, in Wisconsin last week has gotten a lot of progressives thinking about the selling out of movements, or the giving up of movements by siphoning or funneling them into the electoral process, which can sometimes be a movement killer. What lessons have you learned from your candidacy? I’m sure the decision to run was a difficult one, but in addition to what you said earlier about seeing establishment Democrats close ranks around their colleagues, have you learned something? What can you share with us about this whole process?
Solomon: I come back to what Frederick Douglass said so long ago, and I’m paraphrasing, but closely here I believe: “Power does not give up without a struggle. It never did, and it never will.” I believe that state power really matters, that inside-outside strategies in terms of the electoral arena are crucial. When we look at where things were in Latin America, for instance in the southern cone, with terrible dictatorships reigning and torturing 25 years ago, and now, through a combination of organizing, community activism, and action in the streets, as well as electoral work, we have from Brazil to Uruguay to Argentina to elsewhere regimes, or we would now say governments, that at least are much more responsive to the needs of the poor and engage in some semblance of democratic activity. So I think we need to get beyond the dualism of either we organize in community action in the streets on the one hand, do Occupy activities and so forth, or we do electoral work. One should and can enhance and strengthen the other. We need that kind of synergy for the long term. The right wing has done it; we’ve got to do a much better job ourselves.
Kolhatkar: Norman, let me also ask you a question that often comes up when progressives run for office, which is why not choose smaller offices to begin with and work your way to the higher offices? Why start with Congress? Why not, you know, not just the school board and city council, but the state legislature?
Solomon: Well, I think there are different pathways in different situations. Paul Wellstone, for instance, had never held elective office before he went to the U.S. Senate, and I think he was a very strong senator, representing and responsive to progressive movements. But it also is important and valuable for people to run for all sorts of offices, whether it’s a small town council or school board or anything else. I think it depends on the variety, the situations. And also, the fact is that different opportunities or possibilities crop up. I mean, I’ve worked personally on not only domestic social, environmental and economic justice issues, but also internationally, against what Martin Luther King Jr. called the madness of militarism. Out of all the candidates in our race, I was the only one – I am the only one – with any foreign policy experience at all. And so, when you have a situation like that, do we leave the terrain to people who basically haven’t been engaged in any challenge to the warfare state?
Kolhatkar: Norman, you are also an adept media critic. How has the media viewed your candidacy? There must be a difference between local coverage versus coverage by some of the more national newspapers, and even network television?
Solomon: Yeah, there was really just an absence, almost complete absence of substantive coverage until a few months ago, and I would say I’ve been running now for sixteen months, and the traditional way of covering really reigned supreme, and that is just to tote up the amount of dollars that each candidate had raised with each quarterly filing with the FEC, and then to sort of horse-race it. But I think also, because of our power on the radio, community radio, as well as online listserves, web sites and so forth, our campaign was able to have a much broader way to message. So the definition of media, traditionally, which still holds a lot of sway, terrible coverage both quantitatively and qualitatively, although we had some decent coverage along the way. But when it comes to broader definitions of progressive and other media, including online, we’ve done pretty well. And I think that points the way that we’ve got to keep building our media institutions so that we can strengthen all our efforts in the streets and in the voting booth.
Kolhatkar: Okay, finally, Norman, if you had to do it all over again, would you?
Solomon: Yes. You know, the benefit of hindsight, I would’ve made, at certain points, different decisions, but overwhelmingly, it’s just the way we did it, because it’s been very grassroots. I’ve worked with so many hundreds of wonderful volunteers, and that’s just been so gratifying. It makes all the difference. There is a spirit out there. We’ve heard it from Tahrir Square to our own communities, we’ve seen it, we’ve been part of it, that’s how social change is going to happen. We do have the spirit. Si se puede, we can do it, and I felt it in this campaign, and that’s our future, all of us.
Kolhatkar: Well, Norman Solomon, we will certainly monitor the vote count as it progresses. Thanks so much for joining us.
Solomon: Thank you, Sonali.
Special Thanks to Marjorie Hunt for transcribing this interview