Nation touts LGBT record
by Matthew S. Bajko
Out on the stump state Senate candidate Joe Nation tells audiences he jumped into the Democratic primary race after a man approached him during an appearance on a climate change panel in Washington, D.C.
The man, whom Nation refers to as a staffer for a U.S. senator, inquired if he intended to run for public office again. Nation, a former state assemblyman from Marin, exited politics after he lost a primary challenge against U.S. Representative Lynn Woolsey in 2006. Since being termed out of office that year, Nation has taken a teaching position at Stanford University and joined environmental consulting firm Environ International as a climate change adviser.
The man, as Nation retells it, told him, "You should. You will be writing national policy in California. You are the leaders; we follow you."
Nation, 51, has repeatedly said that combating climate change is his top priority and reason for running.
"I would not be in this race if not for that issue," he told a crowd of students at the University of California Hastings School of Law in March.
But another conversation that took place between Nation and a supporter is what likely sealed the deal for his deciding to run against two of the state's most powerful gay Democratic lawmakers, Senator Carole Migden and Assemblyman Mark Leno, for Migden's 3rd District Senate seat in the June 3 election.
As late as last October Nation had insisted he had ruled out running for the seat. But then in December he set up an exploratory account, signaling he was ready to jump into the intraparty fracas. What helped change his mind occurred at a dinner he had at the Bernal Heights home of a former gay staffer.
As Nation recalled during an editorial board meeting with the Bay Area Reporter this month, the man's partner told him, "I think you could win this race." The reason the man gave, according to Nation, was that he is "so sick of the two of them," â€“ meaning the infighting among the gay politicians â€“ and believed that other LGBT voters likely were looking for a third option in the race.
He also commissioned a poll that showed he had a good chance of winning the race, which he officially entered in February. Since then polls have shown him neck and neck with Leno, while the incumbent Migden trails in third place.
Nation told the B.A.R. that he is not conceding the gay vote to his opponents and plans to walk precincts in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood this Sunday, though he acknowledged the challenges he faces winning over LGBT residents worried about relinquishing gay control of the Senate seat.
"I know a lot of people in the gay community are wondering 'Why should we vote for this guy?' I would say look at my record on the issues and what I have been able to do," said Nation. "On the issues your readers care about, I don't think there are any differences between the three of us. I am a strong supporter of the marriage bill."
In 2004, when Leno first introduced his pro-gay marriage bill, Nation was a co-sponsor of the legislation and received a perfect score that year on Equality California's scorecard of LGBT bills. He also received perfect scores in 2005 and 2006. Leno eventually dropped the 2004 bill and introduced it the following year, when it was vetoed.
On his Web site Nation plugs passage in 2002 â€“ his second year in the Assembly â€“ of his AB2777, which allowed Marin and Santa Barbara counties to extend survivor benefits to their employees in domestic partnerships.
Should he be elected he has promised to reintroduce the same-sex marriage bill, which Leno successfully passed twice only to see Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger veto it both times.
"Marriage equality would be among the first five bills I introduce," Nation said.
Courting gay voters
When it comes to courting gay voters in the district, which runs from San Francisco north through all of Marin County and the southern portion of Sonoma County, Nation's largest handicap would appear to be in San Francisco. Leno and Migden had already spent a full year campaigning and locked up numerous endorsements from gay and straight politicians before Nation had even begun thinking about running.
The city's two LGBT Democratic clubs split their support among the two, with Alice B. Toklas lining up behind Leno in early 2007 and Harvey Milk going with Migden after a protracted endorsement battle last fall. Each candidate has various prominent individual LGBT endorsers backing their campaigns.
Working to Nation's benefit is that the district's boundary runs down the middle of Castro Street, literally splitting the city's gay neighborhood in half, diluting the strength of the LGBT voting bloc in the Senate district. And despite San Francisco having more registered voters than the other parts of the district, more people north of the Golden Gate actually vote.
Yet interviews with several gay community leaders in Marin and Sonoma indicate Nation has yet to make any strong inroads with LGBT voters in their parts of the district. Asked how local LGBT residents regard Nation, Paula Pilecki, the executive director of the Spectrum LGBT Center, which serves Marin and Sonoma counties, said she didn't know the answer and referred the B.A.R. to people more involved in local politics.
Mill Valley resident Bob Harmon, the secretary for the Marin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he has yet to decide which candidate he will vote for in the race, though in the past he has supported Migden. He said at this point he didn't feel any of the three had an advantage with Marin's LGBT community.
Harmon, a gay man who served on the Democratic Central Committee of Marin between 1992 and 2004, said the lack of a clear frontrunner is mainly due to the fact there is no one gay bar or neighborhood they can go to to campaign.
"We don't really have an organized gay and lesbian community here the way we have in urban areas. In the absence of gay media and any gay particular worries right now, the race may be decided by what they say to us as a larger community," said Harmon. "What will be important is how he reaches out to gay and lesbian people, primarily on the matters of what concerns they have on other issues at the national and at the state level."
As for Nation and his LGBT record, Harmon said he first met him in 1991 and that "he seemed friendly and receptive to the community. I have not heard anything bad about him." At the same time, Harmon said he didn't know much about Leno.
"I don't know Mark Leno that well. I have just seen him at a distance," said Harmon.
He predicted that if Migden could educate LGBT voters on her achievements, particularly passing the state's first domestic partnership bill, she probably would have an edge among the three.
"If gay and lesbian people up here know that, they might be more inclined to support her. She has done a lot of good work for the community," said Harmon. "I am not hearing much on the issues though, just the personalities."
Cloverdale City Councilwoman Carol Russell, an out lesbian and Leno supporter, said she doubted Nation was well known among Sonoma County voters. Although her city is not in the Senate district boundaries, she and her partner have talked up Leno's qualifications to their friends and acquaintances who reside in the Senate district.
"We happen to know Joe Nation. We lived in Marin for close to six decades. If Joe were running in our area I personally would not support him over Mark Leno or Carole Migden," said Russell, who said she supported Migden in her first Senate campaign. "I don't know if folks up here know who Joe Nation is."
Nation said he isn't surprised to hear that people don't know about him, as he has purposely been waiting till closer to election day to engage voters other than at candidate forums. He taped his first TV commercial this week and will begin his mail campaign in May.
"It is about to begin in earnest. Today is six weeks out," he said Tuesday, April 22. "We are going to step up very quickly."
Neither Russell nor Harmon felt voters' decisions would hinge on who would be better on environmental issues. But they both conceded it is a pressing issue in their communities.
"As a council person and someone who networks with people up and down the Highway 101 corridor, yes it is a concern. But there are so many issues we have here," said Russell.
Harmon added, "It is important. But I don't know how concerned people are up here on climate change. There are definite climate worries every time fire season comes around, but beyond that, people's main worries these days are about the economy."
Nation ties his plans for dealing with climate change to boosting the state's faltering economy. On Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22) he released a plan aimed at attracting CleanTech businesses to the district.
His proposal calls for lowering the sales tax on manufacturing equipment purchased by CleanTech companies and offering such businesses a combination of grants, tax incentives, and credits, loans and guarantees for relocating. He also proposed creating a "Green Collar Training Program" through the state community college system to train employees to work in this burgeoning field.
In an interview, Nation said the first bill he would introduce as a senator would move up by two years to 2010 the start date for California creating a carbon trading market.
"Cities can make money off of this," Nation said.
Nation moved to El Verano after he separated from his wife, Linda. He has twin 18-year-old daughters, Kristen and Lexi. The Texas native graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor's of arts degree in economics, German, and French.
According to his campaign bio, he earned a master's degree in foreign service from Georgetown University and subsequently received a doctorate degree in public policy analysis from the Rand Graduate School. He then pursued a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University.
With the recent federal court decision allowing Migden to tap into her old campaign funds to spend on her current race, Nation said the race is anyone's to win. He needs to match Migden's war chest of close to $1 million, and has set a goal of raising $5,000 a day between now and election day. As of mid-April he had $340,000.
"It is no longer a two man race. Carole has $800,000 to spend, that's a pretty significant advantage that she is going to have," said Nation, who is planning to run television ads throughout the district beginning this month and an aggressive ground campaign.