POSTED BY Scott Restivo, www.abettercongress.org
Saw Steve Filson give his pitch at the San Ramon Valley Democratic Club
meeting last night, Oct. 27. Here are my comments:
I did not find him all that inspiring. Yes, he is a candidate, but to me, he seems very generic, nothing that will inflame the grassroots. He spoke about his "story" and what led him to run, and stated some generic positions. But he comes off, to me, as sort of, well, "generic" -- yes, he fits the product description of a candidate (family, military, etc), but does not have the pizzazz or "special sauce" that could win.
Here are some of the things he said last night:
Born in San Diego, son of Naval officer, traveled around when young, came back to Calif, joined Navy (1970 - 78), became a pilot, was stationed at a base south of Fresno for 4 years (which is the basis of his claim that he is familiar with the Central Valley). Says he spent "a lot of time" in Stockton and Tracy and "knows how to empty a swamp cooler
". Says he has family in Stockton, though he did not specify who or how closely related.
Moved to Danville in 1978, been a Tri-valley resident since then, kids went to UCal Berkeley, he went to church and attended soccer games -- the whole suburban family bit.
Came out of the Navy during a recession, got laid off, used GI Bill to get MBA from St. Mary's College, had two young kids. At about that time, Reagan was busting the Air Traffic Controllers union and then the airlines followed suit to bust the pilots union. He realized the "Republicans are not my friends" and became a Democrat.
Did some campaign work in 1996 for Ellen Tauscher in her fight to unseat Bill Baker. Knocked on doors, stuffed envelopes, put up signs. Was involved in the same manner in 98 and 2000. Put up signs for Elaine Shaw in 2002 in her bid to oust Pombo. Had a house party for Elaine Shaw in 2004 when she lost (to Guy Houston) in her run for State Assembly.
Claims he has been involved for "nearly a decade" and that he has splinters in his thumb from carrying signs, so he "finally feels I've put in my time and earned my stripes". In my opinion, that is a bit of stretch, to say doing routine, volunteer campaign work around election time has earned him the right to run for Congress, with the implication that the Dems should support him for all his "hard work" on other campaigns.
He went on to call himself a "poster child of the middle-class", though his area of Danville is more like upper middle-class and the town itself is considered a wealthy suburb. The "middle-class" in Danville is quite a bit different than the middle-class in Stockton. I know many "middle-class" people in Danville, with homes over a million dollars, new Mercedes and BMWs, well paying executive jobs, and substantial assets from stock appreciation. I don't think the same applies to the Central Valley at this point.
Note there is nothing wrong with being wealthy, but why call yourself "middle-class"? It sounds disingenuous and a bit of pandering.
Anyway, Filson claims the middle-class is "under attack". College grads have to look a lower salaries, for the first time. Healthcare is expensive for companies. Then he went into the standard cliches, and this is part of the reason I call him "generic". He said company healthplans are "don't get sick", dental plans are "chew on the other side". That sounds like right out of "Soundbites for Dummies."
So Filson is going to bring "fairness" to Congress and stop the attack on the middle-class. Pombo (and the rest of the Republican majority) have been "unfair" by voting against minimum wage increases and veteran benefits, and by voting for Central American Free Trade Agreement (which will take American jobs out of the country).
He called Pombo unethical (which is actually an understatement), and said he is "detached from everyday working life" and that it is "cruel to rip up the ESA [Endangered Species Act]". Not what I would call a blistering attack on Pombo, who certainly deserves to be slammed mercilessly for his outrageous actions against the environment and total absence of ethical behavior.
According to Filson, the Republican majority are "scalawags". Then, again, Soundbites for Dummies kicked in: "Contract with America became Contract on America", "tried cutting taxes, got shrunken middle-class", etc.
He is for "what works": a tax break for middle-class (maybe he should call it "tax relief" like the Republicans do).
He took a shot at an easy, topical subject -- the government failures during Katrina, and how cronies, not government experts, were in charge. He then ended by saying the country has been "hijacked" (and noted he was a pilot using that metaphor) and that he will be "defending the American Family and fighting for fairness."
During Q&A, these things came up:
As far as war, if "we send our kids to war, make sure the reasons are true." He supports a strong military (having been in the Navy). He is not anti-war, just "anti-failure". He differs from McNerney in that he does not want to "foist a timetable" on the military. He wants to see the war to its completion (whatever that is) and not "cut and run." He was vague on what criteria or benchmarks would indicate it is time for the troops to leave Iraq and what actually constitutes "completion" of the mission.
He said he is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, for keeping the estate tax in place.
He claimed that as a "centrist-moderate" he is more electable than progressives like McNerney and Margee Ensign (who may run, see below). He is not against war in all cases: "It's about electability. If we wave the anti-war flag, we will lose. If we are too progressive, we will lose again."
He has not done much with the Latino community and did not have the stats on the demographics of the District.
As far as energy policy, he was rather vague, saying we need a comprehensive energy policy and that we need to restudy it and form a commission to get an energy policy. I find this a glaring misstep -- didn't we just have Cheney's Energy Task Force do that? And look how it came out. By contrast, Jerry McNerney has a plan to develop an alternative energy industry to create jobs in the District, not plans to "restudy" the issue.
After listening to Filson, my position for now is to stay neutral on the candidates. I personally like
Jerry McNerney and admire his grit, but I have reservations about how organized he is, his campaigning ability, and the way the Dems powers-that-be are ostracizing him. This means, in reality, he will have a tough time making it past January, in terms of raising money and holding his campaign together.
Meanwhile, Filson has met with the Dem leadership in DC and, if not actually backed, is being encouraged by them. That does not mean he has or can build grassroots support in the District. I could see him getting some of the Dem clubs behind him, just as an alternative to Pombo, but I don't see him getting strong support outside of the Dem Party faithful -- and that outside support is crucial to winning in the 11th District.
Any candidate needs street creds in the Central Valley and an organization over there. Filson does not have this. Yes, he knows what a "swamp cooler" is, as he often points out, but perhaps he should be addressing the actual issues of the Central Valley voters and how he intends to solve problems over there, not trying to pretend he is one of them, even though his address for the past 27 years has been "Danville, CA". Did he ever do any campaign work there, get involved in any community activities, make a name for himself in Stockton and Tracy? I don't think so.
Like I say, the Dem party regulars will dutifully support him, but I don't see him drawing in many swing or moderate Repubs. If he does, it will not be because of him so much as
because they are so fed up with Pombo.WILD CARD -- MARGEE ENSIGN MAY ENTER RACE
The other wild card that has yet to be played is the possible entry of
Margee Ensign, Dean of the School of International Studies at the University
of the Pacific in Stockton. She is well known in the area and a player in
the Valley. She has the presence and street creds there. Also,
supposedly, she is a dynamic woman, lots of energy, and a good speaker. Whether that is
true or not, I can't personally vouch for. But truthfully, it would not be
that hard to generate more excitment than either Filson or McNerney have so far.
She is speaking at a Diablo Valley College Dem club dinner meeting on Nov.
17th. This is supposed to be a big event, and her foray into the East Bay part of
the District. If she is the powerhouse people claim and she decides to run,
that could put both Filson and McNerney at a significant disadvantage.
Personally, I am looking for more color and pizzazz in this race. Something
has to inspire people that we can overcome Pombo's advantages in the
District and win. I don't get that from Filson or McNerney. As far as Margee
Ensign, I don't know enough to say, but am very interested in hearing her on
Nov. 17th and then seeing if she decides to jump in. It would change the
whole dynamic of the race.