At forum, North Coast congressional hopefuls focus on economy

  • Congressional Candidate Norman Solomon speaks while his fellow Candidates, left to right, Tiffany Renee, Jared Huffman, William Courtney, Stacey Lawson, Susan Adams, and Andy Caffrey wait their turn to speak at the Congressional Candidate Forum sponsored by the Democratic club of Southern Sonoma County at the Petaluma Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday night February 15, 2012 . Scott Manchester / For The Press Democrat

Varied approaches to boosting the North Coast economy, ranging from biomass energy production to marijuana to coastal protection from oil drilling, were voiced by seven Democratic congressional candidates at a public forum Wednesday night in Petaluma.

Few significant differences were revealed, however, as Tiffany Ren?, the vice mayor of Petaluma and one of the candidates, observed: "We're hearing a lot about progressivism in this race."

The seven Democrats are vying for the job held by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, whose retirement triggered the first wide-open race for the congressional seat in 20years.

One at a time, the candidates laid out their proposals for economic development in a district with high unemployment.

Stacey Lawson, a San Rafael businesswoman and educator, advocated biomass and biofuel development, putting the region's natural resources to productive use. She also proposed niche manufacturing and sustainable agriculture, calling for improved access to capital as a means to spur small businesses.

Norman Solomon, a Marin activist and author, advocated permanent protection of the coast from oil drilling as a boost to the tourism and fishing industries. Describing himself as "a New Dealer," Solomon said federal expenditures are needed to pull local economies "out of the ditch."

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said that "federal investments" are needed to support economic development plans already devised at the local level. Huffman also called for keeping state parks open "as a magnet for economic productivity" and a government loan guarantee program to provide capital for small businesses "because the banks aren't lending."

William Courtney of Mendocino County, describing himself as a "cannabis physician," said that 10 million marijuana plants worth $2,000 apiece could be taxed and regulated to establish a major industry.

The 90-minute forum, sponsored by the Democratic Club of Southern Sonoma County, drew a crowd of more than 200 to the Boys and Girls Club building in Petaluma.

Ren? cited energy retrofit programs for homes and businesses as a way to create jobs and contribute toward the nation's "energy independence." Boosting production by small farms would produce organic food and ease food insecurity in the northern part of the district, she said.

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