SAN RAFAEL — The gloves came off in a North Coast congressional candidates' forum Tuesday night as two of the Democrats assailed fellow Marin County candidate Stacey Lawson over her voting record and business background.
Norman Solomon, a West Marin activist and author, noted that Lawson, a political newcomer, had failed to vote in two-thirds of recent elections and said she brought "massive amounts of money" from corporate allies into the campaign.
Speaking next, Susan Adams, a Marin County supervisor, challenged Lawson's business record, including an allegation that one of the firms she headed, Chelsey Henry Inc. of Seattle, failed to fully pay its payroll taxes.
"Is this the kind of economic policy we need?" Adams said.
In response, Lawson said it was "definitely a mistake" not to have voted in the elections. "I was disenfranchised," she said, describing her feeling at the time that the political system was "not the answer."
"I'm running because I genuinely care," Lawson said.
Published reports said that Lawson voted four times in 12 elections between October 2003 and November 2008 when she lived in San Francisco, prior to moving to San Rafael.
After the event she said she took the criticism as evidence that her campaign was making an impact.
The debate, sponsored by Dominican University and the League of Women Voters of Marin County, drew a crowd of more than 150 people to Angelico Hall on the campus in San Rafael just three weeks before absentee voters begin casting their ballots for the June 5 primary.
Twelve candidates — eight Democrats, two Republicans and two no party preference — are vying for the 2nd Congresional District seat in Congress
The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will compete in the general election in November.
The 100-minute forum's scripted format, with each candidate given one minute to answer questions formulated by Dominican political science majors, allowed minimal interaction between the dozen hopefuls.
"We don't have a classic debate" said Dominican president Mary Marcy, the moderator.
Following the criticism of Lawson, John Lewallen, a seaweed harvester from Philo in Mendocino County and an unaffiliated candidate, prompted a laugh by saying: "I'm the candidate for the hopeless because I'm the most hopeless candidate."
"If you elect me, we'll shake politics worldwide," he said.
Republican Michael Halliwell of Cotati said he is the only candidate who opposes legalizing marijuana. He also claimed that "all these Democrats" will repeal the Proposition 13 control of California property taxes, an issue outside the jurisdiction of Congress.
In contrast, Democrat Andrew Caffrey of Garberville said he lives in "the third world part of this district" where marijuana is the economic mainstay. Caffrey, wearing a black cowboy hat, said that he is a medical marijuana patient.
Democrat William Courtney of Mendocino, a psychiatrist, said he is an expert in "cannabinoid science" and that marijuana could be used to formulate a blockbuster drug to reduce heart attack severity.
Republican Dan Roberts, a securities broker from Mill Valley, said he was the only military veteran veteran among the candidates, having served as a Marine during the Vietnam war. Roberts joined most of the Democrats in calling for American troops to come home from the Middle East and said he wants "to pay the full cost" of bringing them home.