Who is Joe Nation?

by Randy Shaw on April 14, 2008

Since entering the State Senate race against Mark Leno and Carole Migden, former Marin Assemblymember Joe Nation has benefited from positive San Francisco Chronicle stories that largely ignored his political record. But as voters start paying attention to the race, they will learn that when progressive Marin Congressmember Lynn Woolsey was rallying national opposition to the Iraq War, Nation forced her to divert attention from this work by mounting a primary election challenge against her in 2006. Voters will also find out that Nation was a major recipient of campaign donations from the healthcare, pharmaceutical and insurance industries while in the Assembly. Nation voted against single payer health care and did not support former State Senator Jackie Speier’s landmark consumer and financial privacy bill. One might be hard-pressed to find such information about Nation in the Chronicle, since Nation was formerly a regular contributor to its editorial pages and the paper endorsed him over the staunchly progressive and anti-war Woolsey in 2006.

The next State Senator representing progressive District 3 will be either Joe Nation or Mark Leno, as incumbent Carole Migden is essentially out of the race. The outcome of this contest will either keep the seat in progressive hands, or have one of the state’s most liberal Senate districts shift to a pro-business moderate, Joe Nation. Here are some key aspects of Nation’s record:

The War in Iraq

San Francisco and the North Bay comprise District 3, which has been a hotbed of anti-war sentiment since 2002. But Joe Nation, who got his PhD from an institution primarily funded by the Defense Department, had a different view. He criticized Lynn Woolsey’s demand for timetables for withdrawing troops, not moving toward the progressive stance until just before the June 2006 primary election.

In March 2003, Nation did not join an anti-war letter signed by 52 members of the state Legislature that expressed “opposition to the war on Iraq without a formal resolution by the United States Security Council or a declaration of war by Congress.” The letter was sent to President Bush and California’s congressional delegation.

In January 2006, Nation refused to support an Assembly resolution calling for the return of California’s National Guard troops from Iraq. Unlike Leno, Nation never became a co-sponsor of this resolution.

Lynn Woolsey has gotten less national publicity than Barbara Lee for her antiwar activism, but when Nation chose to attempt to unseat her in 2006, he sought to remove one of Congress’s strongest voices for peace. And a Nation victory would have sent a pro-war message to Democrats running in Congressional races across the country, eroding the anti-war message that soon gave Democrats control of the House and Senate in the November 2006 elections.

Universal Health Care

During his three Assembly campaigns, Nation accepted $237,319 from the healthcare, pharmaceutical and insurance industries. This likely explains why he voted against the third reading of Sheila Kuehl’s single-payer bill in August 2006.

Nation has made it clear that he opposes single-payer health care.

Gay Marriage

Nation criticized San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for approving gay marriages, telling the Marin Independent Journal after the November 2004 election that “it was an issue that Republicans could take and in a very calculated way rap around our necks.” Such a position was similar to what U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein took on the day after John Kerry lost – which engendered much bitterness in the LGBT community.

Financial Privacy

In 2001, Nation failed to vote on Jackie Speier’s measure to require financial institutions to obtain the consent of customers before sharing confidential information with third parties. Nation was part of the “moderate caucus” whose alliance with pro-business, anti-consumer interests killed the bill.

Nation defended his position on the grounds that the bill would have prohibited auto insurance companies from marketing homeowner’s coverage, which clearly was not what the measure was about. He then introduced his own financial privacy bill in 2002, which even the San Francisco Chronicle said “reads as if it were written by industry to protect existing information-sharing practices – while presenting a façade of privacy protection.”

Utility Regulation

In August 2004, Nation failed to vote on the Concurrence in Senate Amendments for AB 2006, which would have re-regulated the electricity industry in California, with rates set by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Nation’s Chronicle Connection

Nation was a regular contributor of editorials on climate change to the San Francisco Chronicle, a relationship that may have contributed to the newspaper’s endorsement of him over Woolsey in the June 2006 primary. It appears that the paper’s editors still have a soft spot for Nation, as he has received consistently positive coverage since entering the State Senate race.

On February 17, a week after the Chronicle announced Nation’s entry in to the race, the paper wrote a story claiming that he was motivated by “the chance to be a major player in the state’s green revolution.” A March 26 story noted, “former San Rafael Assemblyman Joe Nation has raised more money than either of his two opponents since the start of the year,” but did not mention the source of Nation’s funds. During his Assembly career, Nation raised far more from PAC’s than from individuals, a fact that Chronicle readers did not learn about in an article entirely devoted to fundraising.

As a San Francisco-based publication, one would think the Chronicle would endorse Leno over Nation. But regardless of who the paper endorses, its news coverage has been consistently positive toward Nation and is likely to remain so through Election Day.

When Nation announced his challenge to incumbent Woolsey in 2006, some progressives feared that voters would be fooled into voting for a candidate with an anti-consumer record who has waffled on opposing the Iraq war. But Woolsey trounced Nation, and if voters in the state’s most progressive State Senate district learn about Nation’s political history, his political fortunes could similarly decline.

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