Six who hope to replace Waxman zero in on one of Waxman’s top legislative causes

By Gary Walker

In many ways, the conversation about who should replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D- Beverly Hills) has been more about Waxman than about those who hope to replace him in a district that includes Venice, Santa Monica and part of Marina del Rey.

A May 6 congressional forum in Venice hosted by the progressive groups Southern California Americans for Democratic Action and Venice Action Alliance centered around testing whether candidates were suited to “fill Waxman’s shoes” and spent significant time on one of the veteran congressman’s top priorities: climate change.

In 2009, the House passed a landmark Waxman bill to cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but the legislation died in the Senate. In 2013, Waxman formed a congressional task force on global warming that staged a “Wake Up Congress for Climate Action” rally on Wednesday.

More than 100 people attended the forum at the Oakwood Recreation Center, where a recent National Climate Assessment report stating that flooding, wildfires and drought were increasing due to climate change quickly took center stage.

The event included six candidates — former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, state Sen. Ted Lieu, author Marianne Williamson, USC professor Kristi Holmes, former KCRW radio personality Mark Miller and attorney Barbara Mulvaney. Santa Monica attorney David Kanuth was invited but did not attend.

Greuel said there were personal reasons why she wanted to go to Congress to fight for more attention to climate change.

“My grandfather was a coal miner and he died from working in the mines,” she said.

Lieu talked about his legislative history on the issue: sponsorship of a 2012 law that authorized the California Coastal Conservancy to fund projects to address climate change and, as an assemblyman, co-sponsorship of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which established a goal of drastically lowering greenhouse emissions by 2020.

“When I was in the Assembly and I called for that bill, my district had a huge number of oil companies, but I stood up to them and said this is an existential issue,” Lieu said.

Williamson said getting other countries to join the United States in battling climate change was only one part of a complex equation.

“The most important thing that we can do about climate change is to change ourselves,” she said. “But we won’t be able to have an adequate response to climate change as long as the oil companies are in charge of our policies, and they are in charge.”

Miller talked about a carbon fee and dividend plan that would impose new levies on all fossil-based fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.

“It will raise prices at first, but it would all be rebated back to every household,” Miller said.

Audience member David Ewing felt it was important that the candidates focused on climate change.

“If we don’t start doing something about it, people are going to be desperate for resources,” the Venice resident said.

The candidates also took on issues of campaign finance and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which lifted restrictions on election spending by political action committees.

All of those in attendance said they supported a constitutional amendment to reverse the 2010 ruling.

Miller, Holmes and Mulvaney have raised far less money than Lieu, Greuel, Kanuth and Williamson, and during the forum the three were also the most outspoken about the influence of money in politics.

Mulvaney urged the audience to choose among congressional candidates based on how little they are spending on the race.

“We should have money labels on our candidates. Look at the price tag on your candidate before you decide,” Mulvaney said. “Without campaign finance reform, you’re not going to get any other reforms.”

Greuel said she had long been a supporter of the California Clean Money Campaign, which aims to reduce political spending by special interest groups.

But, “Let’s be real,” she said. “That’s going to take a constitutional amendment, and it’s going to take some time to get it passed.”

Lieu said galvanizing multiple states that want to reverse the controversial decision could compel Congress to act.

“That would send a powerful message to Washington D.C. to overturn Citizens United,” said Lieu, an attorney. “It doesn’t take an attorney to tell you that [equating corporations with people] is really stupid. The fact that that is the law of the land is extremely jarring.”

Holmes said she decided at an early stage of her campaign not to attempt to raise a substantial amount of money and that independent expenditure groups working on behalf of candidates alarmed her.

“It doesn’t really matter what you raise as a candidate. If someone doesn’t like you, someone from outside can raise $5 million or $10 million to crush you,” Holmes said.  “So what’s the point of me raising money and wasting other people’s money?  I couldn’t sleep at night doing this.”

Williamson, who has raised more than $1 million, dismissed the notion that candidates who raise large sums of money are beholden to their donors.

“The point of raising money is to have a credible campaign,” she said, quickly adding that her campaign has not taken any contributions from corporations or large donors.