“It’s a testament to our staff that we didn’t bring out angry people from one of the affected districts.” Marin County Board of Supervisor’s President Susan Adams is quick to share credit over a largely angst-free, late-July vote to approve various Marin County-wide districting adjustments.
With only 10 people and four supervisors in the Civic Center board chambers, Adams’s adjourns the meeting to laud the county for a redistricting plan so non-controversial, she observes, “that not a single person testified in the open hearing.”
“How different from the state and national governments,” Adams muses as she heads for her Civic Center office. Part of the advantage she notes, is Marin’s “special status” as a “wonderful, low-debt, high-bond-rating county.”
This more or less unique economic status, Adams affirms, helps free Marin from the party politics responsible for what she calls “America’s current political bad-patch.”
It is a proposition that Adams will be testing as in California’s 6th Congressional District. One thing is certain, if anyone can bring a healer's touch to a dysfunctional political system, it is Adams, a healthcare professional with a master’s degree in nursing, a 1998 Ph.D., and a dissertation addressing the care of pregnant women and new mothers addicted to crack cocaine. Her healthcare-related political mantra is simple and powerful: “Healthy Planet, Healthy People.”
It was in part because of what she saw as the failing American healthcare system that led Adams to get into politics in the first place, winning a seat on the Marin County Board of Supervisors in 2002. “I jumped in,” she recalls, “because nobody else was talking about healthcare,” which she identifies as “the number one reason for bankruptcy in the U.S.”
Adams remains sharply critical of the national healthcare system. It is, she contends, “the most expensive system in the world,” for which “we spend twice as much money and don’t live nearly as long as other industrialized nations.”
Since her election, Adams played a major role in such health-related projects as the county’s new in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, the creation of bicycle routes and bike parking areas, organic gardens in county schools and other advanced health and welfare-related schemes.
More than bringing a healthcare focus to elected office, however, Adams singles out her ability to bring Marinites together in a wide variety of legislative realms. Among these is her work gaining community buy-in to reopen San Rafael’s . Adams dug deep, taking a course in mining operations in order to build her knowledge base. This deeper understanding enabled Adams to find a solution satisfactory both to residents and quarry operators.
“I’ve been able to help reach agreements at a local level,” she says of her “persistence and ability to work both sides of an issue” while on the board. It is an ability to help achieve compromise that, she believes she “can translate to Washington, D.C.”
First, of course, Adams must win what will be a very tough and expensive race against Assemblyman Jared Huffman, activist Norman Solomon and other potential candidates including former Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliot, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and others. It is also a race in which the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, will have to go through a subsequent run-off. This new twist has the potential to change the race’s calculus in a number of unpredictable ways.
Adams’s response will be a campaign geography that seeks to make her the home team.
"I’m the only candidate with such deep roots,” Adams contends about her upbringing as a fifth-generation San Franciscan, Lowell High School graduate, as well as member of a fourth-generation California ranching clan with a Mendocino County spread near Boonville. She laughingly denies being fluent in “Boont,” the weird, sub-dialect spoken around Boonville and the Anderson Valley.
Adams’s roots have a modern caste. Some of her family members lived and are buried in northern coastal California, including her 24-year-old nephew, Thomas Adams, a California Highway Patrol Officer who was killed in February in a car crash near Eureka.
In general, Adams feels that her resume “will be attractive to people in the north counties” regardless of the shape of the upcoming redistricting. And though Adams’ parents were Republicans, she identifies deeply with the bi-partisan, ‘50s and ‘60s “golden age” under the benign governance of Pat Brown.
Adams also references her brother, Michael, a non-com in the Air Force, who is currently on his sixth deployment overseas. His service has led her to focus on issues such as, Adams notes, “a whole new onslaught of homeless veterans.” It is to these and other vets, she says, “that we owe a debt that includes helping them reintegrate into society.” Adams also seems ready to pick up the anti-war cudgel wielded by Lynn Wolsey, at least to the extent, Adams notes, “that we begin to invest at home, rather than abroad.”
What may be Adams' political “ace-in-the-hole” is her close ties to state healthcare organizations including the California Nurses Association. The CNA is a hugely powerful political force in its own right, representing many of the 2 percent of the California population engaged in healthcare occupations. Anyone who watched the CNA and its labor allies dismantle Republican senate and gubernatorial hopefuls Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in the 2010 election understands the importance of having California’s nurses on your side.
Neither the nurses nor statewide labor unions have endorsed for the 6th Congressional District, but it is hard to see how Adams can win without endorsements and a large infusion of cash from her medical and healthcare allies.
Adams is also pitching her campaign towards women, believing that the loss of Woolsey could mean one less seat in the House held by a woman. “We don’t want to lose a woman’s seat,” she says.
Bill Bagley, the legendary former State Assemblyman, lobbyist and Democratic Marin County’s favorite Republican, says that virtually any geographic identifier such as “Marin County Supervisor,” “Sonoma County Assemblyman,” or “Mayor of Petaluma” will automatically lose votes in other geographic areas. Bagley, with tongue slightly in cheek, said he owes his own electoral success to identifying himself on the ballot simply as “Attorney at Law,” at a time, he adds, “when lawyers were still regarded socially as being ahead of used car salesmen.”