Assemblyman Jared Huffman basks comfortably in the morning sunshine outside the in a still-quiet corner of San Rafael’s . After six years in the California State Assembly, Huffman is running to succeed Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in the newly-reapportioned and named 2nd Congressional District for California. It is a piece of electoral geography which, discounting several redistricting jogs, largely encompasses both Woolsey’s 6th Congressional and Huffman’s 6th Assembly districts.
Born in Missouri and fond of quoting the Show Me State's most famous citizen, Harry Truman, Huffman still looks the part of the all-American volleyball player he was at UC-Santa Barbara in the 80s. Tall and limber, Huffman considers his evolution as an athlete. "I started as a spiker," he says about the front-line hitters who execute the spectacular, airborne, mano-a-mano net-line clashes that characterize team volleyball at its best.
Ultimately, however, Huffman recalls how he ended up as a "setter," the backcourt strategist, who, while not necessarily the flashiest player on the court, is the one who sets the tempo, and “runs the team like a football quarterback,” Huffman says. The two different positions “require vastly different mentalities,” with the job of the “setter” often nothing more or less than “getting your teammates to play their best.”
If it sounds like Huffman, a member of the 1987 World Champion USA Volleyball team, is setting up the political equivalent of a “spike,” you would be correct. “The lesson is transferrable,” Huffman observes, adding the comfortably polished line: “you can make a noise or make a difference.”
A 1990 graduate of Boston College Law School, Huffman quickly began to fulfill the latter goal. He successfully argued on behalf of the National Organization of Women that Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act required California colleges to afford the same level of access to athletic funding for men and women. It was a suit that revolutionized women’s sports in America.
Even more than civil rights, Huffman immersed himself in the field of environmental law. He singles out what he calls “the novelty of [his] position as one of the first environmental professionals elected to a state legislature.” Huffman worked as senior counsel for the National Resources Defense Council, as well as serving as president of the .
It was work that collectively served as, well, the opening serve of his 2006 election to the state Assembly. Huffman's environmentalism, he says, is “a huge part in why I became a legislator.” Huffman’s bona fides also led to his unusual freshman appointment as chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. During his years in the Assembly, Huffman found his strength as legislative “setter,” “fighting when I need to, but working hard to change the legislative tone, build bridges and get things done.”
During his tenure, Huffman has been responsible for more than 50 pieces of legislation. He singles out AB 52, which requires that healthcare insurance companies get the okay from the State Insurance Commissioner’s Office before fees can be raised. Despite what Huffman calls “the penultimate opposition of the health insurance lobby,” support from consumers and the strong backing of California State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones makes its passage in the California Senate likely.
Huffman also played a leading role in delaying the $1.6 billion San Quentin Death Row expansion, which he terms “a boondoggle,” and cites as an example of the importance of persistence in the business of legislation. “People just assumed that you couldn’t stop it,” he says about his resistance to the project. “I never gave up,” he adds, characterizing his “five years of sustained work and creative and relentless efforts," that included alliances with local government in tandem with popular opposition and the work of the local business community.
Huffman views as part of a legislative approach that, he suggests, aligns nicely with Marin County and the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District. “What I love about Marin specifically,” he contends, “is its constitutional and educational engagement, and values that transcend narrow self-interest.” Even more to the point, Huffman sounds slightly in awe of the way “the district holds elected officials to such high standards.”
Much in his favor, Huffman seems to naturally personify the new California 2nd district. He is low-key, casual and lives in San Rafael with wife Susan and their two children, 11-year-old Abby and 8-year-old Nathan. He bottles his own wine, this year bottling around 15 cases of Syrah and Barbera, which he calls, “H3,” for “Huffman Homemade Hooch.”
None of this suggests that a Congressman Huffman is simply going to be Woolsey-lite. “Nobody should try and be someone they’re not,” he remarks, noting, perhaps with opponent Norman Solomon in mind, that “if you have a record, and you have done something that merits public confidence, you need to run on that.”
Nor will Huffman blindly follow President Barack Obama’s game plan. This is particularly true when it comes to an energy policy based on nuclear power or what he calls “the fiction of clean coal.” “I want to go in the opposite direction,” he says, about his long-term energy policy, “like Germany, replace nuclear with efficient and renewable energy sources.”
If Huffman does have an idol, as it happens, he is a congressman from the other side of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge: the craggy, tough liberal icon, George Miller of Contra Costa. “George is an incredibly principled and smart guy,” Huffman notes. With his work on the NRDC, Huffman had the opportunity to watch the fiery Miller in action particularly in regards to California’s critical water issues.
“It’s the knowledge he brings that is his secret weapon,” Huffman says lauding Miller “as one of the few people at any level of government who truly understand Federal Reclamation law.”
Huffman happens also to be a member of that small group. He spoke the day before we met to 500 members of the Golden Gate Salmon Association in the Presidio. The subject was the virtual war between agri-business and fishermen for precious water rights.
For Huffman, the issue is “both tough and easy.” The easy part, he says, “is that fish need water.” Harder, he says, is that the issue requires "a champion to defend both the fish and fisherman.” The logic, Huffman notes, is that “every salmon that swims inland to spawn in the Sacramento delta has to pass through the California 2nd to get there.”
Huffman welcomes the new electoral scheme in which the two highest vote-getters in the first round run off regardless of party. This would seem to trend towards a runoff between Huffman, currently the leading fundraiser, and either or .
“This sets up well for my leadership style,” Huffman says about the race, “engaging with a big community, and doing as much listening as talking.”