Rep. Henry A. Waxman's announcement this year that he was stepping down after four decades in Congress unleashed a parade of contenders to replace him. Eventually, the list self-winnowed to 17 hopefuls who offer voters about as broad a smorgasbord of talents, dreams and ambitions as one could hope for.
Choosing among them raises a series of questions about what voters should be seeking in a representative. Does vision outweigh experience? Should a member of Congress be focused on bringing home funds and services for constituents or on solving the problems of the world and the nation? Should we prefer politicians who stand firmly for what they believe or those who know how to compromise and work cooperatively with others?
Voters will ultimately decide these questions for themselves, of course. But in weighing the candidates in the 33rd Congressional District — which runs along the coast from Rancho Palos Verdes to Malibu, and cuts inland to Brentwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills — this page put a premium on ideas, in the hope that a candidate who could articulate a broad vision with specific policy proposals to back it up could help revitalize the stalled conversations currently dominating Washington.
Upon close examination, the vast majority of the candidates proved not to be ready for that task. They range from one-issue drum-beaters to individuals unversed in their own policy proposals to those displaying a jarringly naive view of what the job entails. Of the several strong candidates in the race, though, it is Matt Miller, an author, radio host and professional policy wonk making his first run for public office, who is best suited for the job.
Miller wasn't the only candidate who intrigued us. In many ways, Tom Fox, one of the new names, represents the current mood of voters. If Howard Beale, the bellower of the famous "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" line in the movie "Network," ran for Congress, he would look a bit like Fox. A local lawyer and Democrat in the Barack Obama mold, Fox saw Waxman's retirement as a chance to, in essence, put up or shut up. So he put up. We share his frustrations, but there's more to effecting change than just going to Congress. It requires vision converted to plan converted to, one hopes, action.
Elan Carr, a Los Angeles County gang prosecutor and Army veteran, offered the best option among the GOP contenders. He is levelheaded and his positions are relatively moderate. For instance, he's pro-environment and supports a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. Were he to win, he would most likely end up in the majority in the House. Ultimately, though, his views skew too conservative for us.
The two best-known contenders are Wendy Greuel, who ran for mayor of Los Angeles last year, and state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). Both have done good work in public service and carry the crucial name recognition that helps win votes. Greuel has served both as a member of the L.A. City Council and as the city's controller. This page was somewhat disappointed with her performance in the latter job, finding her prone to headline-grabbing audits and giving her an overall rating of "meets expectations." Similarly, her current candidacy is weakened by a lack of specific policy ideas. Lieu offers more policy specifics, and he has been effective in Sacramento. But his vision is on the near horizon, and his best legislative successes have been in reaction to events, not in looking forward at how to shape the future. Either Greuel or Lieu would be a serviceable member of Congress, but Waxman's legacy sets a higher bar.
This brings us to Miller, a long-shot political figure. Early in his career, Miller spent time at the Office of Management and Budget, then moved into a role as something of a professional public policy analyst and host of KCRW's "Left, Right and Center" program (in which he represents the center). While he lacks experience as an elected official, that doesn't seem to count for much these days, as the dysfunction in Washington is at least partly the fault of long-standing public servants and insiders. What Miller does bring to the job is a keen analytical mind and a set of creative and forward-looking proposals, from ideas for rejuvenating teacher selection, education and retention, to bringing down healthcare costs, to reforming campaign finance laws by focusing on greater transparency and disclosure.