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Lawson Brings Businesslike Approach to Congressional Race

One of the Bay Area's most successful, socially-aware business leaders is entering the race for the California 2nd Congressional District. Will her savvy approach carry weight with the voters?

The tables along the side of the Aromas Café on San Rafael’s busy noontime Fourth Street are particularly narrow. Thus, you could say that new 2nd District Congressional candidate, Stacey Lawson, and I are cheek to jowl. That would be her cheek and my jowl, by the way.

There is nothing cheeky about Lawson, a San Rafael resident. Up close, you can almost feel the steely “we’re going to do some good” force field that surrounds, say, a Bill and Melinda Gates, a John D. Rockefeller, or perhaps, less welcome, a Meg Whitman.

“It’s important for me to run for Congress,” Lawson says, “because I really, really care about the welfare of people.”

Trained as a chemical engineer, Lawson went on to Harvard Business School for an MBA. She subsequently launched several companies that made her rich during the 1990s tech boom. That enabled her to do the kind of philanthropy work that, perhaps inevitably, has led her to the race for the California 2nd.

Now 40, Lawson’s charitable work in the field known as “Socially Conscious Enterprise” is earnest and real. She co-founded the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at UC Berkeley as well as helping create a series of “Boys and Girls Towns,” for young victims of the 2006 South Asian tsunami.

Not only does this make her something like the Father Flanagan of Chennai, but she is also responsible for creating more than a dozen “Hope Towns” and “Hope Learning Centers” in southern India and Southeast Asia. These are entire villages arranged into community clusters that give residents a chance to collectively learn life and job skills, working together, with the effect, Lawson notes, “of building local communities so that hundreds of families can come out of poverty together.”

These are principles that Lawson believes can be applied on the home front as well. “I’m the only candidate who has created thousands of jobs,” she notes.

Lawson says she can apply many of the principles that have guided her business career to a campaign she likens to a new corporation. In the campaign and in Congress, if she gets there, Lawson proposes to take the same business-like approach to governing, engaging “in a functional dialog to find a mutually agreed-upon solution.”

She also plans to apply a fiscal approach to governance because, she says, government like business, “must be financially sound.”

You get a real sense of Lawson’s belief in a business-like approach to life by looking at Berkeley’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, which she co-founded in 1995. The CET with its Venture Lab, Institute for Engineering Leadership and other similar programs takes an approach to small business incubation, venture and seed capital that again reflects her work in the developing world.  

Thrilled, she says with, the recent redistricting, Lawson is using her Washington state upbringing as the means to lay electoral claim to California’s North Coast, soon to be a part of the redistricted 2nd. She was raised in a town that survived on fishing, logging and milling, and her father started a small, successful regional trucking company.

She already has some ideas about utilizing technology for the North Coast, pointing out that Humboldt County has only a single fiber-optic cable, and that public health and safety were jeopardized when it broke down. Her pledge is to help build “the basic digital infrastructure needed by local public facilities and businesses.” 

Lawson is joining a crowded slate of five announced Democrats and two not-quite-yet announced Republicans. The list will likely grow because open Congressional seats are as rare as unforced similes. Nor do Democrats seem worried that the new election set-up — a November 2012 runoff between the top two vote getters in the June primary — could dilute votes enough to vault two Republicans into the finals.

It probably won't happen. Conventional wisdom suggests that even a five- or six-way dilution of the vote will mean a Democratic slam-dunk.

Don’t be so sure. Certainly it is true that between John Burton, Barbara Boxer and Lynn Woolsey, the 2nd has remained in progressive hands since 1975, a geologic epoch in politics. But we are living in an era of seismic political change, a new generation is bidding for power, and Republicans have a nasty habit of vexing Democratic plans by simply changing the rules.

How does this all effect Lawson? How, for example, does she convince woman-oriented fundraising groups like EMILY’s List that she, rather than Susan Adams or Tiffany Renee, should carry the 22-year tradition of a women representing the 2nd? 

Will Lawson have to fight it out with Norman Solomon for the “unconventional progressive candidate” vote?”

Is Lawson getting into a race already out the gate?

Confronted by the latter, she somewhat bemusedly points out that there are still 15 months to go, a political lifetime.

But there is also the troubling question of whether Lawson can beat what seems to be a curse in California against CEO types like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina running for office?

At Café Aromas, at least, Lawson does not appear to be worried, seemingly content to build political seed capital that she says will be sufficient for what could be a $2 million race. At the moment, she is organizing her staff and traveling quietly around the district “while Huffman and Solomon beat each other's brains out.”

Stay tuned.

Tea bags for Liberty September 02, 2011 at 10:15 PM
She is going to tax your family wealth and make your house into affordable housing! Please reference, The Communist Manifesto, to understand where these social justice people are coming from. They will take your land, money and liberty by taxing you and then giving free college education to illegals when our State of California can't afford it! They are nuts!
Tina McMillan September 06, 2011 at 07:41 AM
Thomas You should read Richard's write up on Solomon. Something about a John Kerry "visage"...http://novato.patch.com/articles/sowing-the-sunflower-seeds-of-political-success Thank you for asking the questions that elude Richard. When will we get some fact based writing that focuses on issues instead of personalities??? Richard please start addressing substantive content. No more fluff pieces.
Thomas September 06, 2011 at 09:35 PM
@Tina: I agree, from what I see Richard Rapaport writes a very very politically skewed montage, which he throws in some fantastical propagandizing moments. Even for "opinion" articles the Patch editorial staff should hopefully expect a higher standard, or only be another ideologue agenda driven drone like a known publication in this county already is. Sure it's an opinion article and people are going to agree or disagree, but the big fluffing is laughable.
Kyle Stone October 24, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Who wasnt doing well in the Boom-time, what has she done lately, anything???? She has yet to really say what she is going to do to help the district. Anybody can go out and say "I have created thousands of jobs". How is she going to help the people of the district though????
Nomore Lies December 09, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Lawson is being backed by Doug Boxer, Sen. Boxer's son, who tried to get a huge casino built near Highway 37 in 2003. Sen. Boxer pushed through the Graton Rancheria restoration act, then two years later, Doug Boxer made a $8 million off the casino deal. Other backers include former members of the Friends of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria like Susan Moore.whose "no name womens' group" has been promised casino money and Connie Codding and by the Graton Rancheria itself. Friends of FIGR is no longer in existence, but the same old people are trying really hard to bring casino gambling to the North Bay. Graton casino would bring tens of thousand of new vehicle trips daily onto Highway 101 and clog both bridges, would threaten Marin County's water supplies from Sonoma County and would increase crime in both counties. A vote for Lawson is a vote for casino expansion.

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