SANTA CRUZ — About 125 community members packed into the backyard of Gail Michaelis Ow and George Ow Jr.’s home near downtown Santa Cruz on a warm August evening for a chance to rub elbows with Rep. Adam Schiff, who is vying for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long-held U.S. Senate seat.
When everyone had arrived at the fundraising event and settled outside in the still summer air, Michaelis Ow addressed the crowd from the top of the home’s back stairs and explained why she decided to host the fundraiser for Schiff.
“I remember right before the year 2000, my mom called me up and said that there is this fresh, young, smart attorney and he is going to run for Congress, and they say he has a chance,” said Michaelis Ow. “And so my mom campaigned for him. She walked precincts and handed out pamphlets and answered phones and donated and really worked hard, and he won. She called to tell me that and I had never heard her be so excited.”
Schiff’s visit on Tuesday comes two days after one of his opponents in the U.S. Senate race, 47th District Rep. Katie Porter, spoke at the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building, an event organized by Santa Cruz County Women for Katie Porter for Senate. Bay Area Rep. Barbara Lee has also declared her candidacy for the race. Schiff’s visit was arranged by the Democratic Central Committee of Santa Cruz County, chaired by Andrew Goldenkranz.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff listens to a question during his appearance in Santa Cruz on Tuesday. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)
“This Senate race is really important,” said Goldenkranz. “And it’s easy for people in L.A. to forget about Santa Cruz, so my job is to make sure that Santa Cruz is on the radar because we have historically had among the top turnouts of any county for voter mobilization, so that means we count. I am happy to do my part and we’re so glad Adam is here.”
Former Rep. Sam Farr, who has officially endorsed Schiff, alongside others such as Rep. Jimmy Panetta and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then stepped up to express how much he loves Santa Cruz County and its residents, and to talk about the old days traveling and working with Schiff. Farr highlighted the importance of Pelosi’s endorsement of Schiff this early in the race.
“When you’re in Congress and you’re a Democrat, and you have members running against each other, you stay out of it, so you let the primary work out, but not with Adam, he’s such an incredible leader, people jump in during the primary,” said Farr. “He is the most competent and most able person to lead this state and I’m really proud that we are all here to endorse him.”
Schiff then took the step and explained how Michaelis Ow’s story had reminded him of his own mom, now deceased, who made phone calls for the same congressional campaign back in 2000.
“She called the most conservative Republicans,” said Schiff. “There’s no better campaigner than a candidate’s mother.”
With the audience’s attention rapt, Schiff addressed the stark contrast between current worker wages and the skyrocketing cost of living across the state and nation.
“My father was essentially a traveling salesman and he earned $18,000 a year and on the strength of that single income, my parents bought our first home,” said Schiff. “Imagine today, trying to buy a home for the annual income of a clothing salesman, and you see just how difficult things have become.”
The wind picked up and shifted when Schiff began to speak to, what he sees as, the upcoming “test of our democracy.”
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“We have always believed and always advocated the principle, the idea that the rule of law applies to everyone,” said Schiff, who was a member of the House Jan. 6 committee. “Well we’re about to find out if that’s true. We’re about to find out if we can really apply the law when it comes to the most powerful, when it comes to a former president or a candidate for president. And even as this is going to be a hugely jarring and tumultuous time for the country, I want to say, it is enormously important that we go through this trial because the alternative is really unthinkable.”
After outlining many of the threats he sees to the democratic process, and the role of power in revealing character, whether good or bad, Schiff gave the crowd a message of hope.
“I also want to tell you, because I know there’s more than enough despair to go around, we’re going to get through this,” said Schiff. “We have a responsibility in next year’s election to get the country through this chapter and we will. There are millions of beautiful, wonderful and patriotic people in every state of the union — Democrats and Republicans. We will get through this.”
Schiff, who represents District 30 in Southern California, then took questions from the audience, which included concerns about the flooding in Pajaro, homelessness, the Supreme Court and immigration reform.
U.S. Senate candidate Adam Schiff, center, is surrounded by attendees on Tuesday during his appearance at a Santa Cruz County Democratic Party event at the home of George Ow and Gail Michaelis Ow in Santa Cruz. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel)
“The Republicans believe that the border is the political gift that will never stop giving and they will not do anything to solve this,” said Schiff. “We’re going to have to solve it ourselves, and in order to solve it, we’re going to have to do away with the filibuster, but more than that, we’re going to have to make sure that when we control the House and the Senate and the White House that we use the political capital to get this done.”
After the Q&A, Schiff spoke with the Sentinel about strategies to alleviate housing costs in the state and country.
“The challenge here is so profound given the incredible cost of living here, and as I was saying, I think the mayor is doing everything possible at the local level, but it has to be a federal, state, local, public, private partnership,” said Schiff. “We need to make it easier to build. We need to make it more affordable to build.”
Schiff said increasing the supply of affordable housing is, in his eyes, the best strategy to ultimately lower housing costs for working people, but that it’s difficult because of the onerous process to build it.
“In L.A., it takes four years to build affordable housing,” said Schiff. “In San Jose, they’re spending a million dollars a door to house homeless people. We’re never going to solve the problem if it’s going to take four years or a million dollars a door so we just have to make the process far more efficient and less expensive. I think tax incentives are a big part of it. I think federal funding is a big part of it, but I am really pushing for a national housing strategy. This needs to be a national policy because it’s a national problem and it needs to be treated the same way we’re treating the epidemic of climate change-induced disasters. This is a disaster, resulting in people being homeless, just as much as a hurricane.”