[Update Feb 21, 2008 11:31pm PST: Shelly Powers has a much more negative response to Lessig's run for Congress. She makes some good points about the Change Congress plan, and raises some important substantive concerns about Lessig's proposed candidacy. ]
Professor Lawrence Lessig, in conjunction with his recently announced "Change Congress" effort has announced that he is contemplating running for Congress from the 12th Congressional District, recently vacated by Tom Lantos' surprising and unfortunate death recently. Thats my congressional district. A chorus of netizens have cheered loudly about the prospect of a Representative Lessig, and have begun a Facebook group and a web site to encourage him to run.
I have been a supporter of Jackie Speier, a local public servant who has a long and magnificent history serving this area in a variety of seats, from county supervisor to state senator. She announced her intention to run for this Congressional seat and everyone I talk to enthusiastically supports her. She's got deep grassroots as well as establishment support. We've got a special election coming up April 8th (to fill the remainder of the term) where she is certainly going to win a plurality and very likely to win 50%, thus heading off a "runoff" in June. She'd have to run again at the end of the year for the seat as well (for the next term). Its too bad that we have to choose between Lessig and her - neither of them are your run-of-the-mill "hold your nose and vote" candidate!
I'm deeply torn because though I have been (and continue to be) a Jackie supporter, I, like many of my fellow netizens, am deeply moved by Lessig's attempt to change congress through the severing of the ties between election-driven fundraising and legislative activities. Its a sincere effort to kill the corrupting systemic influence of money on politics. I was moved by the video on Lessig's exploratory site:
I must also admit that I also feel a tinge of resentment to the chorus of calls for him to run. He would be my representative, not yours. He's never been to local community events or been involved in local political activities or causes, as far as I know. Other than living in the district, I'm not clear what ties he has to to the community. He's got to deal with issues in the district first and foremost, and not just the reform agenda. Also, being a legislator means practicing the art of compromise. Being an effective legislator is about sausage making. Is this really the best way to push forward the Change Congress agenda? I really am uncertain and am eager to be convinced.
In addition, I have very little idea about what his policy positions are outside reform. We have a tendency to support similar candidates (notably Ro Khanna's challenge to Lantos in 2003/2004, and now Barack Obama), but I've heard NOTHING about his view on local issues where someone in this position has quite a lot of influence. To be clear, I think these deficiencies are "curable" (not sure if thats possible in the 6 or so weeks we have until the election), but they definitely need to be addressed if he is to be anything other than a footnote candidate. I'd invite him to come, for example, to a meeting of San Mateo County Democracy For America and discuss face to face why he wants to be our representative - at least one other candidate already has.
Finally, I want to share an email I sent personally to Larry Lessig. I've actually grown more positive towards his run since I wrote this, but I think it probably reflects the sentiments of many of us locals:
I have rumors that you are considering a run for the 12th CD congressional seat recently vacated due to Tom Lantos' untimely passing. As a fellow resident of the 12th CD, I urge you *not* to run for this seat, both because I think you can be more effective in other roles, and because I believe Jackie Speier will win and will be an even more effective representative.
I believe I share many of the same values with you, judging by your past and current political and other advocacy positions. In 2003, I actively supported Ro Khanna in his primary challenege to Tom Lantos (in addition to supporting the Howard Dean candidacy). In fact, I attended a fundraiser at your house for Ro. More recently, I have been actively supporting Obama - another candidate you have been vocal in supporting. I am also an active supporter of Creative Commons and all the work you've done over the last 10 years - I first heard your name while at Boalt in the mid-90s, and you've clearly inspired a whole generation to focus on legal and policy issues unlike others before.
I am enthusiastic about your recent change in focus towards political corruption and the influence of money - while I've been a huge supporter of Creative Commons and IP reform in general, I believe your attempt to tackle systemic corruption is so much more important. However, I believe you can be more effective in this role as an independent voice, not as a member of Congress. Even a position for you in an Obama administration (lets hope!) would be more conducive to your message, I would think.
In closing, let me also make a pitch for Jackie Speier. She has deep roots in northern San Mateo county and southwest San Francisco. She's shown her ability to be an effective legislator and has a record of leadership on privacy and consumer protection legislation. I would hope that you could build a relationship with her to pursue your goals rather than trying to challenge her in the primaries. If you aren't in communication with her, I'm sure should would be more than excited to talk with you directly - I'd be happy to help facilitate that in any way I could.
Let me be clear - I understand the enthusiasm that many have for the possibility of being able to say "Representative Lessig". It gives me goose pimples too! But the realist in me believes that you would be more effective in other roles, unencumbered by the day-to-day sausage-making that is the House of Representatives.
Thanks for listening, and I look forward to hearing more from you on this topic soon!