Nearly four decades ago, Nancy and Derek Casady were among 1,400 people (including Daniel Ellsberg) arrested in a protest at the Livermore nuclear weapons lab.
It was a time of “Doomsday Clocks” and nuclear winter fears.
Now 77, Nancy Casady hears another bomb ticking, and she’s sounding the alarm with her second run for Congress — after one in 1996.
As of last Wednesday, when she and husband Derek sat down for an interview over a bagel breakfast, the Earth had “eight years, four months and two days” until greenhouse gases rose to too-dangerous levels, she said.
“We used to have until the end of the century,” she said. “Then we had until 2050. And it used to be we could manage 2 degrees [Celsius rise in global average temperature]. Now it’s 1.5. So we know which way it’s going. It’s going faster. It’s worse than we thought.”
Calling this a “time certain ending if we don’t act,” Casady says she decided after a May 30 meeting with Rep. Scott Peters that he didn’t share her commitment to a World War II-scale mobilization to transform America’s energy systems via the Green New Deal.
After a series of protests, she said, Peters met with about 35 climate activists at a rented meeting room across the street from his University City offices.
“He sat there and said: ‘I don’t like and will never support the Green New Deal because it has this provision for free college tuition and because it has a jobs guarantee,’” she said.
Calling herself shocked as a lifelong Democrat (who backed Peters in his council and Congress campaigns), “I couldn’t believe that he was absolutely taking that stand. I think it’s very shortsighted to be worried about whether you’re going to be returned to Congress when we have the planet coming apart before our eyes.”
Her decision to challenge Peters from the left in the 52nd Congressional District wasn’t immediate, however.
Derek Casady, 83 and also a former candidate for Congress (running in a primary to face Duncan Hunter’s father in 2006), said they went back-and-forth over entering the race during their morning walks at La Jolla Shores.
“Derek is reminding me that if there were some young Ph.D candidate who had the desire to run, we would certainly support that candidacy,” she said.
“But nobody has stepped up,” said Derek Casady, acting as her campaign manager (as she did for him in 2006 — although now “we’re being pressured by our campaign committee to have a professional campaign manager.”)
The Casadys said they filed paperwork Aug. 20 with the Federal Election Commission.
Also informing her race is being on the state Board of Food & Agriculture, where she meets farmers worried about crops sensitive to minor heat changes.
She was appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who she knew when he was young. In mid-2017, Casady retired after 20 years as general manager of a co-up — the Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market. (She also was vice president of the National Cooperative Grocers Association.)
But planting a seed does not guarantee a toppling of a four-term incumbent.
“This is the kind of candidacy that can help to really raise an important issue, hold the incumbent’s feet to the fire,” said UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser. “But it’s probably not going to spell electoral doom for Scott Peters.”
Kousser says he sees no clear evidence of Casady spending enough money to “magnify” her message or find a platform of endorsements.
He also rejects a comparison of Casady to New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who upset a 10-term Democratic incumbent in 2018.
Kousser calls Peters “incredibly attentive to his district” in north and coastal San Diego.
“His knuckles are still white from getting his grip on this district,” first in 2012 when he upset GOP incumbent Brian Bilbray and in 2014 when he edged Republican firebrand Carl DeMaio by 3.2 points.
Democrats now have a nearly 8-point registration advantage over Republicans in the 436,761-voter district.
Peters’ biggest threat would come from the right, said Kousser, the UCSD Political Science Department chair. (Nurse Famela Ramos was to be the lone GOP challenger, but the Chula Vistan switched to run for the Rep. Susan Davis vacancy in the 53rd District.)
Kousser also notes that in 2022, after congressional remaps, “Peters might be running in a district that looks very different than this and his biggest challenges will come from the right — and that pushes him to hold onto the middle.”
Also cool to Casady’s chances is Carl Luna, the longtime local politics observer from his perch at San Diego Mesa College.
“Casady may peel off some of the most progressive voters in the 52nd District but, barring a Deep Blue Wave next year, won’t seriously challenge Peters’ support base,” Luna said.
He doesn’t think a “climate crisis” attack is strong enough to unseat Peters.
“There’s the economy, guns, the economy, immigration, the economy, heath care, the economy and the rest that drives voters,” Luna said. “Climate is big and growing but won’t be the defining issue in 2020 for Democrats — defeating Trump and the GOP will be.”
He says Peters’ seat is safely Democratic and “it’s hard (though not impossible) to see the local party ousting him in the name of ideological purity this time around.”
But if a big Blue Wave occurs in 2020, Peters will run the risk of being “outflanked on the left in 2022 if he doesn’t rebrand a bit,” Luna said.
The Peters campaign rejects the notion he isn’t all-in to combat climate change.
“Scott agrees with everything in the [Green New Deal] that addresses climate,” says MaryAnne Pintar, his chief of staff. “He does not agree with some of its economic approaches that have nothing to do with climate, and believes they slow the urgent work of binding climate action.”
She said such economic fights drive away those Republicans and others willing to acknowledge climate as a serious threat but don’t want to commit to GND economic policies.
“We can talk about those policies separately, but we cannot afford to slow down climate action,” Pintar said, sharing links to Peters’ proposals and his environmental credits.
Pintar called the GND a nonbinding resolution that contains no single legislative fix to address the climate crisis. Besides, she says, it’s already been voted down in the Senate.
“If the GND were to pass the House and the Senate today,” she said, “tomorrow the Congress would have to begin to work on the exact legislative proposals in [Peters’] Climate Playbook to decarbonize power, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture; to limit short-lived climate pollutants (superpollutants), to boost innovation and research, to price carbon, and to adapt to climate change.”
Casady and others asked Peters to host a Climate Town Hall, but it was canceled when a Democratic presidential debate was set that same night.
Pintar said Peters’ staff spent a lot of time organizing the Town Hall.
“We wanted to find a large space with free parking on a date when Congress is not in session and there are not other schedule conflicts,” she said. “We had assembled a panel of experts who had committed to the evening, we found an interpreter for the deaf, and sent notices broadly.”
But she said Peters’ office received complaints from the same people who had asked for the town hall — with some unhappy over the panel of experts.
“Some accused us of picking the date to suppress turnout, and some even went to the local Democratic Party chairman to urge the party and regional Democratic clubs to issue a reprimand because we selected the date of the debates,” Pintar told Times of San Diego.
“It was clear that the very people we were working to be responsive to were not going to be satisfied, so we canceled it.”
She said this came after Peters had spent a long meeting — the May 30 session — with members of the Green New Deal coalition to explain his position.
“He offered to meet regularly to discuss climate action, but instead they staged protests,” Pintar said. “Each time they protested, we invited them in to talk and heard them out. We have been available and accommodating.”
Will the climate meeting be rescheduled?
It’s more difficult now that Congress is back in session, Pintar said, but the office is looking for a Town Hall date.
In any case, Pintar rejects the theory that Peters is worried about catering to moderate interests in a future election.
“Recall the threats of a primary challenge when he supported the Trans Pacific Partnership, the attacks for his support of the Iran nuclear agreement?” she said. “It’s the policy, not the politics, that drives those decisions.”
Peters has taken tough positions and then worked hard to explain them to his constituents, she said, even when they disagreed with him.
“(Nancy) and Derek have been present for those very conversations,” Pintar said. “The voters heard him out and returned him to Congress.”
The day CNN hosted a 7-hour series of climate change grillings with 10 Democratic candidates, the Casadys recounted their own series of climate rallies. One in 2015 featured former Congressman Jim Bates dressed as Paul Revere — riding a horse through Balboa Park saying the water rise was coming.
The Casadys said their protests sometimes were too extreme for even San Diego 350, organizer of some of the largest climate marches in local history.
Early climate rallies didn’t involve 350 because the group didn’t want to do “pop-up” actions, she said. They wanted more coordination with their national organization.
“They had us fill out an application [to head a rally department],” Derek Casady said. “Then they came over to our house and interviewed us. And then they turned us down.”
He said San Diego 350 told them: “We don’t think you guys are capable of putting on our rallies.”
So the Casadys ran seven for climate mobilization — the biggest drawing 1,000 to hear the son of Gen. Wesley Clark.
At 350 meetings, the Casadys urged support for climate mobilization — the WWII-scale reform effort — and 350 officials would say: ‘No, 350 is not supporting that — nationally,” he said.
The Casadys say they’re making nightly rounds of local Democratic clubs and expect a few endorsements, including from their own La Jolla Democratic Club. They’d also like backing from the state nurses union and the local Labor Council.
Nancy Casady hasn’t approached the Green Party for endorsement, said Rick Greenblatt, a leader of local Greens.
“If she did, we would consider her as we would with any other prospective candidate,” he said. “I have worked with Nancy in the past and hold her in the highest regard personally. However, the Green Party does not as a general rule endorse Democrats or Republicans.”
Nancy Casady also might expect questions about her age. But she has a ready reply.
“Are you an ageist?” she’d say. “I think really your health and your stamina — your ability to think clearly” — determine fitness for office, and she noted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 79 and Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 86.
“We used to say: Don’t trust anyone over 30. Now we say: Don’t trust anyone under 70,” she said with a laugh.
Her pick for president — Sen. Bernie Sanders — is no spring chicken either. And she prefers the 78-year-old Vermonter’s plan for climate action.
“I think Bernie has a grasp, first of all, of the scale of what needs to be done. And he has a grasp of the time frame that we’re working with, which is really within the decade,” Casady said. “I also think he has the credibility to get programs through some of the lesser experienced legislators.”
The Casadys back Councilwoman Barbara Bry for San Diego mayor, contrasting her run as an endgame rather than a steppingstone.
“She does not see herself moving up or on,” Nancy said, a reference to mayoral rival Todd Gloria’s perceived trajectory.
But don’t count on Nancy Casady staying in Congress long.
She sees Congress as having a “maximum four-year window” to deal with climate issues.
“You know, we’re putting up 110 million tons of greenhouse gases every day,” she said. “It’s just a physics problem. You can only put so much up there before the composition of the atmosphere becomes toxic to humans — to say nothing about what it’s doing weatherwise. So this isn’t business as usual.”
Casady says Mother Nature will propel her to victory in 2020 — with hurricanes, wildfires and rising seas reminding voters of what human-driven climate change has wrought.
She said one of her granddaughters — now a Buddhist monk in Escondido — once told her amid climate fears: “I’m not having any kids, Grammy.”
But she still has problems persuading friends.
She tells how Francine Busby — a former county Democratic Party chair now working for Rep. Mike Levin — said: “Nancy, I don’t understand why you’re running — you only have a difference on this one little thing.”
Derek Casady pipes in: “So that’s our new slogan: Elect Nancy Casady to Congress — one little thing.”