Beyond the Politics: 5th District Supervisor Candidate Dan Hamburg

by Steve Sparks, April 22, 2010

I met with Dan at his home on Shepherd Lane on the southwestern outskirts of Ukiah and he made me a much-needed cup of strong coffee served with some delicious brownies before we sat down to talk. I should also mention that Dan’s wife, Carrie, also pre­pared a very tasty pasta dish, which I was to enjoy a little later.

Dan was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1949, one of four children (two of each) born to Walter Ham­burg and Jean Milton. His father was also born in St. Louis, the family coming to the United States from Germany before World War One on the U.S. Ham­burg, taking the name of the ship upon arrival at Ellis Island, according to family folklore. Jean Milton was born in Sedalia, Missouri, a few miles southwest of Kansas City, and her ancestors were the Milech­nikov’s (the Russian word for diary farmers) who had arrived in the States from Ukraine in the early 1900’s, immediately changed their name to Milton, and set­tled in Missouri along with many other Ukrainian Jews, who had been persecuted by the Tsar, “repeat­edly having to hide from the rampaging Cossack sol­diers.”

“When they settled in Sedalia, my Great Grandfa­ther, Eugene Milton, opened a general store that soon became Sedalia’s first gas station. His son Harry suc­ceeded him in the family business. This was my grand­father, an amazing man for whom English was his third language after Yiddish and Russian and had a very thick accent. Over the next five decades the business grew and grew so that by the mid-sixties it was the largest independent gas company in southern Missouri, dealing not only in gasoline but also tires, batteries and accessories. My grandfather put his suc­cess down to the real estate mantra of ‘location, loca­tion, location’ — find a busy intersection and put a gas station there.”

Over time, the three daughters of Harry Milton were married, and their three spouses became involved in the company. Walter Hamburg was one of these and he found a job as a general manager in the family business. “From the time I could do anything useful I worked in some capacity in the gas stations. I cleaned bathrooms, poured gas, changed oil, and later did some light mechanical work. Everyone in our family seemed to work for Grandpa with my father taking over the running of a huge tire warehouse in Bellville, over the state line in Illinois. I was very close to my Grandfather. He would take me to baseball games, always smoking big cigars — that was a smell I loved. He worked very hard but believed in doing things in a certain way. On his desk was a plaque that said, ‘Honesty Pays,’ and that was what he really believed. He also used an abacus that he had on his desk. My Grandmother, Minna, was also very smart and wise and she was the one adult I would turn to for advice about serious issues. Later, when I had a prob­lem about the draft for the Vietnam war, she was the person I turned to for advice. She was voted ‘St. Louis Woman of Achievement’, and together they were a formidable couple, a well-known Jewish couple in their community.”

When Dan was thirteen and living in a middle class suburb, his parents wanted to move to a slightly nicer area but found out to their surprise that this neighborhood was a non-Jewish sub-division. “My siblings and I went through the whole Jewish upbringing and I learned Hebrew and had a bar mitz­vah but I remember questioning organized religion as I entered my teens. I told the rabbi that it was ‘not working for me.’ It was all very upper middle class and the Temple was very ostentatious. Meanwhile I attended public schools that were mixed, although there were many private schools that were not, and with St. Louis being on the Mason-Dixon line the African-Americans were definitely regarded as sec­ond-class citizens. This was maddening to me. I did not see much social justice or equality on view. I was not a very happy teen; I didn’t like the social aspect of school, and then when I was about fourteen or so my parents’ relationship began to fall apart so I threw myself into my studies and did very well in that. I did enjoy soccer and particularly baseball. I played until I was in my 40s when I started to embarrass myself! Both my father and grandfather were fanatical base­ball fans and my Dad would even listen to the games on the radio when at Temple on Friday evenings. Our team was the St. Louis Cardinals of course and my hero was Ken Boyer, the Cards’ third baseman.”

“My father took privilege for granted having come from a wealthy family. His father, Sam Hamburg, was big in St. Louis real estate in the 20’s and 30’s, buying many hotels and theaters, but then the Depression really hit him and he lost most of his investments apart from a resort hotel in Palm Springs that he was involved in. Then this burnt down, the insurance didn’t cover his investment, and he became destitute for the final ten years of his life. He committed sui­cide by throwing himself off one of his own buildings. I was three at the time.”

“My father had dropped out of law school and was drifting a little when he met my mother. I’m sure he loved her but she did provide the financial security he had once had and lost. However, my grandparents were not fond of their son-in-law. Dad never under­stood the problems that developed in his marriage — he was very self-involved. It was very tense around the home and I couldn’t wait to leave, although I was no real trouble for my parents. I spent most of my time in my room, with my own entrance and bathroom. I drove myself hard at school and applied to go to col­leges on both coasts to make sure I got away.”

Dan graduated in 1966 and began his studies at Stan­ford University. “I immediately loved it. It was the most happy I’d been to that point in my life. I fit­ted socially and the classes were great. I made more friends in the first few weeks there than in four years at high school. I started off in humanities but soon turned to religious studies. I had been cloistered in the Jewish doctrine and wanted to know about other religions. I also became involved in politics for the first time. It was the time of the anti-war movement in Berkeley and the unrest filtered across the S.F. Bay to Stanford, particularly with regards to the Univer­sity’s investments in South Africa. I remember seeing some graffiti in the bathroom saying ‘Free Mandela’ and I had to ask what it meant. The movement became bigger and angrier as Stanford continued to play its part in the military industrial complex.”

Along with many others, Dan occupied buildings on the campus. In 1969 a lot of damage was done to the ROTC building and the President’s office was occupied to protest the school’s contracts with the Pentagon. “There were several sub-groups taking part in the protests, one of which was a Maoist group. I was not involved with them. They were very heady days and we really believed we were going to change the world. Of course we were wrong. My parents were freaked out. I was supposed to be studying to become a lawyer or doctor and here I was fighting the draft board and at odds with the establishment. As I men­tioned earlier, I talked with my grandmother a lot at this time and she felt Vietnam was a travesty and sup­ported my anti-war stance.”

In the end, even though Dan had received a low draft number and was planning to somehow avoid being drafted, he failed his physical due to childhood rhinitis — allergies and asthma. “It saved me a lot of bother because I would not have gone to Vietnam. I was at the huge demonstration at the Oakland induc­tion center in 1970 when Governor Reagan said the police would ‘crack some heads.’ They certainly did and I have very vivid memories of that day. We were trying to stop the war in its tracks and I was on televi­sion with protest singer Joan Baez at one point talking about Stanford’s war-machine. Over time I was identi­fied by the police as being at several protests and demonstrations and was arrested, although acquitted soon afterwards.”

Dan graduated in 1970 with a degree in History but in his senior year he had taken a class in Alterna­tive Education, which greatly influenced him and oth­ers on the course. One of them, Cathy Easterbrook, was from Redwood Valley in Mendocino County, where her family owned the Rancho Mariposa. Her parents moved to American Samoa for a time so it was arranged that about a dozen students could start a new school on the property and call it Mariposa School. Dan joined them a few months later to check it out and stayed for four years.

“We opened the school in 1971 and were fortunate that at the time there were many professionals in the area who wanted an alternative schooling for their kids. We were at the right place and time and capti­vated the imagination of these parents. We taught kids from kindergarten thru 2nd grade and one of them was a seven-year old called Laura whose mother was a teaching assistant by the name of Carrie. She also had a six-year old son, Kirt, and another daugh­ter, Liz, aged four. Carrie and I fell in love and started to live together, getting married in 1974.”

The group put together several school buildings over the years and finally set up a campus in the town of Ukiah on Low Gap Road, with everybody helping. “We had to do a bit of everything in the group. Fixing cars, repairing things, raising animals, growing pro­duce, etc. It was not a commune of individuals; most of our group were in families or couples. It was one of the new alternative schools that stood the test of time and was to last until 1998, ultimately taking kids up to 8th grade. This whole experience was a huge change again for me. Certainly as big a difference from my life at Stanford as that had been in comparison to my pre­vious life in St. Louis. I found it very exhilarating. It was what this county is all about — liberty and self-reliance.”

After four years, with their own kids more involved at the public school in town, Carrie and Dan left Mariposa. For $15K they bought a condemned house on Stanley Street in Ukiah and began to fix it up. “It was a lot of work but we saved that house with sweat equity. I worked on it for a year then Carrie got pregnant with our son so I got a job as the Director of the Ukiah Valley Child Development Center dealing with child care and family services.”

In 1976 three seats became open on the Ukiah City Council and Dan decided to launch his political career. “There were 15 candidates and I came fifth, so that was very encouraging. During the campaign I had become friends with Ted Feibusch, one of the three winners, and he appointed me to the Ukiah Planning Commission on which I served until 1981. During that time I joined the Ukiah Valley Citizen Advisory Committee and we got the necessary planning docu­ments prepared for the County’s first legal and com­prehensive General Plan. It took three years and cost half a million. Look at it today — ten years, ten mil­lion, and still not done.”

In 1980, as he is doing again 30 years later, Dan ran for the Mendocino Board of Supervisors and at 32 became the youngest Supervisor in County history when he won the 2nd District seat. “I quickly became a lightning rod with my involvement in the opposition to the Vintner’s Village Convention Center and Mall. We stooped it but a group calling themselves the Employers Council launched a re-call vote against myself and two other Supervisors who were against the project, Norman deVall and Jim Eddie. Then they decided to go just after me but finally, a year later, I won by a big margin and my position on the Board was firmly consolidated. I think my time on what was basically a ‘2-1-2’ Board was pretty well spent. Norman de Vall and I were on the same side for most issues and we required the swing vote of Jim Eddie to get things through. Overall I felt good when the term ended in 1984. Norman and I had worked well together, and I know my supporters were anxious for me to run again. If my friend Cathy Easterbrook from Mariposa School had entered the race and won a seat, as I thought she would, I would have run again as it would have given us the 3-2 split. However, she decided not to, so that was a blow to my plans. Fur­thermore, Carrie had other ideas. We had lived in the heart of town and the job had become our life and she wanted to take a break, do something different, ‘go and have an adventure’ as she put it. We decided to get out of Dodge.”

In 1985, Dan, Carrie, and two of the kids moved to China where they were given the opportunity to start a small business called the Taishan Study Program, helping people from the States get together with those in China for business and cultural purposes — a facilitating group which they ran for two years. It was “a great experience” but in 1987 they returned to Cali­fornia.

Dan became the Executive Director of North Coast Opportunities, a community action agency using federal and state money for social services in Lake and Mendocino counties. “We moved back into our home on Stanley Street and coming from China were hit by how spacious and big everything was. Carrie wanted to move away from this place, to move into the country, although I was more ambivalent having spent so much time turning it from a total wreck to a nice home. We looked around and she liked everything we saw. I didn’t like any of them. Then we found this place on Shepherd Lane with no road, no water, no electricity, and no house. We both liked it and bought the property, putting a sixteen-foot trailer to live in while a house was being built, and soon after I went back to China for three months leaving Carrie to deal with the new place. On my return I took a one-day a week course at the Califor­nia Institute of Integral Studies to get a Masters in Philosophy and Religion. I only mention this because of my interest in religion has always been there and is important to me. I really enjoyed the studying and writing the papers.”

“In 1990, Frank Riggs, a Republican, defeated Doug Bosco for US Congressman in our district. The Democratic vote had been split by the Peace and Freedom party and the very next day I decided I would run for this position next time. I knew Riggs did not fit the district. Sure enough, helped by the fact that 1992 was the year to be a Democrat riding on the coattails of Clinton, Feinstein, Boxer, etc, I ran for US Congress and beat Riggs to become a member of the biggest freshman class of Democrats in Con­gress in history. This was my generation, many like-minded people riding this huge burst of energy. Somebody said the nineties were going to make the sixties look like the fifties. It was wonderful to be on this big stage with all of these kind of people.”

We newcomers felt that the big issue was cam­paign finance reform and wanted to make that our top priority to present to the leadership and the White House. Well, we soon took a great bite out of the reality sandwich when we were told there was little interest in pursuing this issue. How naïve of us — the Democrats didn’t want to give up money now that they’d won. Clinton had been told what Wall Street wanted. I was bitter with Clinton regarding NAFTA too. It was a huge disappointment. On the environ­ment we found that Feinstein’s Desert Bill would be compromised but it did pass and then regarding my efforts to protect the Headwaters Forest the clock simply ran out and even though we got it through the House overwhelmingly, it stalled in the Senate. Dur­ing that time I met one-on-one with Clinton and then I found out that the same week he’d been playing golf with lobbyists for Charles Hurwitz and his Pacific Lumber Company.”

In the 1994 elections, having beaten Doug Bosco in the Democratic primary, “even though Pacific Lumber had been paying him $15K a month to run against me, I lost to Riggs following a campaign of slurs and untruths by the other side. Some said I did not try hard enough to win. That is not true; I cer­tainly wanted to win. I was no longer idealistic and naïve and knew I was in a district targeted by the Republicans as a must-win. Tons of money came in ‘to defeat Dan Hamburg.’ Furthermore, in 1994 the Democratic voters did not turn up — only 38%, com­pared to 58% in 1992. Riggs did a good number on me and claimed that due to my opposition to some of the lumber practices that I was a ‘serial job killer.’ Ridiculous. I did not want to stop all logging as they claimed and I was not insensitive to the job issue. The loss was a crushing blow politically, not to mention financially as we had taken out a second mortgage on the house to feed the campaign at its onset. I thought I was a good Congressman and had an amazing staff both here and in DC. We did a ton of good work even though ultimately I was disillusioned when the Republicans took back the House and reversed so much of what we had achieved. It was a horrible year.”

It was time for “another adventure” and Dan found a job with the National Democratic Institute’s foreign policy arm working in Johannesburg, South Africa, assisting the newly installed provincial legisla­tors in the basics of setting up a political office. “It was a sort of Democracy 101 for the new ANC gov­ernment members. Carrie and I spent a year traveling around the provincial capitals and we were based in a mixed neighborhood in Jo’burg, perhaps the only one in the entire country. Overall it was an amazing expe­rience and socially we really got into the Rugby World Cup that was played there and won by the hosts in 1995, but it wasn’t all good. I personally was still reel­ing from the loss in the election and now we were dealing with the desperation of so many of the people there. However, the vibrancy of the political discus­sion there was wonderful. I was greatly impressed with Nelson Mandela and attended an appearance by him in Soweto when he sat completely unprotected despite the many threats on his life. He had announced that there would be on place in South Africa where he should not go. Despite his efforts however, although the A.N.C. Party now had political power, it was still the whites who had economic con­trol.”

On their return to California in 1996, Dan joined and eventually became the Executive Director of Voice of the Environment, a non-profit dedicated to defending the environment and the rights of people over corporate control. “I was with this group for twelve years until 2008 and the highlight was the113-day occupation of Ward Valley. Carrie, myself, and AIM, Earth First!, and various other old hippies were trying to stop the construction of a radioactive waste dump in the Mojave Desert on land sacred to Indian tribes. There were about fifty of us and eventually the Feds backed off.” As a member of Voice of the Envi­ronment, Dan was arrested in Ohio, along with Carrie, for protesting alleged voter fraud in the 2004 national election.

He had become a member of the Green Party in 1996 and ran for Governor on the party’s first ever Gubernatorial ticket in California, finishing third behind the Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Dan Lundgren in 1998. He supported the Green Can­didacy of Ralph Nader in the 200 national election and continues to agree with their principles. “I have been inspired by Ralph Nader’s campaigns. I realize that in our political system they are largely symbolic but I am very supportive of him and believe running for the Presidency is the only way he can communi­cate his views and those of many others.”

Dan plans to raise and spend about $25K on his election campaign and, if successful on June 8th, he believes he and the others making decisions when in office will have to show great creativity and ingenuity in deciding how the County can move forward. “Our revenue sources from outside are drying up and we must use local resources to serve local communities, and generate local food independence. We need to be in as much control as possible on how we sustain the County. My experience is broad and far ranging and I think I can bring a lot to the table. I have very strong feelings for this County and its communities and believe in its self-sufficiency.”

I asked Dan for his responses to various county issues.

The Wineries and their impact? “It’s a fact that we have it here and that’s not going to change. They pro­vide jobs and are a lure to tourists, but when is enough, enough? Are our resources really sufficient to support the amount of acreage we have given to wine, particularly with respect to water? Furthermore, the more land we fence off for vines, the harder it is on wildlife”

Marijuana? “There are steps, in the form of new ini­tiatives, being made in the right direction towards regulating and taxing marijuana. Locally we need to look at law enforcement in terms of community needs and what the County can afford. The Sheriff’s department and District Attorney’s office will go broke busting relatively small ‘mom and pop’ growers. They cannot afford to do this. There are so many aspects to this issue and it is hugely important to the economy of this County and we need to look into a framework of creating a legalized industry.”

The school system? “We are not investing enough money into it. California is ranked 46th in the coun­try in some key subjects. I hear good things about the schools in Anderson Valley although the demographic has changed a lot in the past ten years and this is not a particularly good thing.”

Law and Order? “I’m in favor of it! We do need to make sure law enforcement focuses on the serious and violent crime rather than the lesser evils such as ‘low-hanging fruit,’ etc. I am glad to see that Anderson Valley still has two deputies as it remains a real chal­lenge to operate with the same number of deputies as 30 years ago within a population that has increased by 20%.”

The AVA? “I think it’s in its heyday. I’ve had my ups and downs with Bruce Anderson over the years but his paper is a very rare jewel in this day and age and the effort to put it out every week is awesome.”

To end the interview, I posed a few questions from a questionnaire featured on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” plus some I came up with myself.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “People working together for common good — such as in a political campaign. I enjoy team building and working together with that team.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “I am really turned off by personal attacks directed between individuals or groups. We are at a time and place where we need to talk to each other and less haranguing would be beneficial to all.”

Sound or noise you love? “The sound of the country­side: water in the creeks, the birds singing around the house; and the non-sounds of the country too — the quiet.”

Sound or noise you hate? “I hate the sound of guns and chainsaws early in the morning — unless it’s my chainsaw of course! I also find helicopters flying at low altitudes very objectionable.”

Favorite food or meal? “Anything that Carrie makes. She is a fantastic cook. Her stir-fried vegetable dishes with a little meat tossed in are especially good.”

Where would you like to visit if you could go any­where in the world? “I’m really enjoying visiting all the little towns and communities in the Fifth District, just loving it. I have pretty much lost my desire to travel much further.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that be? “Jesus. I want to know who he was. Was he a revolutionary? Or may be Eugene V. Debs, the socialist candidate for President in the 1900 election. Or perhaps the Giants pitcher, Tim Lincecum or the writer Albert Camus who was such an influence on my thinking at college. If it’s to be just one, then it would be Jesus.”

If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three posses­sions would you like to have with you? My four-wheeler Kawasaki mule; my tool bag; and an encyclo­pedia.”

Favorite or influential film or book? “The film ‘Hud’ starring Paul Newman because it encapsulates the sort of alienation that I felt growing up; the book ‘Brothers Karamazov,’ by Dostoyevsky, which had a huge influence on me.”

Favorite word or phrase? Probably ‘holy shit!’ I seem to say it a lot.”

Least favorite word or phrase? “That would be, ‘You’re under arrest’.”

Favorite hobby? “I love watching the Giants and the Warriors on television; I really enjoy working around our land on various projects and chores.”

Profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you could have done just about any­thing? “A professional athlete — particularly third baseman for the Cardinals.”

Profession would you not like to do? “A surgeon. I’d be too squeamish about cutting into flesh.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “The day Carrie and I were married. It was a wonderful day and when you add Bloody Marys, belly dancers, and a streaker. It was perfect.”

Saddest? “To me it would be the day I lost the elec­tion in 1994, although I am grateful not to have suffered worst things than that.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself, physi­cally/mentally/spiritually? “I put a huge value on trying to be kind, trying to be attentive to my surroundings. Sometimes I am not good at it but if I’m on, then I’m good at this — with regards to my wife, children, grandchildren, whatever. The older people get it seems they wish they had been more kind and try to actualize this and I want to do it now, while I can. Other than that, I feel I do have the ability to take a position when you have to be clear and concise about what you think, and then stick to it, even if others may think it is extreme. May be that’s why I have been arrested so many times!”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “It would be good if he said, ‘Nice try, better luck next time.’ Yes, that would be good.” ¥¥

(Our next interview from the world of Mendocino politics will be in two weeks (May 5th issue) and will feature another Candidate for the position of 5th Dis­trict Supervisor, Jim Mastin.)

One Response to Beyond the Politics: 5th District Supervisor Candidate Dan Hamburg

  1. Jan Wax Reply

    June 1, 2010 at 9:03 am

    I urge everyone to vote for Dan. We need this smart, compassionate man as our 5th district supervisor!

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