Upfront: Feel the Turn

Can Nils Palsson, from the Bernie left, unseat Mike Thompson?  

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Nils Palsson was a delegate for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary; now, he’s running in California’s 5th Congressional District.

North Bay voters may wake up on November 7 to the news that there are two progressives representing the region in Congress—and one of them is a bona fide Berniecrat.

Nils Palsson is running against Blue Dog Democrat Mike Thompson in California’s 5th Congressional District, decrying the incumbent’s long list of big-money contributions from the corporate world as he’s launched a Sanders-friendly campaign—and accepting individual contributions of $27.

Palsson, 32, is a working dad and was a delegate for the Vermont senator in the 2016 Democratic primary. The Santa Rosa resident is running as an independent this year. It’s his second stab at the seat, which Thompson has held since 1999.

Palsson ran in 2016 and came in third behind Thompson and Republican Carlos Santamaria in the primary that year. The pro-gun Thompson went on to handily dispatch Santamaria by a margin of 3–1 in the general election. His district includes Santa Rosa, Napa County and parts of Contra Costa and Solano counties.  

But there’s no Republican in the race for the 5th this year, and Palsson believes he’s got a real shot at taking down Thompson from the left. Especially since Thompson may actually be—the Zodiac Killer! In a recent campaign e-blast, Palsson flatly declared, “I’m running for Congress against the infamous Zodiac Killer.” What?

The jibe played off the difficulty in defeating a popular and long-standing incumbent. An editorial that ran in the Sonoma Index-Tribune in 2016 noted that “for Thompson to lose, something extraordinary would have to happen, like he were revealed to be the never-captured Zodiac Killer from the 1970s.”

Two years later, the Zodiac Killer has still not been caught, and Palsson’s having some fun-not-fun with it. He goes on to immediately say that he’s joking. “Let me make it abundantly clear,” Palsson writes. “Mike Thompson is not the Zodiac Killer. But there is a hidden truth that, if revealed, might have roughly the same effect on local voters as if he were to be revealed as the notorious murderer of yore.”

The point about Thompson, he says, is that he represents the worst of the worst when it comes to the constellation of his contributor base. “The fact is that Thompson has accepted an alarming number of yuge political contributions from lobbyists representing some of the world’s most destructive corporations,” he writes.

Palsson is intent on pushing a people-first agenda, he says, that’s focused on wage-equity and Medicare for all, dealing with the student debt crisis and pushing for higher wages. All very Bernie. He’s also weighing in on gun violence as part of his pitch to voters, and says that Thompson has come up short on that front despite his prominence on the issue among Democrats. “I haven’t seen visionary leadership from him on any issue,” says Palsson, “including the gun thing.”

Palsson adds that he’s not calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. “I don’t go that far,” he says and notes that the Second Amendment’s original intention was as a bulwark against tyranny. Indeed, he’s wary of ongoing efforts to turn the gun-control debate into a push for legislation to raise the legal age for gun ownership to 21. “I’m not entirely sold on that,” he says, arguing that when youth turn 18, they’re granted full citizenship—and can be given a gun and sent off to war. And he’s got his own war to fight between now and the June primary. Palsson’s hoping to nab some high-level endorsements, and says he needs to ramp up the fundraising.

“I feel pretty strong going into the primary,” he says, and if he makes it through and squares off against Thompson in the general, who knows. “People will come out of the woodwork,” he says.

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