Dan Hamburg Biography

Dan Hamburg has resided in the Fifth District since 1986. He was a school teacher and an anti-poverty activist when first elected...

Dan with Judi Bari and David Brower

Dan Hamburg came to Mendocino County in order to join the teaching staff of Mariposa School, where he taught from 1971 through 1975. In 1976, Dan was hired as director of the Ukiah Valley Child Development Center. That year he was also appointed to the Ukiah Planning Commission, on which he served until his election to the Board of Supervisors in 1980. While on the Board, the county wrote and passed its first legal General Plan and Local Coastal Plan. These documents have stood the test of time.

In 1992, Dan was elected to the House of Representatives from the first congressional district. The district ran from the Oregon border to the Carquinez Strait, 350 miles from north to south and encompassing six counties. During his single term in office, Dan worked for single-payer national health care, protecting old-growth forests, reducing the military budget, restoring fisheries, and much more.

In 1994, Dan lost his reelection in a national Republican landslide. The Democrats lost the House for the first time in 5 decades!

In 1995, Dan was hired by the National Democratic Institute, the “foreign policy arm of the Democratic Party,” as an advisor to the new government of Nelson Mandela. He spent a year training provincial legislators of all parties, but worked predominantly with the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s party.

Dan became executive director of Voice of the Environment in 1996. In that capacity, he has worked on many political campaigns including stopping a nuclear waste dump at Ward Valley, turning back an attempt by Wal-Mart, Inc. to restrict first amendment rights, protecting California’s “heritage trees,” and much more.

Over the four decades Dan has lived in Mendocino County, including the last 24 years in the Fifth District, he has always been engaged in local political issues. In the recent past, he was a leader of the Measure H campaign to ban genetically-modified organisms in the county. This ordinance was the first of its kind in the United States. He also worked hard to defeat Measure B, believing that the restrictions it placed on medical cannabis growers would lead to a frenzy of law enforcement action against small growers and resulting expense to the county.

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EDUCATION Stanford University, BA
California Institute of Integral Studies, MA

Mariposa School (teacher, 1971-1975)

Ukiah Valley Child Development Center (director, 1976-1980)

Ukiah Planning Commission (1975-1980)

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors (1981-1985)

Taishan China Study Program (founding director, 1984-1990)

North Coast Opportunities (executive director, 1986-1988)

US House of Representatives (member, 1993-1995)

National Democratic Institute (program associate, 1995)

Ukiah Natural Foods Board of Directors (member, 2006-present)

Forests Forever Board of Directors (member, 2007-present)

Voice of the Environment (executive director, 1996-present)


Married to Carrie (35 years)
2 sons, 2 daughters, 6 granddaughters
Two dogs, one rooster, 8 hens


Mendocino County Board of Supervisors

Served as chairman of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors during the year-long process to draft the county's first Coastal Plan; wrote and helped enact Class K building regulations, alternative wastewater systems approvals; negotiated Clean Slate provisions to allow owner-builders to legalize their homes; led the effort to underground utilities in Hopland and establish bikeways in south Ukiah

United States House of Representatives

While in Congress, I authored the Headwaters Forest Act, a bill to save 40,000 acres of Pacific Lumber property from the chainsaws and get-rich-quick schemes of Charles Hurwitz and Maxxam Corporation. The bill passed the House of Representatives 288-133 but stalled in the Senate largely due to non-action of California’s two senators.

National Democratic Institute

Trained provincial legislators throughout South Africa to take part in the post-apartheid government under the presidency of Nelson Mandela.

Ward Valley

Participated in a 113 day occupation in the Mojave Desert west of Needles to stop the plan to dump radioactive waste just a few miles from the Colorado River; the project was stopped.

Bear Lincoln Defense Committee

Helped to create a community movement in defense of Bear Lincoln, a Yuki man accused of murdering a Mendocino County deputy; the jury found Lincoln not guilty and freed him from Mendocino County jail.


Forced the retail behemoth to change their policies regarding tabling and other political activity on store property; we were able to convince a state appeals court to overturn local judge Richard Henderson leading to Wal-Mart settling with the eight defendants and changing their statewide policies.

Measure G

Spokesperson for successful campaign to allow county residents to grow up to 25 marijuana plants for personal use.

Round Valley Historical Marker

Led a successful effort to replace State of California Historical Marker #674 with
language recognizing the 10,000 year history of the Yuki people in Round Valley and the predations they suffered during the Mendocino County Wars of the 1870s and subsequent internment.

California Heritage Tree Preservation Act

Co-author of a bill to protect all trees in California older than the state itself (1850). This bill has passed the State Senate twice but has stalled in the Assembly through the efforts of the moderate Democratic Party faction (“mod Dems”).

Measure H

Served on the steering committee and radio communications coordinator for the successful campaign to pass the first ordinance in the country banning the production of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

Measure B

Served on the steering committee for the unsuccessful No on Measure B campaign. The measure passed by a vote of 52-48, though it failed 56-44 in the fifth district.


Sonoma County Democrat of the Year (1994)

Sierra Club California Legislator of the Year (1994)

Dan with grand-daughters Ruby Campbell (left) and Natalie Hamburg (right) and cat Spindrift

The voyage to Washington and the national stage gave Dan valuable experience that he brings home to our county. Read the story in his own words below...

A year before Clinton’s election (and mine) in 1992, a JFK’s Peace Corps Director, a man named Harris Wofford won an impressive victory in a Pennsylvania senatorial campaign. His number one issue was the lack of affordable health care in that state. His win catapulted the issue of national health care onto center stage.

When I went to Washington in 1993, there was a lot of grassroots support for single-payer national health care. Bill Clinton had talked a lot about the “deficit” in health care during his campaign and there were broad hints that he was determined to provide health insurance for all.

The two people I remember best as leaders on the issue were Jim McDermott, a Washington state physician/congressman and Joe Kennedy, who happened to be a friend of the Clintons. Early in my term, I received an invitation to be part of a group of single-payer advocates going to meet First Lady Hillary Clinton at the Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

I’ll never forget Joe Kennedy looking across the meeting table, looking Hillary in the eye, and saying, “Hillary, the only way to do this right is with single payer. It’s the most cost-effective, leaves the most choice in the hands of the patients, and is a tested model.” The First Lady smiled politely and said sternly, “Joe, you’re right of course. But it’s not what’s happening. We’d get killed politically.”Dan with President Clinton

Interesting. The Democrats, the party to which I’d sworn some measure of fealty, held an 85 seat majority in the House, a 10 seat majority in the Senate and the White House, and still it wasn’t politically feasible to do the right thing for the American people. Now that was a big bite of a reality sandwich!

Hillary (and presumably Bill) had “decided” that the best way to expand access to health care was to give it to the big insurance companies and HMOs in an option they dubbed “managed care.” They had the support of big business—the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Businesses—and so “national health care” became “feasible.”

The Clinton plan was wildly complex. I held a series of town hall meetings around the district trying to explain to people how it would work. I barely understood it myself and to the extent I did understand it, I knew managed care wasn’t a big improvement.

And then a funny thing happened. The big boys pulled the plug. Big business, big Pharma, the HMOs, the insurance companies, all withdrew their support. (Remember the “Harry and Louise” TV spots? Government wants to tell us what doctor we can go to! Say no to socialized medicine!)

So here we are nearly two decades later. National health care, first proposed by Harry Truman in 1948 (some trace it back to Theodore Roosevelt!), is still a dream. And Hillary Clinton ranks number two among 100 senators in contributions from the very industry that beat her and her husband to a pulp.

Bill Clinton won the election in ’92 with populist rhetoric. He said that the budget wasn’t the only thing in deficit in the United States. The education system was in deficit. Public infrastructure was in deficit. Access to jobs, housing, transportation, and health care was in deficit. But as soon as the election returns were in, he began singing from a different hymnal.

I saw this up close during my first week as a member of Congress. The president had invited the entire freshman Democratic “class” (all 63 of us, a record number) to hear him lay out his administration’s priorities. After a few minutes, masterfully delivered and oozing Clintonian charm, I thought maybe I had mistakenly caucused with the freshman Republicans!

There was little talk about education, health care, and jobs. Nothing about decrepit roads, sewers, and bridges and the employment programs that would lead to their repair. Instead it was all about “instability in the markets due to federal budgets deficits.” The US economy could not move forward—and all those progressive things we’d all campaigned for couldn’t happen—until we’d balanced the budget and calmed the markets!

When I asked a colleague to explain the discrepancy between candidate Clinton and President Clinton, he replied "Bob Rubin took him to the woodshed." The story was that Bob Rubin—Goldman Sachs chair and later Clinton Treasury Secretary had met with the president-elect in Little Rock just after his election. Rubin had “explained” to the president that things were jittery with Wall Street. Bondholders were nervous. Something had to be done to calm them.

And thus was born The Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, the major “achievement” of Clinton’s first year in office. (NAFTA was the major achievement of his second year in office. These achievements led directly to the Newt Gingrich-led ascendance of the Republican Party in 1995.)

The Democratic Party “faithful”—in the first congressional district and really across the country—were demoralized in 1994. They showed it not by voting Republican but by not voting. I won the ’92 election largely because Democratic turnout was huge. I lost in ’94 because that turnout was abysmal (under 35%).

There were other factors of course. Doug Bosco hurt me. While employed by Pacific Lumber at a cool $15,000 per month, Bosco challenged me in the ’94 Democratic primary. He was a well-known entity in Democratic Party circles, having been both a state assemblyman and a congressman, and was especially beloved by the timber industry. I was their worst nightmare. I won that election 60%-40% but there was a lot of blood left on the floor. Bosco had spent me back into debt, and damaged me with an unrelenting barrage of attack ads on TV and radio.

And the timber beasts got their revenge. The prudent thing would have been for me to stay away from the Headwaters Forest/Pacific Lumber issue until I’d managed to be re-elected, but prudence wasn’t my watchword. We went head-first into trying to save the forest and the company from Charles Hurwitz and we paid the price, even though the bill I authored passed the House by a vote of 288-133! I didn’t expect much help from freshman senator Dianne Feinstein, but was very disappointed that Barbara Boxer did nothing to help move the bill when it had a chance to actually become law.

As it turned out, I was portrayed in the general election as “the nut who wants to spend millions to save a seabird while hundreds of hard-working men and women get pink slips.” Of course, Pacific Lumber today is bankrupt and largely in shutdown mode.

Before you’re actually sworn in, they send you to the JFK School at Harvard for a week. It’s known colloquially as “Camp Congress.” It’s mostly about listening to “experts” in a range of fields give you the inside dope on governance. For example, Jeffrey Sachs was there to explain how he was straightening out the economy of Eastern Europe (he kind of blew that one!). Condi Rice (yes, this was an event organized by Democrats!) took us through the new world order. Robert Reich (later named Secretary of Labor by Clinton) extemporized on the labor market.

But perhaps more interesting than who was there to address us was who wasn’t. Here we were at Harvard, home base of Physicians for a National Health Program and group of us had to petition just to get a PNHP rep on a panel!

The highlight of Camp Congress was a dinner during which each of the freshmen took a minute or two to introduce themselves. It was amazing to hear how many of this new group of representatives had fought for civil rights in the South, had resisted the draft and protested the Vietnam war, and had spent time in jail for their beliefs. It was just incredibly energizing!

One of the biggest frustrations of Congress for me was realizing how difficult it is to even bring serious discussion of real problems. The issue of single-payer health insurance is one example but there were many others. In the two years I served, very little environmental legislation moved (including non-movement of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, reauthorization of the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts), defense spending remained intact (despite the end of the Cold War there was no “peace dividend”), while much Republican Party-inspired legislation (deficit reduction, NAFTA) sailed through. Nothing gets “to the floor”, meaning actually put to vote, without the approval of the “leadership” due to the leaders’ domination of the Rules Committee.

Congress became increasingly contentious in the Clinton years. I don’t think this was so much Clinton’s fault as that of Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey. While attacking Clinton at every turn, the Republicans destroyed the bipartisanship that had been the style of long-time Republican House leader Bob Michel of Illinois. By 1994, Gingrich was the dominant figure in DC politics, not Clinton. The Republican agenda has been in ascendance ever since. Though Clinton “triangulated his way through another six years, the Republicans were in ascendance throughout the decade, leading directly to the 2000 “election” of George W. Bush.

I sat on the Public Works and Transportation and the Merchant Marine & Fisheries committees. Public Works was a disappointment because much of the money promised by candidate Clinton went instead for deficit reduction.I joined Fisheries because of the dire straits of our north coast fisheries but in trying to negotiate a settlement between tribes and fishermen, I got sandwiched. Former Mendocino County supervisor John Cimolino took it on himself to organize a group of angry fishermen and bring them to Washington to protest my actions, a low point for me. Cimolino treated me as if I was stealing food from the mouths of children. I did take solace in the fact that the tribes appreciated my attempt to be even-handed and many of the fisherfolk understood that you can’t catch fish that aren’t in the sea (or streams).

Committee assignments are a big deal. When you’re elected, you get a call from leadership (then Speaker Tom Foley and Majority Leader Dick Gephardt) and try to work out assignments that best fit your district and your needs to be re-elected. If you stay in long enough, you can work for a seat on prestigious committees—such as Ways & Means (taxation), Appropriations, and Energy & Commerce. Most members want seats on the committees that lead to the most power, and thus the biggest campaign contributions.

I met some great people in DC, both in and out of Congress. I could never say enough about the dedication of the people who worked in my offices in DC and throughout the district. In fact, the hardest part of losing my re-election was taking apart the staff and ending a lot of good work. Dave Nelson (now a Mendocino County Superior Court judge) did stellar work as my district director. I’m still close friends with many of the people who worked in our congressional office in Washington. There were even two marriages that came about among staff members who worked in that office!

I’ve had occasion to contact a few of the colleagues I worked with. When Carrie and I were camping out in the Mojave Desert trying to stop the Ward Valley nuclear waste dump, we got help from Bob Filner, an old congressional colleague from San Diego. When we were in Ohio after the ’04 election debacle, I called on Sherrod Brown (now an Ohio senator) for help. I still consider Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Maurice Hinchey of New York and Mel Watt of North Carolina as friends, even though a lot of time goes by between our communications. You meet a lot of great people in Congress. Unfortunately, they’re not the majority!

My greatest personal achievement was writing and winning the vote (in the House) in favor of passage of the Headwaters Forest Act. Even though it stalled in the Senate, it was a good bill that could well have made it through to the president’s desk had the party (and I) remained in control after 1994.

Another big plus for me was in simply giving support to progressives and progressive causes in the district. Progressives are accustomed to pleading their case before reluctant congressional staff members, and often can’t get through the door of the member. In my case, I was often urging progressives to push harder! I do think, however, that once I got elected in 1992, my presence in Congress became somewhat taken for granted. Progressives and environmentalists in the district believed I would be easily re-elected and concentrated on their own causes, rather than on helping on my re-election. As my good friend Cecilia Lanman (then director of EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville) put it, “We forgot to work to keep you in office and Headwaters lost its champion in Washington, DC.”

I don’t know whether the “new alternative media” such as the blogosphere and more recently by social networking, has the capability to save us. The drumbeat of mainstream media is purposefully corrosive to the public’s understanding of what’s really happening. We live in a bubble here in Mendocino County and it’s a big mistake to think the rest of the country is much like us in terms of political consciousness.

On the other hand, even if we can’t save the country, we can save ourselves, family by family, community by community. And to do that, we need alternative media. First, we need to be aware of the horrors that are being committed in our name. It’s important to live in the real world, not in the fantasyland of consumer culture. Second, we need to communally arrive at survival strategies as the dominant political and economic institutions of our society come unglued.

Some people prefer to bury their heads in the sand. It’s sad to admit but I’m not sure Ralph Nader is right about the “civic urge” of Americans. It seems to me that most of our fellow citizens are mostly trying to satisfy consumer wants and are working like hell to stay afloat.

My vision of the future is devolution. I think the US is just about finished as a superpower—its moral legitimacy has been squandered, its economy is riddled with debt, the environment is severely compromised. It’s going to be up to us—community by community—to ensure a survivable planet for our children and grandchildren.