Doug Applegate’s Campaign Manager on the Silence of Mike Levin’s Résumé

CA-49 candidate Mike Levin, right, with former DPOC Chair and perpetual power-behind-the-scenes Frank Barbaro.

[Ed. Note: Cody Petterson, the campaign manager for Doug Applegate’s campaign to replace Rep. Darrell Issa, published a resounding post on Facebook yesterday regarding Applegate’s primary opponent Mike Levin and Petterson’s own role in the Applegate campaign.  It’s part personal memoir and part seemingly dispassionate rule of Levin’s public record.  (He’s leaving Levin’s private life alone, which is good.) Rather than let it fall into Facebook’s memory hole, lost to history, I sought and received permission to publish it here.  What follows is from Petterson.  – GAD]

As many of my ‘political friends’ know, I’ve set aside my old life to manage Colonel Doug Applegate’s congressional campaign against Darrell Issa in the California 49th. Many have expressed bewilderment that I’d get involved in a primary contest that is destined to become bitter and brutal. I’m often bewildered myself: I work from 7am til after midnight, seven days a week, with a break to help feed my kids breakfast and put them in the car in the morning and a break to help get them ready for bed at night, two hours to water the backyard every week-and-a-half, and one day off at Disneyland and one on the mountain in the last four months. I love the Colonel, but a candidate alone wouldn’t have pulled me away from the life that I love and that is proper to me. I joined his campaign to advance a movement–to bring our shared principles to power. Colonel Applegate is the only genuinely progressive congressional frontrunner in the state of California. I joined his campaign to help make it an incubator of progressive policy and message. I joined his campaign to help raise up a generation of progressive leaders. I joined his campaign because I believe he is the only Democrat who can beat Darrell Issa in 2018.

I’m frankly tired of hearing that there’s no meaningful differences of policy and values between Colonel Applegate and Mike Levin, which implies that I’ve committed my time and substantial capacities without thought, judgment, and foresight.

I’m a movement progressive. I believe the ‘Third Way’ that has dominated the Democratic Party post-1992 has contributed to the desperate political conjuncture in which we now find ourselves. Instead of stepping back and developing a vigorous, progressive rejoinder to Reaganism, its proponents decided to ride the wave of austerity, deregulation, and laissez faire trade policy. The result has been seven percent real growth for the wealthiest Americans and one and half percent for the rest of us. The result has been the continued decline of organized labor. The result is the 2008 Financial Crisis and the ensuing jobless recovery. I’m not interested in candidates offering business as usual cloaked in soaring rhetoric. You talk seriously about wealth and income inequality, you talk about it in moral terms, you talk about it in terms of broadly shared national prosperity, in terms of averting the creeping economic and social instability that is upon us, or you get out. You talk about race, you talk about criminal justice reform, you talk about Latinas making 57 cents on the dollar, you talk about the ways in which Californians benefit not just from the labor of the undocumented, but from their vulnerability itself. You talk about the impending climate catastrophe and the need for an immediate, wrenching transition away from fossil fuels. You talk about real issues and you talk about them with real feeling and you make real sacrifices to resolve them.

When I was encouraged to come on board the campaign, I spent hours with the Colonel, talking freely about every issue on which we could possibly differ. There were none. And, more than that, there was nothing hollow or calculated or inconsistent about his political positions. He choked up when he talked about racial injustice and wealth and income inequality, the gender pay gap, the era of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ He shared my fervor for justice and principle. He had been through an even more intense ideological crucible than I had in 2016, and it had clarified and reaffirmed his commitment to our common values, rather than adulterated it.

Before agreeing to manage his campaign, however, I did what research I could on his Democratic opponent. Progressives do not have the human or material resources to expend on circular firing squads. I needed to know that there were genuine distinctions between Doug and his challenger, Mike Levin. I’m a researcher by nature and trade, and I wanted to get a deeper understanding of who Levin was and of the contrasts between the two candidates.

As far as values, principles, issues, or ideology, there was very little to go on prior to November 2016. His Facebook page in 2016 was mostly garden-variety HRC boosterism with little or no mention of the battles over policy and principle that had dominated the first half of 2016 for me and other progressives. Expanding my research outward, I found an almost total absence of substantive political statements online prior to November 9th, 2016. Try it for yourself. Go online, constrain a Google search to anytime in history prior to November 2016, and try to find any statement by Mike Levin of principle, belief, political position or conviction. Post links if you have any luck. This might be normal for an average citizen, but Mike asserts that he has spent a lifetime working to elect Democrats. A voter has no way of verifying online what his positions were prior to announcing his candidacy, and therefore no way of knowing with confidence where he would be if he were to attain office.

Given that Levin’s political ideology was not available to me online, I had to rely on his career in order to draw conclusions about his values. What I found was not encouraging, particularly to someone like me whose central political preoccupations are wealth and income inequality and climate change. I’m a climate hardliner. I come to the campaign as both an anthropologist who has researched the impacts of climate change and a landowner engaged in habitat restoration and reforestation. Anthropogenic climate change is already eroding the biosphere and will catastrophically degrade and destabilize global human civilization. That is inevitable. When I met Doug he said, without equivocation, “Climate change is an existential threat. It’s too late for half measures. We need massive, immediate public investment in the transition to 100% renewable.”

Mike Levin’s career, on the other hand, suggests something dramatically different. Mike has been virtually silent about his career, both in public and print, and when questioned about his employment his answers are evasive and, frankly, deceptive. As a result, I had to piece his career together with company press releases, SEC filings, and news coverage. The general outline is clear: he is not, in any meaningful way, an ‘environmental attorney.’ LexisNexis has only three pleadings, none of which are environmental. Mike has repeatedly denied being a lobbyist, and, technically, he’s right. He has spent the majority of his career as a Director of Government Affairs, as listed in his FEC filings. A Director of Government Affairs isn’t a lobbyist, in the same way as a coach isn’t a player and the King of Thieves isn’t a thief. They all have someone else do the dirty work. Tech startups generally contract their lobbying out. Mike Levin appears to have spent virtually his entire career “directing lobbying” for grants, financing, and favorable regulation and legislation on behalf of companies that specialize in the development of fossil fuel-based technologies like natural gas microturbines, hydrogen fuel cells, carbon captuééére, and so-called ‘clean’ coal.

Levin was Director of Government Affairs and later VP of Legal and Regulatory Affairs for FlexEnergy/Ener-Core, a gas turbine/oxidizer manufacturer-distributor whose stock climbed to $76/share on the strength of $400 million in projected sales to the Russian oil-and-gas industry, bolstered by US Export-Import Bank financing, which, given his position, Levin presumably helped to obtain. US Ex-Im financing appears to have collapsed in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea, and with it the Russian contracts, as well as Ener-Core’s stock value.

He abruptly joined FuelCell Energy as Director of Government Affairs. FuelCell designs and manufactures mega-watt scale hydrogen fuel cells, which can run on biogas but in practice run overwhelmingly on fracked natural gas (two-thirds of all US natural gas comes from hydraulically fractured wells). His company is also at the forefront of carbon capture and clean coal research and development, and this is where Levin’s recent career gets particularly disturbing. In May of 2016, ExxonMobil bought an undisclosed interest in FuelCell and the two companies entered into an agreement to collaborate on carbon capture and clean coal development. The real beneficiary, however, was Donald Trump, who spent the summer touting ‘clean coal’ as a way to revive the coal industry and bring back American jobs. On October 27th, days before the election, ExxonMobil and FuelCell announced the location of their pilot carbon capture program at the mixed-use coal/gas James Barry Generating Station, with $15 million from the Department of Energy. This year, FuelCell’s Vice President was a featured speaker at the National Coal Council’s Annual Spring Meeting.

Whatever Levin says on the stump or in debates, whatever he puts up on his webpage, this is his career. Mike Levin has spent his career drawing precious taxpayer subsidies away from genuinely carbon neutral energy solutions and diverting them to dead-end, technically and commercially non-viable, fossil fuel-based technologies. These are the spheres within which he has operated and the relationships he’s built.

And lest I be falsely accused of mounting personal attacks on Levin, let me be clear: I’m not interested in Levin’s personal life. What he does in private is no business of mine. I don’t imagine there’s much to talk about anyway. But his career is absolutely fair game. When a candidate has not served in public office, it is, in fact, the only way of making informed judgments about their genuine values and priorities. It is not my job to help Mike Levin conceal his career from the voters of the 49th. From his work securing US Ex-Im financing for gas turbine sales to the Russian oil and gas industry, to his advocacy of publicly subsidized hydrogen fuel cell boondoggles, to his collaboration with ExxonMobil on carbon capture and clean coal, to his bundling in anticipation of political appointment, this is an individual who does not represent my values or priorities as a progressive and environmentalist.

I could not be more confident or determined in the sacrifices I am making to elect Colonel Doug Applegate to Congress and to build the progressive movement in the 49th, in San Diego, in California, and across the country. There will be hard days. There will be personal attacks, obviously, since they cannot beat us on the issues and Doug has commanding advantages in name recognition and grassroots support. But these are the good fights, the necessary fights. I look around at the staff, the interns, the volunteers, the supporters…and I know I’m in the right place. I’m sad that I’m not with my wife and two young children as often as I’d like to be. That I’m not planting trees up on the mountain. But I am proud to have answered the call and to have come to where the fighting is heaviest, and where my sacrifice will achieve the most for my children, for our movement, for our party, and for our country.

Note: None of the above information was or is secret. Please, do your own due diligence. Sit down with Google some night. If you have any documentation that complicates or controverts anything I’ve written above, I encourage you to post fact-based corrections and I will edit this post to reflect any genuine errors.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.