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Your Guide To The March 2 Special Election For LA's 30th District State Senate Seat

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State Senator Holly Mitchell meeting with supporters at her election night watch party the evening of California's March 3, 2020 primary election. (Annie Lesser for LAist)
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When State Senator Holly Mitchell won a seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors last year, the 30th District lost its representative in Sacramento. Gov. Newsom scheduled a special election for March 2 to fill the vacancy for the rest of Mitchell's term.

If no one gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary, there will be a runoff on May 4.

Democrats hold a supermajority in both the state Assembly and Senate, so the election won't change the balance of power in the legislature, but California senate seats are powerful. There are only 40 members of the upper chamber, so each state senator represents close to a million people -- more than members of congress.

Seven candidates qualified for consideration. The top-fundraiser is 54th District Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, who was Holly Mitchell's district director and has the backing of many fellow Democratic officials, as well as endorsements from the state and county Democratic parties.

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Culver City councilman Daniel Lee, also a Democrat, is giving her a progressive challenge. He's earned the support of environmental justice group Sunrise Los Angeles and progressive organizers Ground Game L.A.

The winner of the special will be facing reelection in 2022.

HOW TO VOTE

Every registered voter in the 30th District has been mailed a ballot, according to the L.A. County Registrar's office. You can fill it out at home and mail it back (no postage required!) or drop it off using one of the county's official ballot drop-boxes. Find a ballot drop-box location here.

If you have a problem with your ballot or you simply prefer to cast your ballot in-person, vote centers will begin to open for this election on Saturday, Feb. 20. This map can help you find a vote center, or check this list of locations, including dates and times they are open.

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The deadline to register online to vote in the special election is Feb. 16, but remember: You can conditionally register to vote in-person in California all the way up to -- and including -- Election Day, which is March 2. Your ballot will be counted once your registration information is validated by county election workers.

THE 30TH DISTRICT

The 30th State Senate District includes areas of central, south and west L.A., such as Culver City, Ladera Heights, Westmont, Crenshaw, Florence, West Athens, Century City, Mar Vista and much of downtown Los Angeles.

It's home to many historic Black neighborhoods and, according to the nonpartisan California Target Book, it has the most Black voters of any district in California -- though Latinos make up the majority of the population.

Nearly two-thirds of voters in the district are registered Democrats, followed by just under a quarter who identify as 'no party preference,' while Republicans make up roughly 7%.

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Map of California's 30th State Senate district in Los Angeles. (Senate.CA.Gov website)

WHO'S RUNNING? (In alphabetical order)

  • Renita Duncan - A military veteran and Command Sgt. Major in the Army Reserves. No Party Preference. (Campaign website.)
  • Ernesto Alexander Huerta - Community organizer working in South Los Angeles. Peace and Freedom Party. (Campaign website.)
  • Sydney Kamlager - Assemblymember representing the 54th district. Democrat. (Campaign website.)
  • Daniel Lee - Culver City City Councilmember and Vice Mayor. Democrat. (Campaign website.)
  • Joe Lisuzzo - Businessman. Republican. (Campaign website.)
  • Cheryl Turner - Attorney and president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. Democrat. (Campaign website.)
  • Tiffani Jones - Business consultant. Republican. (Campaign website.)

ON THE ISSUES

We asked each 30th District candidate the same four questions. Here are their answers, in part:

Question #1: Why do you want to represent the 30th District?

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  • Renita Duncan: "I'm running because I feel like my voice has not been heard as a mother and a veteran trying to live in California. I really want to challenge the status quo of the way politics is done here in California."
  • Ernesto Alexander Huerta: "The Democratic Party has failed to meet the needs of people in the 30th District. I'm running because there is a definite need for bold progressive and socialist ideas, like Medicare for all, and canceling rents and mortgages."
  • Sydney Kamlager: "I represent much of the district in the Assembly, and I know the community very well. We need someone with the experience to carry on the good work of Supervisor Holly Mitchell, to fight for real progressive change, and step in on day one to build consensus and build the kind of California that we all deserve."
  • Daniel Lee: "I'm focused on bringing single payer health care to California, accelerating our response to the climate crisis, and achieving practical results around the unprecedented uprisings against police brutality and white supremacy last year."
  • Joe Lisuzzo: "I'd like to bring my business expertise to the state senate to act with a sense of urgency to solve the many problems that we have, and follow the money at every level of government to make sure that all taxes and bond measures go solely to cure the issues for which those taxes were levied."
  • Cheryl Turner: "I am born and bred in Los Angeles and this district. I decided, after decades of work in public service, as well as working back and forth in Sacramento as a state commissioner, that I would be a great state senator for my district."

Question #2: How would you address the twin problems of California's housing shortage and L.A.'s growing homelessness crisis?

  • Renita Duncan: Duncan vowed to bring greater accountability to organizations that Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority contracts with to serve homeless residents.

    "We continue to put money into building new infrastructure and programs, but I'm not seeing any forward movement," she said.

  • Ernesto Alexander Huerta: "We need to transform housing from a commodity into a constitutional right," Huerta said. He advocates for the state to seize the close to 1 million vacant housing units in California to redistribute to homeless people and those in precarious housing situations. "The solution is socialized housing."

  • Sydney Kamlager: "This year, I introduced the Street Medicine Act, which would allow us to get preventative and regular care to those who need it most who are also unhoused," Kamlager said.

    She also supports improving "case conferencing" -- where nonprofit service providers and government agencies work to coordinate care and share updates on individuals' progress, allowing them to tailor services to a person's needs and avoid duplication.

    "We should know unhoused individuals by name, we should know their stories and what they need to stay healthy and whole while getting them housed," she said.

  • Daniel Lee: Affordable housing production and homelessness prevention are the same goal, Lee said.

    "Thanks to Article 34, we can't build exclusively affordable housing without a local referendum," Lee explained. "But we can build mixed use developments that incorporate commerce and housing together as a means to help pay for some of the affordable units."

    "I want to encourage housing production, but also make sure that housing production does not lead to gentrification and displacement, particularly for black and brown residents in the 30th district," Lee said.

  • Joe Lisuzzo: Lisuzzo said that taxpayer dollars have been misspent during the implementation of HHH, the 1.2 billion housing bond measure voters approved in 2016. He pledged to bring a sense of "urgency and accountability" to the job.

    "2017 -- nothing was open. 2018 -- nothing was open. 2019 -- nothing was open," he said. "It wasn't until 2020 that housing actually opened, and then at the whopping cost of about half a million dollars per unit. This is straight up bad business and unconscionable."

  • Cheryl Turner: "We need to do more to create housing. Southern California is a highly desirable place to live, and the cost of housing is skyrocketing," she said, adding she would "remove the red tape involved in building new housing -- there's a lot of red tape involving inspection and permitting."
    Other solutions Turner supports: tax incentives, public-private partnerships, enforcing regional requirements for cities to build more affordable housing.

Question #3: What would you change about California's COVID-19 response?

  • Renita Duncan: Wants to empower entrepreneurs and improve communication between government officials and small businesses. "Government officials are working with the Department of Health, but not considering people at the ground level," Duncan said. "They've dictated, instead of collaborating."

    She criticized the state for not getting kids back in school yet, but said teachers must to be part of the planning process to safely return to the classroom.

  • Ernesto Alexander Huerta: California must transition to a Medicare for all system. "It's really simple: If we wanted to guarantee public health and public safety, we would guarantee everyone's healthcare," he said.

    Huerta also proposed a major public education campaign to address misinformation and xenophobia related to COVID-19, and a jobs training program to combat unemployment and build up California's social work and healthcare workforce.

  • Sydney Kamlager: "We have to get more vaccines from the federal government," Kamlager said. "We are also seeing huge disparities in distribution for communities of color."

    "We really have to continue to use an equity lens as we accelerate the distribution of vaccines across the state," she said. "We have to work more aggressively with small community clinics and providers in COVID hotspots to make sure that they have allocations they need to get vaccines to vulnerable Angelenos."

  • Daniel Lee: "The state opened up way too early," Lee said, "and the pandemic has been lengthened as a result."

    Lee said he disagrees with the governor's age-based vaccine rollout strategy.

    "People over 65 are more susceptible to the virus, but many of them also have the option of staying home," Lee said. "Essential workers -- including medical workers, farm workers, fire, police, and grocery store workers -- should have a greater priority."

  • Joe Lisuzzo: Lisuzzo opposed the state of California's restrictions on churches and other houses of worship, which were recently overturned by the Supreme Court. "Why don't we look at our need for God as being essential in the same way as big box stores or everything else that was allowed to stay open?" He said.

    Similarly, he's critical of Gov. Newsom's public health orders that have kept most schools closed since early in the pandemic. "Many of our schools should not have been shut down unilaterally," Lisuzzo said. "If we had followed the science, there are a lot of students who were never in a high risk category. And the kids could have been taught by teachers who were also not in that high risk category"

  • Cheryl Turner: "Teachers, the school administrators and staff need to be vaccinated to safely reopen our schools," Turner said.

    To stave off a wave of evictions once pandemic-era protections sunset, the state "must step in very quickly to provide renters the assistance they need, and we need to look at forbearance for mortgages," Turner added.

Question #4: How would you approach law enforcement and criminal justice reform, especially in light of recent shootings by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department?

  • Renita Duncan: "We need to improve training around unconscious biases and race relations," Duncan said. "And [police departments] are going to need money for this training."

    "I would love to see programs for police officers to be able to rent or purchase homes in the areas where they work," Duncan added. "That creates some accountability." She also pledged to analyze leadership demographics within law enforcement departments to see if they reflect the diversity of populations they serve.

  • Ernesto Alexander Huerta: Huerta has worked with the families of Anthony Weber, a 16-year-old killed by L.A. Count Sheriff's Deputies in the Westmond neighborhood in 2018, and Dijon Kizzee, killed by deputies in the same area in August.

    "The Sheriff's Department completely terrorizes that community," Huerta said. He advocates for defunding the police and putting public safety decisions in the hands of the community.

    "South LA understands that the most well funded gang in South LA is the sheriff's department," Huerta said.

  • Sydney Kamlager: Last year, Kamlager requested an audit of spending by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which is due to be finished in March.

    Kamlager also plans to reintroduce the CRISIS Act in 2021, a bill she authored last session that "would fund community-based responders to step in and respond to 911 calls so that law enforcement doesn't have to," she said.

    She added she supports reform efforts by L.A. County's new D.A., George Gascón. "We have to be incredibly supportive of the directives he has implemented," she said.

  • Daniel Lee: Lee said he pushed for Culver City to move forward with a mobile crisis intervention team, which would send mental health professionals and other service providers to respond to some 911 calls instead of police.

    "At the statewide level, we should require that every county and every 911 dispatcher is trained to know when to deploy mental health professionals, police or firefighters and we should require that every county has mental health teams that can respond without additional law enforcement support," he said.

  • Joe Lisuzzo: "There isn't any industry that can't be improved upon, and it's the same with criminal justice," Lisuzzo said. "But I am not for defunding the police. I think we should refund the police in order for them to improve training and employ more officers from minority communities."

    "The number one goal of government is to protect the citizenry, and we must never forget the victims of crime," Lisuzzo said. "Right now in the city, D.A. George Gascón, who's come in from San Francisco, has lost touch with that."

  • Cheryl Turner: Turner wants to introduce legislation that makes it easier to see the disciplinary records of law enforcement officers, "to require the disclosure of an officer's past misconduct," she said.

    And while cases involving excessive use of force by police are typically adjudicated in federal court, Turner said, where state law applies, she would like to address qualified immunity laws that shield problem officers from accountability. "They feel that they have this protection when they shoot, kill, or choke someone," she said.

(Feb. 13: This section has been updated with responses from Joe Lisuzzo and Cheryl Turner.)