March 28, 2014 -- Activist and attorney Sandra Fluke was faced with a choice in January when Congressman Henry Waxman announced he would retire after 40 years of representing Santa Monica and West Los Angles in Washington.
Should she enter what promised to be a crowded race to replace the veteran lawmaker? Or, should she try for something more local?
“I looked at (the congressional race) really briefly,” she said.
But, within 24 hours of Waxman’s announcement, State Senator Ted Lieu -- who represents State Senate District (SD) 26 -- announced he would seek the congressional seat, leaving his seat wide open.
Dismayed at the gridlock in Congress, Fluke, who graduated from Georgetown University law school in 2012, opted instead to run to replace Lieu as the state senator representing a district that includes Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Brentwood and the wealthy coastal cities from Malibu to Palos Verdes.
“I'm much more interested in what we are able to accomplish here in California,” Fluke told the Lookout in an interview at a local café.
Those issues, she said, include “things like increasing the minimum wage” and “being able to make forward progress on reproductive justice, on gay rights, on a whole number of progressive issues.”
Fluke gained national attention after she was blocked in 2012 from appearing before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on mandatory coverage of contraceptives by insurers.
While “reproductive justice” has been at the center of much of Fluke’s work over the years, it is only one of many concerns she has about where California is heading.
“We're clearly a district where we care a lot about environmental concerns,” she said, adding that she supports a push by several L.A. City Councilmembers to ban hydraulic fracturing -- a controversial method of extracting natural gas -- in the city.
She also supports Senate Bill 1132, which calls for a moratorium on all “forms of extreme well stimulation,” according to State Senator Holly Mitchell’s website.
Making sure that young families have access to affordable housing is also a big concern for Fluke.
“I think we need to work on Costa-Hawkins,” she said, referring to the State law that went into full effect in 1999, allowing landlords to charge market rates for rent-controlled units after tenants move out voluntarily or are evicted for failing to pay rent.
If elected, Fluke said she would fight for early childhood education funding.
“Early childhood education is where the investment dollars make the biggest difference,” she said. “It is what's going to close the achievement gap.”
But she said that with the State still recovering from its most recent budget crisis, it’s important to take “a balanced approach” to spending.
“We can't bankrupt the state,” she said. “We do have some debt to pay down. We have a rainy day fund” that can be shored up.
But, “we have to start reinvesting,” she said, adding that emergency social services are first on her list.
Fluke also wants to repeal State legislation that limits the amount of public assistance a woman can receive if she has another child while on welfare.
“If you are going to say that a woman should have the right to decide not to have a child, she needs also to have the right to decide to have a child and to have that not be in any way economically coerced and her decision supported,” she said.
Fluke is one of eight candidates -- seven of whom are Democrats -- currently vying to represent SD 26.
In the June 3 primary election, Fluke will face former State Assembly representative Betsy Butler, who lost her reelection bid in 2012 to former Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.
Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth; Vito Imbasciani, the top surgeon of the California National Guard; former attorney Barbi Appelquist, and television writer Patric Verrone are also in the running as Democrats.
Seth Stodder, running under the “no party preference” designation, will be the only non-Democrat on the ballot for SD 26 after a court ruled that a potential Republican contender failed to collect enough signatures to qualify.
But Fluke, who has lived in the district on again and off again for the past seven years with her now-husband, thinks that her work as an grass-roots activists makes her uniquely qualified to represent the district.
“I see this as one part of my career and the legacy that I hope for my career overall is that it is one of providing a voice to people who didn't have one before; helping to amplify their voices and make sure that their concerns are heard,” she said.