Sandra Fluke, a candidate for state Senate, wants voters to know her for more than just her public spat with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Yes, it made her famous nationally. And yes, it revolved around an issue that was important to her.
In a bit of political theater in 2012, Fluke testified before a Democratic Party congressional committee, telling the representatives that health insurers should be required to pay for contraception. Her law school, Georgetown, a Catholic school, did not want to provide such coverage for students.
For her testimony, Limbaugh called her a slut, and then he apologized. Fluke, now 33 and a lawyer, became a quasi-celebrity and a progressive icon.
But as a Democratic candidate in the 26th Senate District, which stretches from the Palos Verdes Peninsula along the coast to Bel-Air, she prefers to tout her legislative bona fides.
“I think that the most important thing for voters to understand about me is the substantive policy work that I have done,” she said. “I have worked on legislation for about 10 years now. It is has been on a variety of issues. It has been on everything from gay rights to low-wage worker concerns to concerns about unemployment to affordability of student loans.”
On the ballot, Fluke, who has been licensed to practice law in California since December 2012, calls herself a “social justice attorney.” But she said she has been just as much a legislative advocate, asking lawmakers in Sacramento to approve bills she found important.
Fluke said she was active in lobbying for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed last year. Under the new law, nannies and care attendants now earn overtime for workweeks longer than 45 hours. Initially, the legislation also would have given these workers meal and rest breaks, but that provision was dropped from the final version.
Fluke worked with the California Domestic Workers Coalition to lobby for the bill, which was one of the first of its kind the nation.
“It was a real grass-roots coalition,” said Fluke, who lives in West Hollywood, along the eastern edge of the district. “I am proud of it because it is California leading the way forward, and that’s the type of change I want to accomplish in Sacramento.”
Fluke has raised serious money for the seat — $438,000 through May 17, the latest filing date — but whether she will be able to persuade voters of the California legislative success remains to be seen.
Scott Lay, an analyst of legislative races and publisher ofaroundthecapitol.com, said it is not clear if Fluke will be able to translate her national celebrity into votes. She’ll need to finish in the top two of vote-getters on Tuesday to advance to the November general election.
“I don’t think she is a favorite to be in the top two right now,” Lay said. “Her lack of name recognition in the district is probably hurting her. There was a failure to translate the national name recognition that she has to this district.”
As for fallout from the Limbaugh spat, Fluke said there was little. She said she was plenty tough to handle it.
“A lot of folks have asked me what was my first reaction when I came under attack publicly,” Fluke said. “Of course, there were aspects that were hard. But I think one of my family’s first reactions was, ‘Let us know if you need anything.’ They knew I was OK. They were probably more worried about the other guy.”