Her website lists her campaign address as a post office box in Santa Monica. But on a somewhat obscure, untraveled city street in West Los Angeles, black and white paper cutout letters hang in the shape of a rainbow, spelling out: “Stand With Sandra.” In another window, on the other side of the unmarked door, a more festive neon version states (or rather understates): “Sandra Fluke for Senate.” You could easily walk right by and never know the campaign headquarters of Sandra Fluke are inside. This seems to be by design. As Ms. Fluke explained to me on a recent summer afternoon, she has privacy issues.
Sandra Fluke, you may remember, was vaulted to instant political fame in 2012 after she testified in Washington, D.C. in support of health-care coverage for contraception, and Rush Limbaugh called her a “prostitute.”
“She's having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills,” Limbaugh shoutedacross the airwaves. When Rachel Maddow responded to Limbaugh’s bizarre assault, Sandra Fluke became a household name on both sides of the aisle.
At the time, Fluke was a Georgetown University law student living in West Hollywood (though she was a student in D.C.) with her then significant other of eight years, Adam Mutterperl.They have since married. And now Fluke, who is 33, is running for State Senate in California’s coveted 26th District. Albeit a bit quietly.
When I first arrive at her office, Fluke is wearing jeans and a T-shirt and carrying three neatly stacked take-out boxes. Even though it’s five o’clock, she hasn’t had time for lunch. “Jeez,” she says, “I haven’t changed yet.” She’ll soon be on her way to Manhattan Beach for a meeting at a local Democratic club. She emerges not five minutes later in a simple navy cotton jersey BCBG dress and matching flats. With her dark bobbed hair, matching dark brown eyes, and porcelain skin, she needs no makeup. There’s something very down-to-earth about Sandra Fluke.
“I thought about telling Limbaugh,” she tells me, her voice barely above a whisper, “that I was in a committed relationship, but decided that wasn’t the point. I didn’t testify for me. I testified for all the other students attending colleges with religious affiliations.” And it wasn’t just Limbaugh she had to contend with. “Some of the mail I got from”—she hesitates —“people . . . was really terrifying.”
Fluke considered a run for Henry Waxman’s D.C Congressional seat but opted for the local State Senate race instead. “I just don’t think D.C. is where we’re getting things done right now,” she says, citing the gridlock and endless fund-raising required in D.C. She then states softly, “The only way to effect change is on a local level. And as progressives, we’ve neglected our state legislatures.”
The 26th District extends from West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills to West Hollywood, Manhattan Beach, and the Palos Verdes peninsula. To win the State Senate seat, Fluke must beat the somewhat more conservative Democrat and seasoned political Santa Monica fixture Ben Allen, of counsel in a private law firm, and self-stated environmentalist who holds an elected seat on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board.
Her headquarters are beyond pop-up. Folding tables and chairs are crowded into a downstairs office, giving the impression she could pack up her tent or move to bigger quarters on a moment’s notice. Upstairs, a similarly crowded and decorated space, young staffers and volunteers man a phone bank.
Fluke was raised in a small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, but has been living in Los Angeles for seven years with her husband. They have a dog, whom she refers to as a puppy even though he is almost ten years old. The dog’s name is Mr. President. George W. Bushwas President when they got him and Mutterperl, a comedian-writer-producer, wanted to be able to say things to the dog that he couldn’t say to the President. (Insert your own joke here.) She is a member of the California Bar, and her relatively short stint as a lawyer has been devoted largely to social-justice issues, advocating for victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse, among others.
Photo: Courtesy of Sandra Fluke
Fluke, who holds an undergraduate degree in policy analysis from Cornell and a law degree from Georgetown, also has an impressive grasp of the city’s most pressing issues: the extraordinary gutting of the school system, with California having shockingly dropped to 49th in the nation in “per pupil spending” (the Los Angeles Unified School District laid off approximately 5,000 teachers, librarians, and nurses in 2011); the uptick in gang violence; the importance of tax credits for the film industry, now pending before the legislature; the need to attract other industries to Los Angeles, off-shore drilling at Manhattan Beach, a moratorium on fracking, preserving the Ballona Wetlands, and to do “what we can about climate change.” She wants to “make progress environmentally, but also create jobs.”
And while her campaign may be under-the-radar, the strategy might prove successful. According to political strategist Bill Carrick, who’s now advising Bobby Shriver in his somewhat more high-profile bid for county supervisor, Fluke has run a very smart campaign. “You have to understand,” he tells me, “Los Angeles is the second most expensive media outlet in the country. She held her money back and spent it in the last week of the primary race. And she popped right out of the field!” Carrick adds: “California has an amazing record for launching female politicians.”
Her opponent, Allen, has the endorsements of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan,Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and committed environmentalist State Senator Fran Pavley. Pavley’s endorsement largely cited Allen’s experience in education. Aside from a resolution he drafted, which was adopted, requiring LEED certification for all new buildings at University of California schools, Allen’s past environmental advocacy is also a little below the radar. (When I asked California’s high-profile environmental activist and actorEd Begley, Jr. about Allen and his record as an environmentalist, Begley replied, “Who’s Ben Allen? Did I have dinner with him?” I tried to refresh his memory, but Begley insisted, “I don’t know Ben Allen.” It’s really hard to be a committed environmentalist in Los Angeles and not have run into Ed Begley, Jr..