School board member Ben Allen and attorney Sandra Fluke

School board member Ben Allen and attorney Sandra Fluke

School board member Ben Allen and attorney Sandra Fluke, both in their 30s, vie for a hotly contested state Senate seat

For a glimpse into the future of the local Democratic Party, look no further than the Westside state Senate contest between Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke, two Democratic candidates in their 30s who rose above a crowded primary field to enter the Nov. 4 runoff.

Allen and Fluke are vying for the redrawn 26th Senate District seat that includes many of the same communities that compose the current 28th Senate District represented by Ted Lieu, who is leaving Sacramento for his congressional bid. The new 26th spans Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Playa Vista as well as West Hollywood and much of the South Bay.

Perhaps the most buzzworthy contest for state office in this election cycle, the race has attracted national attention due to Fluke’s notoriety as the women’s health advocate who, in 2011, was prohibited from testifying before Congress and faced subsequent attacks by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative pundits.

Fluke, an attorney, touts her record as a legislative advocate in Sacramento and Washington D.C.

Allen, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, finished first in the primary with 22% of the vote to Fluke’s 19%.

Allen, who outspent Fluke in the primary, raised $606,000 in campaign contributions and has loaned $50,000 to his own campaign as of June 30, the most recent reporting deadline. Fluke, meanwhile, raised $520,000 and loaned her campaign $100,000 as of that time.

South Bay businessman Bill Bloomfield, a Republican-turned-Independent who challenged Rep. Henry Waxman in 2012, spent nearly $500,000 to support Allen during the primary and an additional $62,000 reported on Sept. 27.

Allen has been endorsed by Waxman as well as L.A. County Supervisors Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky.

Fluke touts the support of the West L.A. Democratic Club and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin as well as environmental and women’s groups.

— Gary Walker

Ben Allen
 Party: Democrat
 Age: 36
 Residence: Santa Monica
 Occupation: School board member

Endorsements: Los Angeles County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe, Rep. Henry Waxman, state Sen. Fran Pavley, Assemblymen Richard Bloom and Steven Bradford, former state Sen. Tom Hayden, Sierra Club California, Los Angeles Police Protective League, Santa Monica Firefighters Association

What makes you the better choice in this race and sets you apart from your opponent?

Allen: I’d say three things. One is my deep roots in the district. I grew up here and went to public schools here. I have a substantial and relevant range of experiences. I’ve worked in the private sector and the public sector, and I have a strong track record of success of making government work. I’ve worked on Capitol Hill and at the state level, and I’ve been elected to two terms on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. I’m not a famous person. I’m not a celebrity. I didn’t just move here. I’m someone from here who’s been very deeply involved in local issues that have a lot of relevance at the state level.

Do you support AB 2222, which would tighten requirements of the existing state law (SB 1818) that allows housing developers to increase density beyond local restrictions in exchange for affordable housing production?

I support AB 2222 and efforts to fix some of the problems with SB1818. There was some good intent with 1818, but you have to wonder what was going on behind the scenes with its passage. I’m concerned about the net loss in affordable housing and some of the engagement issues associated with it.

What is your position on the Annenberg Foundation’s controversial plan to build a nature education center with an animal adoption and care component in the Ballona Wetlands?

I am very excited about the possibility of finding ways to get more young people and families into the wetlands in order to learn more about the wetlands and make it more of a community asset, because I’m not sure that people see it that way now. I know that there is a lot of concern about some of the specifics of Annenberg’s proposal, including the pet adoption center. I like a lot about the proposal to the extent that it’s about educating kids and families about the wetlands.

Do you support a statewide minimum wage increase?

I think at the end of the day, [raising the minimum wage] is important in order to create a more equitable society. We need to figure out a way to make sure that we’re growing and supporting the business community, but we also want those jobs to pay a decent wage.

Your campaign benefitted from nearly $500,000 in independent spending during the primary. What are your thoughts on campaign finance reform?

I’m very supportive of campaign finance reform. I would love to see us get rid of independent expenditures. I’m trying to work within the rules that currently govern the system, and my campaign can’t coordinate with [any independent expenditure groups]. There were a number of independent expenditure groups out in the first round — including an enormous one done for Dr. Vito [Imbasciani], and at the end of the day he only got 4% of the vote. So they certainly do play a role, but there’s a lot more to the game.

Considering the drought, is the $7.1-billion water bond ballot measure enough?

The drought is an enormous problem. I think the water bond is a very important step toward strengthening the water infrastructure. We need to make sure that we’re not losing water through evaporation and water leakage. There’s a lot of work that can be done to improve the actual water distribution channels for water and to encourage better water conservation all over the state. Is it sufficient? That’s a hard question to answer. It’s a good thing from an accountability perspective because it doesn’t write a blank check to the water agencies and other entities.

As a state senator representing Santa Monica, where would you stand on the city’s two airport-related ballot measures, one that would  keep the airport under the city’s control (Measure LC) and one that would allow voters to decide its future (Measure D)?

I support LC. I’ve long supported the city’s efforts regarding the airport and we’ll see what happens. From the state perspective, you can certainly help play a role with environmental studies and securing funding if the airport is ever turned into a park.

There are families who feel the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s board hasn’t been proactive enough about the toxic chemicals at Malibu High School. As former president of the board, how do you answer that?

When a [parent] group came to us a year ago we opened an investigation and started testing. We also contacted the [state] EPA and hired a firm that is leading the process. We’ve done air testing and haven’t found unhealthy levels. Where we’ve found a high level of PCBs we’re removing it all.

Part of the challenge is that we’ve passed a bond that will involve major revamping of some of the buildings and also teardowns. So to go through an enormous removal process when we’re about to go ahead with the bond work anyway and are hearing from government agencies tasked with public health that there’s no justification for [PCB removal before the bond work]— that’s the challenge. The politically expedient thing for me to do would be to call for comprehensive testing and tear everything down. I could be the standard bearer out there. But my fiduciary duty is to the kids and the staff, and all those PCBs are going to be removed within the next few months.

What would be your top priorities if you are elected?

Public schools at the early childhood level, K-12 funding and higher education, definitely. I care a lot about transit funding, the environment, and of course jobs and the economy.

Sandra Fluke
 Party: Democrat
 Age: 33
 Residence: West Hollywood
 Occupation: Social justice attorney

Endorsements: Sierra Club California, California League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project of Los Angeles, L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin, former L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, West L.A. Democratic Club, California Professional Firefighters, California Nurses Association

What makes you the better choice in this race and sets you apart from your opponent?

Fluke: I think there is a distinction between who has endorsed me and who has endorsed my opponent. I also think there’s a distinction in what we’ve devoted our time and energy to. I have the values that reflect the district: I support good governance and transparency, campaign finance reform and protecting the environment. I’m really proud of the endorsements that show that I have these values. And I’m very proud of the support that we’re getting at the neighborhood, grassroots level because it matches the kind of campaign that we’ve run.

Do you support AB 2222, which would tighten requirements of the existing state law (SB 1818) that allows housing developers to increase density beyond local restrictions in exchange for affordable housing production?

I strongly support Assembly Bill 2222. I think it’s the right approach, because we need to make sure that we’re not giving developers an incentive to tear down affordable housing.

What is your position on the Annenberg Foundation’s controversial plan to build a nature education center with an animal adoption and care component in the Ballona Wetlands?

We need to restore and protect the Ballona Wetlands, which is one of the district’s most valuable ecological resources. I am concerned about some of the details of the plan. I’m not sure that the wetlands are the best place for [the nature center]. We need to see if there might be better locations for it.

Do you support a statewide minimum wage increase?

I support the city measure and the state measure. We need to do it in a way that we’re being very specific about how it can be implemented with respect to small businesses. I’m proud to have been on the front lines with fast-food workers and hotel employees during their struggles to get a fair wage. But we also need to be helping to grow new businesses to replace those that have left the state.

Considering the drought, is the $7.1-billion water bond ballot measure enough?

I think the current water bond proposal is a great start. I would have liked to see more emphasis on rain water capture and recycling. But we also all need to conserve water because that’s something that we can all do. I think people in the district understand that it’s an important environmental policy issue and more people seem to be aware of how it affects all of us.

As a state senator representing Santa Monica, where do you stand on the city’s two airport-related ballot measures, one (Measure LC) that would keep the airport under the city’s control and one (Measure D) that would allow voters to decide its future?

I oppose Measure D and I strongly support Measure LC.  While the supporters of Measure D say it will give the voters control over what happens at the airport, but it will only give control to those who have the money to get an initiative on the ballot. We’ve seen the impact that the particulate matter from airplanes has on folks living near the airport. And there is a lot more that can be done through hearings on airport pollution, like the ones state Sen. Ted Lieu has held.

Your opponent says he has more governing experience than you.

I think that I have more experience at the state level because of the legislation that I’ve worked on for over 10 years — issues like affordable health care, economic justice, LGBTQ rights, access to reproductive health care, and human trafficking. My opponent has worked only on education. For me, it’s not about just getting to the highest seat in government. It’s about all of the issues that I’ve worked on that have become legislation. I think it’s also resisting the kinds of special interest money and support that are not in line with your values. I don’t accept campaign contributions from people or organizations that don’t share my values. My campaign has not [received support] from independent expenditures. I want to be accountable to the voters, not to special interests. You’re not going to grow a backbone in Sacramento. The pressure only gets worse when you’re there.

A conservative website has written that family members are your biggest donors and points out that your opponent contributed less to his campaign, without noting the independent expenditures supporting him.

In terms of how our campaign has been funded, we’ve both made contributions to our campaigns. We’ve had over 4,000 small donors contribute to our campaign since we started. I don’t know where my opponent’s family’s money comes from, but I can tell you that my friends and family have taken theirs from their savings and their pensions. My family supports the things I fight for, and that’s why they’re helping me.

What would be your top priorities if you are elected?

My priorities will be education and early childhood development, campaign finance reform, economic and social justice and protecting our coasts. Those are some of the issues that I am passionate about and that I have worked on for a long time.

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