Laura Richardson’s brush with racism shaped future

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Hat Tip: Rachel Kapouchunas, CQ Politics

Personal acquaintance with racism has prompted many members of minority groups to enter the political arena. But few say they had that path set for them as young as Laura.

Richardson, the Democratic state lawmaker from California who on Tuesday won a special election runoff to become the newest member — and the 40th African-American — in the current U.S. House.

Richardson related to CQPolitics.com prior to the runoff in California’s 37th District that she is a child of a mixed-race marriage, with a African-American father and a Caucasian mother who divorced. Richardson said she watched her mother struggle with racism as she raised her and her sister in California during the turbulent 1960s, and recalled as a young child asking her mother why strangers threw eggs at their car and cursed at them while they shopped at stores.

“My mother tried to explain all those things to me, but eventually she just said to me, ‘You should be a person who makes better laws,’” said Richardson, who now is 45 years old. “And that’s what got me since the age of about six of wanting to be a public servant.” She added that her mother exposed her to politics and the news.

Richardson’s career trajectory is symbolic of the political progress made by African-Americans over recent decades. She won the special election to succeed the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, also a black Democrat, who was Richardson’s former boss and whose mentorship helped Richardson launch her own political career in local office and the California Assembly. Millender-McDonald’s death of cancer on April 22 created the vacancy that Richardson will fill after Congress returns to work from its summer recess.

In fact, the special election primary that ensured Richardson’s ultimate victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic 37th put a different spin on racial politics in the “minority-majority” district, which is located in Los Angeles County and is centered on the city of Long Beach.

Black activists who wanted to maintain African-American representation in the district mainly rallied around Richardson. Hispanics, who now make up a larger share of the district’s population but whose voting participation has lagged, found a candidate to champion in Democratic state Sen. Jenny Oropeza.

Running in a single-ballot June 26 primary that included a total of 17 candidates — 11 of them Democrats — Richardson prevailed by 37 percent to 31 percent over Oropeza. Though Richardson fell short of the majority vote needed for an outright victory, the seven-week runoff campaign was a formality: She won Tuesday’s contest with two-thirds of the total vote and a margin of well more than 2-to-1 over the Republican nominee, police sergeant and Iraq war veteran John M. Kanaley.

Though race and ethnicity were inescapable factors, particularly in the primary, Richardson told CQPolitics.com she was “disappointed” that most of the news coverage was focused on these matters rather than the candidates’ views on policy issues.

“I don’t run only from the basis of being African-American,” Richardson said. “That’s who I am, but when I’m running, I’m running to represent the people in my area, whoever they might be.”

Richardson believes her educational background — including a master’s degree in business — and her years working in the private sector combined with her political experience to boost her to a win. Before her six-year stint as a Long Beach City councilwoman, Richardson worked for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and prior to that, as a field deputy for Millender-McDonald.

Richardson states that public officials should advocate for issues that may not be popular and speak out for those who lack a strong voice in the political process. She will be representing a district that includes some of the state’s most underprivileged communities as well as a large portion of middle-class Long Beach. Minorities make up almost 85 percent of the population in the district: More than two-fifths of the total population is Hispanic and about one quarter of the district’s residents are African-American.

Richardson said she was eager to continue some of the late congresswoman’s legacies, such as her practice of holding “senior briefings” for residents in the district, which offered issue lessons on topics such as elder abuse and identity theft.

Richardson also intends to work with the late congresswoman’s daughter, Valerie McDonald, on remedying disparities in the health care system. McDonald was one of Richardson’s competitors in the special election primary.

Richardson would like to improve the region’s education and transportation systems and also reduce the number of unemployed residents in her district. She said the jobless rate in the 37th hovers close to 14 percent. Richardson also hopes encourage Congress to re-examine trade agreements which she believe do not help domestic unemployment rates.

The war in Iraq and its financial impact on the country are among Richardson’s major concerns.

“I just find it’s ironic that we can find money to fight a war but we can’t find money to help our own people in our communities,” Richardson said. She added that redeploying troops and placing the National Guard back in the states “can’t happen soon enough.”

Richardson likely will take liberal stances on many issues that will make her a reliable vote for the Democratic Party leadership. She already has been strongly critical of President Bush, to whom she has penned letters slamming his education, health care and Iraq policies — which she posted on her campaign Web site.

She hopes to win an assignment to the coveted Ways and Means Committee, but noted she would be pleased to serve on the Transportation or Homeland Security committees.

Richardson is cognizant of the fact she will enter Congress mid-session but said the outpouring of support she’s already received from members has helped her to feel comfortable entering her new position.

In addition, she portrays herself as having a strong work ethic that will help establish her early as an active participant in the lawmaking process.

“What I believe people know about me and respect about me is that I work extremely hard,” Richardson said. “I’m not going to Washington to go to another chicken dinner. That’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to work.”

Laura Richardson coronation today

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The run-off election to replace the late Juanita Millender McDonald will take place this evening and California State Representative Laura Richardson can take her place as the newest member of the Congressional Black Caucus.   There has been little news to report in the last several days and I’ve been trying to put some finishing touches on a few opinion pieces. 

This past Sunday’s debate was interesting in that it didn’t really make any news.  Obama did quite well and Hillary held her own as usual and tried to stay above the fray.   The state of the Iowa race is still in flux but it now appears that from two of the latest polls that Mrs. Clinton has opened up a lead in both Iowa and South Carolina.   Her South Carolina lead is statistically insignificant over Obama.   If Iowa doesn’t go Hillary’s way, South Carolina will become a significant battle ground.

Tell me what’s on your minds.   Consider this an open thread. 

Debra Bowen strikes a blow for Democracy

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Debra Bowen

HAT TIP:  California Progress Report

Debra Bowen, California’s Secretary of State, has decertified all of California’s electronic voting machines. “Democracy, by definition, is about free and fair elections,” said Secretary Bowen. “As the state’s chief election officer, I take my responsibilities very seriously. In many ways, I think voters and counties are the victims of a federal certification process that hasn’t done an adequate job of ensuring that the systems made available to them are secure, accurate, reliable and accessible. Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act, which pushed many counties into buying electronic systems that – as we’ve seen for some time and we saw again in the independent UC review – were not properly reviewed or tested to ensure that they protected the integrity of the vote. That’s what my decisions are about – protecting the integrity of the vote.”

WOW.  IF I DIDN’T KNOW BETTER, I’DTHINK THAT’S WHAT INTEGRITY SOUNDS LIKE.  REFRESHING.   I, Skeptical Brotha, hereby and officially praise California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat who has the courage of her convictions.  Perhaps girlfriend can go to Washington, D.C. and show Democrats how it’s done.  With the stroke of a pen, she has righted the ship of state and restored the confidence of the people of California in the electoral process.  Hopefully other Secretaries of State will follow her courageous lead.

New California PAC launched to promote Obama

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The website for Vote Hope 2008 has the look and feel of Barack Obama's official page, but the group is a political action committee trying to garner votes for Obama in California.

WASHINGTON — The website has the look and feel of Barack Obama’s official page, and the headline says it all: “Bank it for Barack.” The site asks for contributions of up to $5,000 per person to help the Illinois Democrat win the crucial state of California.

The effort employs a tactic that could transform the way campaign-related money is collected and spent in presidential campaigns .

The group sponsoring the Web page is not Obama’s campaign, but an independent political action committee called Vote Hope 2008, which says that its goal is to help Obama become president and that it will spend $2 million to get out the vote for him.

Federal law prohibits political action committees, or PACs, from spending more than $5,000 in support of a candidate.

But Vote Hope’s founders argue that this restriction does not apply to their group because they do not plan to coordinate their spending with Obama’s campaign. Thus, there’s no limit to what they can spend promoting him, they said. What’s more, the group said contributors who have given the maximum $2,300 individual do nation to Obama’s campaign can give $5,000 to Vote Hope 2008, the maximum individual donation to a PAC.

Vote Hope then would spend these donations promoting Obama, giving donors a way to nearly triple their maximum contribution to Obama’s cause. The implications are potentially dramatic, according to campaign finance specialists, especially if other PACs follow Vote Hope’s example for Obama or other candidates.

“I haven’t seen another one like this,” said Kent Cooper, a former Federal Election Commission official and co founder of PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan group that tracks money and politics. If the group is able to raise money successfully, it could be copied by others and that in turn “would create a wide new avenue for campaign-related cash.”

The pro-Obama PAC was set up by a group of liberal activists, including Steve Phillips, a former president of the San Francisco Board of Education and son-in-law of Herb and Marion Sandler, who are high-profile backers of Democrats.

Bill Burton, Obama campaign spokesman, when asked about the effort, distanced the campaign from Vote Hope 2008, saying: “We appreciate the tremendous grass roots. But if people want to help out our campaign, we prefer they would do it directly through our campaign.”

The creators of Vote Hope consider themselves pioneers, working to find a way to elect Obama in a state that they say will be crucial for Obama but that has not received as much attention as early-voting states such as New Hampshire, which has a tentative primary date of Jan. 22.

California has moved its primary to Feb. 5, but the state is so expensive for campaigns that many candidates are putting off major expenditures there. That is where Vote Hope sees its opening: It wants to tap donors who have already given the maximum to Obama’s campaign in order to raise more money to help the senator win in California.

“The combination of unbridled grass-roots volunteer energy and an unprecedented number of maxed-out donors this early in the calendar makes something like Vote Hope possible in states that are expensive to organize and have a large donor base,” said Vote Hope spokeswoman Jenifer Fernandez Ancona.

She said the group will help elect Obama by working to “identify infrequent voters in communities of color and young people in California” and getting them to vote. Vote Hope said campaign finance laws allow a PAC to solicit individual donations of up to $5,000 and then to spend unlimited funds on Obama as long as certain conditions are met.

The rules say that donors to PACs cannot “give with the knowledge that a substantial portion will be contributed to, or expended on behalf of, that candidate.” The same rule says, however, that such donations are permissible if donors don’t retain control over how the money is spent.

Vote Hope maintains that because its donors can’t specify how their money will be spent, these contributions to the PAC are legal. “Everything Vote Hope is doing is above board and permissible under the law,” said Vote Hope’s lawyer, Joseph M. Birkenstock, who served from 1998 to 2003 as chief counsel for the Democratic National Committee.

The Globe interviewed a number of specialists in campaign finance who said they could think of no other example of a major PAC being set up specifically to work for the election of a candidate during a presidential primary, aside from PACs set up to draft candidates or established by the politicians for themselves.

“It is a novel idea that hasn’t been utilized in this fashion before that I’m aware of at the presidential level,” said Keith Davis of Huckaby Davis Lisker, a firm that works with Republican campaigns on compliance with federal election law.

“If it works, then, obviously, there will be a lot of people who try to do the same thing . . . in both parties,” he said. “The same structure could be used for House and Senate campaigns.”

Davis and other specialists said a key question is whether enough people who have contributed the maximum $2,300 to Obama’s campaign will also want to contribute $5,000 to Vote Hope for the organization to meet its $2 million goal. Ancona said the group has raised $108,000, and “there are more than enough donors in California who are inspired by Vote Hope’s strategy to get us” to $2 million.

Separately, Vote Hope has set up what is known as a 527 organization, which can collect unlimited funds from individuals but is not allowed to support a candidate directly. Both Vote Hope groups have the same name, which has led to some confusion, including reports that a few wealthy individuals are contributing large amounts to a Vote Hope 527 formed to elect Obama.

In fact, the organizers said, only the PAC will work explicitly for an Obama victory by getting Californians to register and vote by mail starting Jan. 9 , and have 500,000 Obama votes “in the bank” by the primary on Feb. 5.

Vote Hope is distinct from PACs set up by many candidates. For example, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney established his federal Commonwealth PAC and state affiliates prior to announcing his candidacy. He used those PACs to travel and support other candidates. Funds from such PACs cannot be transferred to Romney’s campaign.

According to the Romney campaign, there does not appear to be an independent PAC working on behalf of Romney in the way that Vote Hope is helping Obama. But campaign specialists said that could change quickly if Vote Hope’s tactic proves viable. 

Activist Cindy Sheehan to Challenge Speaker Pelosi

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HAT TIP: Associated Press, Washington Post

CRAWFORD, Tex., July 8 — Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan said Sunday that she plans to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unless Pelosi introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

Sheehan’s deadline, July 23, is the same day she and her supporters are to arrive in Washington after a 13-day caravan and walking tour departing from the group’s war protest site near Bush’s Crawford ranch.

Sheehan said she lives in a suburb of Sacramento but declined to disclose the city, citing safety reasons. She added that she would run against Pelosi in 2008 as an independent and “would give her a run for her money.”

“Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership,” Sheehan said. “We hired them to bring an end to the war.”

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the congresswoman has said repeatedly that her focus is on ending the war in Iraq.

“She believes that the best way to support our troops in Iraq is to bring them home safely and soon,” Daly said in an e-mail.

Sheehan first came to Crawford in August 2005 during a Bush vacation, demanding to talk to the president about the Iraq war, in which her son Casey was killed in 2004. She became the face of the antiwar movement during her 26-day roadside vigil, which was joined by thousands.

California 37 Special Election: Richardson elected, CBC keeps seat

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Hat Tip CQ Politics

State Rep. Laura Richardson and state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, both Democrats, jumped out way ahead of the rest of the 17-candidate field in early results from Tuesday’s special election in California’s 37th Congressional District.

Richardson and Oropeza had been regarded as the front-running candidates throughout the special election campaign to succeed the late Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, who died of cancer April 22.

The early count — posted by Los Angeles County election authorities shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST) — included only ballots cast by absentee voters and those participating under California’s early voting rules.

But barring dramatically different results from votes cast at the polls Tuesday, the winner of the battle between Richardson and Oropeza will claim the Democratic nomination — and almost certain victory in the likely Aug. 21 runoff for the seat.

Tuesday’s primary had all 11 Democrats, four Republicans and two alternative-party candidates running on a single ballot, and that crowd of candidates made it unlikely that no single one would garner the majority vote needed to win outright and avoid a runoff.

But the runoff would be a contest between each party’s top vote-getter — and the 37th District, dominated by the city of Long Beach, is a Democratic Party stronghold in which Hispanics and African-Americans make up most of the population.

The advantage that the Democratic nominee will have was signaled by the early returns. Richardson led with 33 percent to 30 percent for Oropeza and 11 percent for the late congresswoman’s daughter, Valerie McDonald. The leading Republican candidate in the early voting, police sergeant and Iraq war veteran John M. Kanaley, had 10 percent of the vote.

The contest between Richardson, who is black, and Oropeza, who is Hispanic, had strong ethnic overtones. Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the district’s population, but they make up a smaller share of the voting electorate. Blacks make up a quarter of the population, and many black activists have cited Millender-McDonald, an African-American, in calling for continued black representation in the district.

LAURA RICHARDSON       DEM                                11,027    37.76
   JENNY OROPEZA          DEM                                 9,144    31.31
   VALERIE MC DONALD      DEM                                 2,743     9.39
   JOHN M KANALEY         REP                                 2,230     7.64
   PETER MATHEWS          DEM                                 1,031     3.53
   TERI RAMIREZ           REP                                   560     1.92
   DANIEL A BREZENOFF     GR                                    352     1.21
   JEFFREY LEAVITT        REP                                   345     1.18
   L J “LJ” GUILLORY      REP                                   334     1.14
   ED WILSON              DEM                                   334     1.14
   HERB PETERS            LIB                                   315     1.08
   GEORGE A PARMER JR     DEM                                   220     0.75
   LEE DAVIS              DEM                                   181     0.62
   JEFFREY S PRICE        DEM                                   128     0.44
   BILL F GRISOLIA        DEM                                   125     0.43
   FELICIA FORD           DEM                                   109     0.37
   MERVIN EVANS           DEM                                    26     0.09
                                                                            
TOTAL PRECINCTS        334            PRECINCTS REPORTING       334   100.00 

                                                                            
  

Election Day

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Today is Election Day, Children.   The ladies of California’s  37th Congressional District-Laura Richardson, Jenny Oropeza, and Valerie McDonald face off against each other to see who will win the Democratic Primary and subsequently, this seat.   Laura Richardson’s labor allies are involved in serious and well-funded member to member election contact on her behalf and the Indian Tribes are funding Oropeza’s voter contact program.   Tonight we’ll see who’s been most effective.  

Another wrinkle has been added in this race by the sharp elbow Richardson gave Oropeza for taking off and missing votes during her liver cancer treatment.   Most folk think that was a low blow and yet another foot inserted into the mouth of the leading African American candidate in this race.  

I will be pulling a late night tonight to blog as this race develops.