One of the more interesting races in Southern California is the State Senate battle between Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke in Senate District 26, a newly reshaped district that covers Los Angeles’ west side and beach cities from Santa Monica to Palos Verdes. I had originally supported my friend Betsy Butler, who fell about 3,500 votes short of making the runoff.
I was initially hesitant about backing Fluke since she just moved to Southern California after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 2012 and has virtually no experience in anything except for her 15 minutes of fame thanks to Rush Limbaugh. Nonetheless, I eventually decided to back her as we were both fellow “Hoya Lawyers”. Then, about two weeks ago, I met her and she was as underwhelming in person as she is on paper.
That same week, the dean of Southern California’s Congressional Delegation and a man I have deep respect for, Henry Waxman endorsed Fluke’s opponent Ben Allen, a practicing attorney and law school lecturer who serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Allen grew up in Santa Monica and has been active locally since the late 1990’s when he interned with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Along the way Allen has done some cool things that go beyond giving speeches and appearing on MSNBC such as serving as the Managing Director for Spark Los Angeles, a Regent for the University of California and a judicial clerk with the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. It is this experience that has earned him the endorsement of much of the Democratic establishment, as well as environmental and other local groups.
Experience matters in this race, since, as the LA Weekly recently noted, “[the reality is that there’s not much difference between Allen and Fluke on the issues.” The race, however, has taken a turn for bizarre, as Republican turned-Independent real estate titan Bill Bloomfield has poured in over $1 million in independent expenditures in support of Allen – who has no ties to Bloomfield. The Fluke campaign is using the donations to try to smear Allen as a right wing sympathizer who wants to privatize public education, but the LA Weekly noted that claim doesn’t survive scrutiny.
But here’s the thing. Unless he’s hiding something, Allen is not a big education reformer. Allen serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board, but the issues that drive the education reform movement aren’t a big deal there. There are no charter schools in the district, and the board has an amicable relationship with the teachers union. As a senator, he has said he’d be interested in looking at teacher tenure, but that’s about as far as he’ll go.
And Bloomfield’s mailers certainly don’t talk about education reform. In mail to registered independents, Bloomfield touts Allen as a “fiscal watchdog” who balanced school budgets and will focus on controlling state spending. In mail to Democrats, he refers to Allen as a “progressive champion.”
If anything, the connection seems to be personal. Bloomfield was impressed with Allen when they met last year at a Waxman speech. After that, Bloomfield had breakfast with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Allen had interned for Yaroslavsky, who raved about him. So Bloomfield decided to start writing checks.
“He’s running against somebody with extremely high name identification,” Bloomfield says. “We want to be sure the voters know about him… We’re just trying to level the playing field.”
This huge inflow of money definitely shows that our campaign finance system is broken and in need of repair – a point both candidates agree upon. Bloomfield’s campaign, however, does not alter the fact that there is little daylight between the candidates on the issues. That Fluke and her surrogates are attempting to smear Allen by arguing that Allen and Bloomfield are one in the same when there is no evidence of any ties between the two is fundamentally dishonest. That a candidate whose sole credential is that she fought back against the politics of personal destruction is now peddling similar garbage herself tells you all that you need to know about this race.