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When in crisis, turn to the people

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee seeks to flip GOP-held statehouses

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The DLCC’s Matt Harringer and Jessica Post (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“We are in a constitutional crisis,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters on May 8 after the committee voted along partisan lines to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. Barr refused to testify before the committee and refused to turn over the full, unredacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller, to which the congressional committee is constitutionally entitled, in direct defiance of a congressional subpoena.

In fact, as if trigger-happy for a High Noon gunslinger showdown, President Donald Trump has escalated the direct confrontation with Congress by asserting executive privilege over Mueller’s report and ordering a blatant defiance of all subpoenas. Some politicos expect Trump to defy court orders, too. 

It is unclear if Trump knows or understands that American democracy relies on adherence to the rule of law and the system of oversight with checks and balances being observed by all three branches of government—the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Trump seems determined to shun that precious system as he careens his authoritarian ship of state, manned by a cult-struck Republican crew, toward dictatorship where he is above the law.   

Meanwhile, with American democracy at stake and the hubs of power in the nation’s capital stymied by dissention and division, perhaps the only place to turn for a remedy is to the American voters.

But there’s a catch:  Republicans are still in control of 30 state legislatures while Democrats control 18, an increase from 14 before the election. Republicans control both the governorship and are the majority in 21 states, while Democrats have majority control in 14 states, including California.

Enter the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee with the mission of flipping those GOP state legislatures. “Diversity is key to our success at the DLCC. One of our secret weapons against Republicans. We’re proud to have helped elect almost 100 out-LGBTQ legislators,” says Matt Harringer, the DLCC’s out National Press Secretary. “In 2018, we had 145 LGBTQ candidates; 92 won (63 percent). That’s up from 85 candidates in 2016. We have more than 2,000 women candidates (twice as many as Republicans); more than 1,000 people of color (four times as many as Republicans),” adding that the DLCC works closely with the Victory Fund, noting the dually endorsed candidates.

“Looking at the electoral landscape, obviously we can make progress as Democrats in the House and pass things like the Equality Act, but the Senate is still Republican controlled so it’s going to be difficult to get that through the Senate. And the Supreme Court is very conservative. Where we can see real progress is in the states,” says Jessica Post, DLCC Executive Director who, with Harringer, met recently with the Los Angeles Blade at The Abbey in West Hollywood.

“There are a number of states where we still don’t have equality or gender identity protections, and many of those states are at the top of our target list. Places like Arizona, where we’re two seats away from flipping the Arizona House, three seats away from flipping the Arizona State Senate. We see that as a real possibility,” she says. “That’s a place where they don’t even have favorable laws around adoption.”

“The truth is state legislatures are fundamental to democracy,” says Post. “If we think about how we’re ever going to win back the United States Senate or the presidency, we also have to make sure that we have better voting rights in the states. We have to make sure that we’re putting these fundamental building blocks by winning back legislatures. If we ever want to win back the United States Senate we have to improve the voting laws in these states.”

One major reason to be concerned about flipping state legislatures in the super significant 2020 election year, especially given the current constitutional crisis, is the issue of redistricting.

“The census will be done in 2021. The people that are elected in 2020 will control redistricting,” says Post. “So if we want a sustainable majority in the United States House, and not just a rental, we have to make sure that there are fair districts.” Democratic control of the House now is “a rented majority. We don’t own it. We’re renting it.”

In addition to flipping state legislatures to save democracy from authoritarianism made easier through redistricted cult-Republican majorities, DLCC is working to protect the wins Democrats now have—including LGBT seats. 

For instance, Colorado Republicans are running a bigoted recall campaign against LGBTQ Rep. Rochelle Galindo, a Latinx lesbian, who won by the largest number of votes in her District 50’s history in 2018,” says Harringer.

Rep. Rochelle Galindo (Photo from Galindo campaign)

However, she is facing a huge recall effort organized by Pastor Steve Grant, who has called Galindo a “homosexual pervert.” He has received pledges of support from state Republicans and the oil and gas industry has pledged up to $300,000.

“They want her out,” says Post. The Colorado Legislature is now a Democratic majority with out Gov. Jared Polis as governor and passed a lot of progressive bills. 

So Republicans see Galindo’s seat as a soft target because it was a tough seat to win. “It’s in Greely, so north of Boulder, the mountains, rural,” says Post, “so it was a huge win.”

The pastor/Republican coalition apparently sees her seat as “low-hanging fruit,” since she’s a woman, a lesbian. So they are willing to spend $300,000 to collect less than 6,000 signatures by June 3.

If the recall goes on the ballot, “it’ll be $1.7 million to protect her,” says Post.

The DLCC is supporting an anti-recall campaign, having invested $50,000 to prevent the recall. Polis is planning fundraisers to help—but he’s the subject of a recall effort, too, says Post.

It’s important for progressives and the LGBT community to take a stand and protect her, says Harringer.  “Not just for Californians, but specifically for the LGBTQ community here, which is one of the biggest and leading in the country— putting a stake in the ground and showing that when there’s a recall effort that’s explicitly anti-LGBTQ and bigoted, like this one is, that we’ll stand up for our own in other areas.”

In fact, California lawmakers are already working with DLCC to help other states.

“We’ve worked really closely with the California Legislature. They’ve gotten involved with DLCC. They’re helping to fundraise for a couple of reasons. One they always say, ‘California is America before America is America,’” says Post.

Who says that?

“Anybody in the California Legislature that you’ll ask—like Speaker Anthony Rendon,” she says. “One thing that they’re really interested in doing is making sure that they’re coordinating on public policy, especially on things like climate, with some of these other states. The other thing is they’re concerned about redistricting. They don’t feel like California is getting their fair share back from the federal government. They have to spend a lot of California resources suing the Trump administration.”

Post notes that the legislature is funding all the lawsuits against the Trump administration being brought by Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The Legislature had to create a California Endangered Species Act because of the “backslide at the federal level.”

And, Post says, “California legislators have gotten very involved with us at DLCC to try to help flip other state legislatures for redistricting to be able to enhance California’s position, but also to make sure that stronger public policies are being passed in the states.” Legislators realize “they’re in a strong position, they’re surrounded by well-resourced progressives so they’re interested in helping states like Michigan, Minnesota and Montana, which may not have the same.”

“California, for sure, is first priority for everyone, but they see the big picture, which is helpful,” says Harringer. “It’s very much like party building, sharing best practices. We are able to bring people together and share what’s working in California to say how to do it there.”

“If I was a Californian right now,” Post says, “I would be thinking to myself: ‘we live in this incredible state where we’ve made a lot of public policy progress. But the rights that I have as a Californian or as an LGBTQ Californian, those rights are not enjoyed by people in border states like Arizona or in other states across the country. What are the things that I can do to bring the progress that we have to them?’”

It’s an interesting point: in a constitutional crisis—what can “We, the People,” do to help? Find out more at www.dlcc.org.

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Los Angeles

Out LA City Councilman Bonin says he won’t seek re-election

Wednesday’s announcement came one week after an effort to recall him failed to gather the requisite number of signatures

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Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin (Screenshot via YouTube)

MAR VISTA – In an announcement via YouTube and in a series of tweets Wednesday, Out Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin told supporters that he would not be seeking reelection to his seat representing the 11th city council district.

Wednesday’s announcement came one week after an effort to recall him failed to gather the requisite number of signatures.

“Today I announced I’ve decided not to seek reelection to the LA City Council. This is a difficult, deeply personal decision, and I’ve wrestled with it for several days, but I’m confident it is the right choice for the right reasons,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I’ve struggled for years with depression. It’s a constant companion, and often a heavy one. There are times when this job has made that easier, and times when it has made it more challenging. Instead of seeking another term, it’s time for me to focus on health and wellness.” he continued.

“It is hard for me to speak publicly about mental health, but I’ve always been forthcoming about my addiction and recovery, and about my struggles with housing insecurity. I want to be honest here, too. I believe that sharing about our fragility is how we build common strength,” he said.

“To those who are disappointed by my decision, I am sorry. It is very difficult to walk away from a third term, and the work we have been doing together, but I need to listen to my heart. This is the best decision for me and my family.”

Anger and public dissatisfaction over L.A.’s homelessness crisis had fueled the petitioner’s efforts to oust Bonin who represents Council District 11, the Westside neighborhoods of Brentwood, Mar Vista, Venice, Westchester and Playa del Rey and the area around LAX.

“This recall campaign is an extravagant waste of taxpayer money, a thinly disguised attempt to derail my efforts to provide real solutions to our homelessness crisis, and the latest in a series of recall attempts to silence strong progressive voices,” Bonin said in a press release after he was served the recall notice last June.

“Under Mike Bonin’s watch, the humanitarian crisis of the homeless population is growing exponentially. Taxpayer money is squandered. Fires. Struggling local businesses. Crime is rampant and rising. Neighborhoods and schools are unsafe. We feel afraid to visit public beaches and community parks,” the Recall Bonin campaign’s website read.

Bonin said in his statement that the campaign is backed by right-wing forces and constituents who have fought to stop housing, shelter and services in the coastal neighborhoods, “leaving people to die on the streets.”

Bonin was first elected in 2013, after serving as a top aide to former Councilman Bill Rosendahl. He had been facing a major re-election fight — one that would have been dominated by the issues of homelessness and public safety.

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Los Angeles County

LA County Youth Commission, centering voices in mental health panel

Panel will be Youth Commissioners, mental health experts- DMH & UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing & community mental health advocates

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic for youth across the country, according to the United States Surgeon General. During the past two years, 25 percent of youth experienced depressive symptoms and 20 percent experienced increased anxiety.

To help center youth voices in mental health reform and programming in Los Angeles County, The Youth Commission is hosting a “Centering Youth Voice in Mental Health” panel event, in partnership with the Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The panel will consist of Youth Commissioners, mental health experts from the DMH + UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing, and community mental health advocates.

“Young people in LA County are resilient and strong. By seeking their feedback for improving mental health and wellbeing services across the County, we can help youth-serving organizations meet their needs and prevent future mental health crises,” said Commissioner and panelist La’Toya Cooper who represents the Second District.

Youth, community members, agency partners, community-based organizations, philanthropy, and media partners are invited to join and learn more about how to center lived experience and youth voices while responding to the mental health crisis impacting youth in LA County.

Co-Sponsored by Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office, this event is in response to a 2004 Board Motion and is designed to center the voices of young people with lived experience, who are all too often left out of the design of programs meant to support them.

“It is imperative that when we consider a path forward in helping LA County’s youth recover from the pandemic, we include them in building solutions. By convening mental health leaders and advocates, the Youth Commission is helping return authority to LA County’s youth in healing their communities.” said Hahn.

“The Department of Mental Health is deeply committed to the wellbeing of youth in LA County” said DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin, M.D., Ph.D. “We are thrilled to partner with the Youth Commission, which is positioned to help amplify the voices of young people who have never had a proper platform for providing input to County systems. It is our belief that the Youth Commission will inspire new and more effective models of mental health care for young people in LA County.” 

“The issues facing youth are more complex than ever before. School closures, our ongoing reckoning with racial injustice present in our systems, and the negative impacts of social media, all represent challenges to youth wellbeing. We must collaborate on solutions that work for the youth we serve,” said Dr. Tyrone Howard, an education expert and panelist from the DMH + UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing.

The Youth Commission welcomes suggestions for panelist questions from community members. If you would like to submit a question to the panel, please submit it to the Youth Commission Instagram page @lacounty_youthcommission by February 4.

When: Thursday, February 10th from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PST

View the event flyer and toolkit

How To Register and Join the Session:

Registration Link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Y3LL3G3

Meeting Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89214673705?pwd=WGlud3pZ NThkY2lXalkyb1VibFF4UT09

You can also RSVP by emailing [email protected] or calling 213-633-5599

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California

Calif. Insurance Commissioner urges FDA end gay/bi blood donation ban

“This outdated, discriminatory guidance based in prejudice not in public health & is contributing to the national blood donation crisis”

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California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (Photo via State of California)

SACRAMENTO – California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to overturn a discriminatory blood donation ban policy carried over from the Trump administration.

On Monday, Lara sent a letter urging an end to the FDA’s policy banning blood donations from gay and bisexual men. Currently the FDA requires that men who have sex with men must abstain from sex for three months before donating blood.

“This is outdated, discriminatory guidance based in prejudice – not in public health – and it is contributing to our current national blood donation crisis,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara in his letter to FDA’s Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “I respectfully urge you to permanently lift the entire deferral period in order for a male donor who has had sex with another man from donating blood.”

Research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law indicate that, if the outdated policy is lifted, up to 615,300 additional pints of blood per year—enough blood to help save the lives of more than one million people—can potentially be contributed by gay and bi men.

The FDA’s original lifetime ban against gay and bi men was enacted in 1983 when little was known about the mechanisms of HIV transmission and the AIDS epidemic was concentrated primarily in the gay male community.

In 2015 the lifetime ban was partially lifted after the FDA announced that men who have sex with men would be able to donate blood following a year of abstinence. In April 2020 the one-year deferral period was reduced to three months to diminish the nation’s urgent need for blood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Kingdom announced in May 2021 that donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man. Potential blood donors—regardless of their gender—will be asked, instead, of their most recent sexual activities. This year France and Greece announced their plans to abolish their longtime restrictions on blood donations from gay and bi men.

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