The contrast couldn’t be more stark. Assemblymember Christy Smith is bright, effusive and clearly enjoys engaging with her community in campaign ads shot before the stay at home order. Mike Garcia loves fighter jets and his family. Voters with mail-in ballots must decide by May 12 which candidate will better represent the 25th congressional district in filling out former Rep. Katie Hill’s term.
The Los Angeles Times April 17 endorsement is straightforward.
“There’s no question which candidate is better prepared to step into the debate and help shape smart policy. That’s state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a quietly accomplished and centrist Democrat whose background includes stints as a U.S. Department of Education policy analyst and as a longtime member of the Newhall School District board. Her experience guiding a school district through the last economic downturn and now the state through its pandemic response makes her uniquely qualified for precisely this job at precisely this moment,” said The Times.
“Smith’s opponent, by comparison, is simply not a good fit for Congress at any moment,” with the editorial noting that Republican Mike Garcia‘s “nice backstory…doesn’t translate into legislative competence.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after several Garcia supporters chimed in on Twitter about proving the LA Times wrong, on April 20, President Trump pecked out two tweets endorsing Garcia, the second of which hyped the Second Amendment: “[Garcia] is Strong on Crime, the Border, and the Second Amendment. Mike has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
“Thank you @realDonaldTrump for your support. I am running to keep this nation safe, lower taxes, grow jobs and to ensure we protect the Constitution through all times!” Garcia tweeted. He later added: “It is crucial to know the difference between the candidates, especially during times of crisis. I’m a former fighter pilot who believes CA taxes are out of control.”
“Like most voters in our community, I trust and prefer the endorsement of our doctors, nurses and firefighters,” Smith said in response. “Donald Trump is failing to provide testing to millions of Californians and encouraging citizens to go against the advice of public health professionals, putting their lives at risk, and delaying the re-opening of our economy.”
She, meanwhile, is completely focused” on getting “protective equipment to medical personnel, financial assistance for workers who have lost their jobs, and funding our health care system to lower costs.”
Smith’s campaign posted an online video with Trump on the coronavirus side by side with Garcia. “I think Trump is a good President,” says Garcia. “No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” says Trump. “Everyone should have to figure out how to fend for themselves,” says Garcia.
Smith criticized Trump for encouraging supporters to protest, to “LIBERATE” three states. “While millions of Californians are staying home to protect their families, emergency responders & frontline workers, @realDonaldTrump‘s remarks spurred reckless protests that could jeopardize public health for all,” she tweeted. “I saw this firsthand in Sacramento today.”
Smith was at the Capitol for the Legislative Budget SubCommittee Hearing on COVID-19. As the daughter of a nurse, she applauded the nurse “patriots” who tried to block the unmasked, ungloved protesters.
That day, April 20, Los Angeles County reported preliminary results from a new scientific study suggesting that coronavirus infections “are far more widespread – and the fatality rate much lower – in L.A. County than previously thought,” according to a county press release. “The research team estimates that approximately 4.1% of the county’s adult population has antibody to the virus,” says the release, “which translates to approximately 221,000 to 442,000 adults in the county who have had the infection.”
On April 21, Yahoo News reported that the protests were organized around the country by Trump Republican groups, including a longtime political advisor to the wealthy family of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the leader of an organization called Minnesota Gun Rights, and InfoWars screamer Alex Jones.
But April 20 was important to Smith for another reason: it was the 21st anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, “which took the lives of 13 innocent souls and injured 24 others, we remember and honor the fallen by renewing our resolve to end senseless gun violence. #NotOneMore.”
Garcia offered no similar sympathy post.
In an April 22 phone interview, the Los Angeles Blade asked Smith if she was concerned that Trump’s promotion of the Second Amendment might be dangerous. She noted that her 25th CD has “a decidedly strong common-sense advocacy around gun control” with local high schools creating chapters of the March For Our Lives movement, as well as a strong and sizable Moms Demand Action group.
“While a number of us respect responsible gun owners’ rights, there is also a much, much greater proportion of the community who believes the time is now to take greater action, especially because one of the most recent school shootings that occurred prior to the COVID crisis and more people staying at home was at Saugus High School,” in Santa Clarita.
So, says Smith, Garcia’s “not going to get a lot of traction fighting about that issue in this district.” Additionally, “Donald Trump lost this district in 2016 by six points, and he was rebuked here again in 2018 when Democrats won this congressional seat. So, there is no love lost here for the president and his positions on a number of issues.”
In fact, says Smith, “the bulk of his platform is that he is a Trump loyalist. He’s not really putting forward any policy solutions on anything related to housing, or health care, environmental concerns, LGBTQ rights, women’s equity rights. So, I think for lack of an ability to formulate what it is he believes in and what he’s going to be fighting for, he just says he’ll stand with the president. In particularly in this moment, that’s not enough.”
Photo of Christy Smith by gay political activist Michael Colorge (via Facebook)
Meanwhile, work continues in the State Legislature, including work-arounds the unintended consequences of AB5 that was supposed to help gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors but has instead hurt by disallowing access to unemployment and other safety net funding.
“So, the good news on AB5 is a couple of things. At this time where a lot of those businesses, restaurants, performing arts spaces are closed anyway as a function of the Cares Act, independent contractors, 1099 employees are afforded through something called the PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance),inability to qualify for unemployment insurance. That includes in California, the $600 a week add on. It was also part of the Cares Act,” says Smith.
“On April 28, that link will be available to people across California to go on to EDD and apply for that financial support now, regardless of their current employment status, if at any point recently they have been an independent contractor or 1099 employee, they’ll be able to qualify. We’re being told that those qualifications, once everyone has their data in the system, will be given within 24 to 48 hours. So, help is on the way there.”
Smith says “progress has been made on negotiating on changes to AB5, particularly with freelance and for people in the different areas of the entertainment industry. Those fixes, according to the bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez, will be added to a bill with urgency for when the legislature returns on May 4th, and so those will be added and moved on pretty quickly. We will continue to monitor that.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom must make the decision about whether to suspend or set AB5 aside during the crisis. “But I think there’s never been a more critical moment and more critical time that proves that — regardless of what happens with that bill going forward — we know that workers need these job protections. Because in crisis moments like this, people need to be able to access unemployment benefits, they need to have healthcare protections, they need to have return to work rights.”
“When workers are misclassified or they are out of the employment systems because employers aren’t adhering to those regulations, a lot of people end up getting hurt,” says Smith. “I heard somebody brilliantly say it a few weeks ago that crises like this, a pandemic fractures society along known fault lines. We definitely now know that one of those big fault lines in our employment system was those with rights and benefits and those without. Both sets of workers working equally hard, but some left out of the greater benefit of having some of those protections. So, I think it’s a conversation that will continue, but I am excited that we’ve made some progress, especially on the industries that are most impacted in Southern California, and we will continue to work on that.”
Smith says that she “completely agrees” and is “very, very happy” about the letter sent by California LGBT Legislative Caucus leaders Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymember Todd Gloria asking Newsom to start LGBT healthcare data collection during the novel coronavirus crisis and will ask to have her name added to the roster. “That was one that didn’t end up in front of me, but I was glad that it happened,” she says.
Smith is also concerned about how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting non-profits.
“The work for the nonprofit community is important for two vital reasons, one of which is that they are a significant part of our social safety net in everything from provision of healthcare services to food support and housing support services. These are essential aspects of support in the time of crisis that are really urgently need it,” says Smith.
“But secondarily, they are one of California’s, in particular, largest employers,” she says. “About 15% of California is employed in the nonprofit sector. So, to not support nonprofits in this moment would be shortsighted from the perspective, not only losing the services, but also losing the really important employment that comes along with it.”
Smith “completely supports” Rep. Adam Schiff’s effort to get large non-profits such as the Los Angeles LGBT Center included in the Federal Reserve loan program.
“I completely support that. Large nonprofits and small. The LGBTQ Center, in particular, you know the number of folks that that helps day in, day out — to lose those vital and critical services would be a huge loss. To lose those 800 employees and the economic benefit that comes from that would be a huge loss,” Smith says.
“But here in the 25th CD, we have a cancer support organization and it does just enough every year to support those people on the healthcare margins. They are almost entirely out of money, yet they’re helping patients who now find themselves jobless and without their healthcare coverage,” she says. “Just last week they sent down almost the rest of their remaining funds paying for a year’s worth of chemotherapy treatment to a patient who had just become unemployed, but couldn’t get that treatment from the hospital unless she paid up front. So, there are very real life impacts that are happening from our nonprofits struggling right now.”
Smith, who has a strong background in education, is also concerned about how to help marginalized students in minority neighborhoods during coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve been part of conversations with legislative colleagues around how we continue to make sure that families in need — and that children in need, in particular — still have avenues to check in with the caring adults in their lives who usually are there through that physical school setting, but that they’re still having that opportunity. It’s been a very high priority for our state’s teachers to check with their kids, even the ones that don’t have that wifi connectivity or the technology. There are teachers all over the state making calls to homes to check in with kids, but in particular, with respect to those kids who struggle because they do find that homebase at school, I’d say it’s incumbent on all of us who care to continue to push out that resource publicly in places where we can so that they know where those support centers are. They know those phone numbers they can call just to check in with someone if they are struggling.”
Not just students, but teachers, too, need help.
“We recognize the significance of our schools as part of that vital social safety network. Kids on the margins are checking in with adults. They’re being seen by people who will know something is a little bit off and can help direct that child to get the help and support that they need. Having that opportunity be lost in this moment is really hard. I know I’ve talked to a number of teachers and it’s incredibly hard on our teachers right now,” she says. “They are really feeling it in profound ways; they’re struggling with it because they do the job because they care. It’s been hard.”
Smith says the legislature is moving in the direction of supporting more tele-health services – something Smith has incorporated in her own congressional campaigning.
“This is just a part of our team ethos now that we’re campaigning in an environment where we are calling people who have been at home and suffering through the challenges of this unusual isolation,” Smith says. “I’ve equipped anybody who’s volunteer phone banking for me with resource hotlines and information. We start every call to voters with, ‘Hi! First of all, we want to know how you’re doing.’ If the conversation moves in a direction where that person needs additional help, needs those resources, we point them in that direction. I am grateful that I have such an amazing and wonderful field team — there have been a couple of these calls now where we needed to call someone back a little bit later and say, ‘Just checking in on you. Wanted to make sure everything’s moving along okay.’ So, we take that role very, very seriously.
“This is about more than winning an election. This is about a very unique opportunity for us to be there as a support for our community,” Smith says. “But having grown up in a family where there was both mental health issues and domestic violence, it is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart and ever front of mind for me and something I’m going to continue to look at from both the policy perspective and then the work and advocacy that I do directly in the community.”
Despite her clear connection to the community, Smith says the race is still close because Democrats traditionally skip voting in special elections. She wants to reverse that trend.
“I just appreciate people to stay tuned to this May 12 election,” she says. “Please engage, if you can. If you have friends, family members who live in the district, urge them to vote because the thing that will make the difference in this election is if our voters get those ballots in. That’s it. That’s the single most important thing.”
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