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Assembly members & education leaders rally for Debt Free College Plan

“The Legislature’s debt free college plan furthers California’s commitment to a higher education that’s affordable for all Californians”

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California state capital building (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Member Mike Fong (D-Alhambra) and education leaders in Los Angeles hosted a rally to urge the Legislature and Governor to pass the Legislature’s Debt Free College Plan.

The Debt Free College Plan includes; 1) $25 million to expand free community college to all full-time students, 2) over $500 million for Cal Grant reform, which will provide 150,000 new students with Cal Grants, and 3) historic investments in the Middle Class Scholarship.

Assembly Members Santiago and Mike Fong, in partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District, (LACCD) and other education leaders such as Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, are celebrating the Legislature’s Debt Free College Plan and urging their legislative colleagues and Governor Newsom to pass the proposal.

This plan consists of; 1) $25 million to expand the College Promise program to all full-time students; 2) an historic investment in the Middle Class Scholarship; and 3) over $500 million to reform the Cal Grant and provide an additional 150,000 students with Cal Grant awards.

The Debt Free College Plan furthers California’s goal of providing truly debt free education to all California students by removing barriers such as GPA and time-out-of-college requirements.

“The Legislature’s debt free college plan furthers California’s commitment to a higher education that’s affordable for all Californians,” said Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). “The current higher education system leaves students with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. In California, we’re changing that. In 2017, AB 2 (Santiago) provided free community college (CC) to first-time, full-time California students. This year, AB 2266 (Santiago) will expand free CC to all full-time students. We are also working on Cal Grant reform and debt free education at CSUs and UCs. We will continue to work toward completely debt free higher education in California!”

Rally picture provided by the Office of Assembly Member Miguel Santiago 

“Debt-Free college should be the standard in California, and we’re on our way,” said Assembly Member Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). “California has always led on college access and affordability, and we can do it again with the first in the nation Debt-Free College plan—a game changer for California families.

“As a former trustee of the Los Angeles Community College District, (LACCD), I am proud of the Legislature’s budget that provides millions of dollars to help our students access and complete higher education debt free,” said Assembly Member Mike Fong (D-Alhambra). “Costs to attend college is more than just tuition.  We need to continue to advocate and provide funding for transportation, books, basic needs, and housing in embracing the hopes and aspirations of our students in their pursuit of higher education. This budget reflects the Legislature’s commitment to helping students succeed.”

“The LACCD College Promise Program has experienced unparalleled success, with higher overall rates of completion and persistence among mostly first-generation students,” said Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez, Ph.D. “This bill expands much-needed access to higher education, keeps college affordable for working families, and accelerates the journey to a no-cost Associates degree for all full-time students, keeping California globally competitive in an inclusive economy.”

“Equity has always been at the forefront of LACCD, and expanding College Promise to returning students is an important step in bolstering that,” said LACCD Board of Trustees Member & Second Vice President Nichelle Henderson.  “We have seen the dramatic impact College Promise has had on first-time students, with significant increases in their completion rates. Giving this same opportunity to returning students is the right thing to do.”

“Our economy works best when it includes everyone,” said LACCD Board of Trustees Member & Immediate Past President Steve Veres. “The College Promise program has been a pioneer in helping underserved students access college where many have secured high-paying jobs. Expanding it to cover returning students as well will only strengthen our workforce for years to come.”

The Legislature is expected to vote on the State Budget, which includes the Debt Free College Plan, on Monday, June 13 and the Governor must sign the Budget by June 15.

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California Politics

Congressional candidate Christy Smith & EQCA’s Tony Hoang

Race to the Midterms 2: The Future of Democracy, Abortion Rights and Climate Change and on winning in November

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By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Here’s the unvarnished truth: if MAGA Republicans win the November 8 midterm elections, Donald Trump wins and we can kiss our democracy and our freedom goodbye.

Think this is an exaggeration?

No one really thought the US Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and put politicians in charge of women’s bodies – but they did. No one thought there would ever be an actual coup attempt to overturn a legitimate election and a violent insurrection against the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 during the peaceful transfer of power — but we watched it live on TV in real time, as did the coup-prompting defeated president who was inciting the rioters. 

Will Congress’ January 6th Committee explain the unthinkable? Will the Department of Justice prosecute the evil domestic terrorists, including their cult leader? Or will we have to endure this chaos until either the Democrats safely secure both chambers of Congress or the MAGA Republican terrorists award their dark orange prince his hellish authoritarianism? 

It all depends on us turning out in massive numbers to vote for Democrats this November 8.  

There are patches of blue in the black sky. Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, whom we interview for the second episode of Race to the Midterms, has quietly created a rainbow staff that reflects our diverse state. “We really want to make sure that we reflect the diverse communities that we serve, whether that’s around gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity,” Tony says during our Zoom interview. 

Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California, with U.S. Senator Alejandro ‘Alex’ Padilla, (D-CA)
Photo by Sam Garrett-Pate

Equality California Votes, their new 501.C4 political action committee, posted their first ad for out gay candidate Will Rollins (see our interview with Will in Episode 1). “Obviously, this is one of the most consequential election cycles in our lifetimes. And if we want to protect the pro-equality majority that we have in the House, that road runs through California. And so, CA-41, the district where Will Rollins is in, is one of the most important congressional flip opportunities in California.

His opponent, Congressman Ken Calvert, for 30 years has voted against things like lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, against abortion rights and reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality.” 

This victory in the Palm Springs area would be a major LGBTQ victory, turning this red seat blue. 

“Going back to 1994, how Congressman Calvert came into office is that he was attacking a number of folks in our community, specifically Congressman Mark Takano, who has was not publicly out at the time but [Calvert] was using his LGBTQ identity in those attack ads. Obviously two decades later Congressman Takano is now an out member of Congress, proudly representing California,” Hoang says.

“But for us, the sweet irony of being able to flip this seat by taking out a member who has been 100% against our community for years and years with someone that is openly LGBTQ is something that we are definitely committed to and pouring a number of resources into. I think on top of that, one thing that we were proud of in the redistricting cycle is given that this district represents the Greater Palm Springs area, and we were really committed to ensuring that we could maximize the political power of LGBTQ voters and our pro-equality allies in this district.”

Hoang says Equality California is also working to win back reproductive rights. “We have been working hand in glove with their partners like Planned Parenthood and as well as others around California because we understand that abortion rights, reproductive rights, are LGBTQ rights. At the end of the day, we are talking about bodily autonomy and privacy. And we know after the Dobs decision, these attacks have been coming for quite some time.”

“But,” he continues, “as shown from the Supreme Court decision, they’re not going to stop with just abortion rights. They’re coming for LGBTQ rights. And for us, it’s important that we stand in solidarity with our partners in the reproductive movement. And so, as part of that, what we are educating quite a lot of California members and our allies about is specifically around Proposition One that would enshrine the right to abortion access and contraception in the California Constitution….And so for me, it’s been heartening to see all of our allies come together in this moment and really fight back against the hate that is out there.”

We also interviewed Christy Smith, candidate for the CA-27 — my second-ever endorsement was for Christy Smith. Christy ran for Katie Hill’s seat after Hill resigned. That race against Mike Garcia was so nail-bitingly close, she ran again. That race was also heartbreakingly close. But Garcia has become a full-throated Trump fanboy, hanging around with cultists like Marjorie Taylor Green. He was among the MAGA Republicans who signed the amicus brief to the US Supreme Court asking them specifically to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Christy Smith, candidate for California Congressional District-27
(Screenshot/YouTube The Time is Now with Karen Ocamb)

“Subsequent to that,” Christy says in our interview, “he’s one of the people who coauthored ‘The Life Begins at Conception Act, which — don’t let them fool you — is their roadmap for a national abortion ban. So, while my opponent now tries to hide in safe spaces and say, ‘Well, abortion is safe in California — why are you so upset?’ Really? They have clearly signaled — and Lindsey Graham the other day just doubled down on the fact that they plan to pursue a national abortion ban. 

“But even aside from that,” she continues, “we should never live in the kind of dystopian country where any person’s rights vary from state to state. And you and I both know — we saw that for a very long time with gay marriage rights in this country, right? Where depending on where you live determines whether or not you can marry the person they love.”

MAGA Republicans in Congress are “very comfortable operating in these spaces where they continue to chip away at fundamental rights to privacy and freedom,” she says. “My opponent is right there on those extremes with these people. And the extremes are where our government is heading.” Mike Garcia also voted against a bipartisan bill authored by Jan. 6 Committee members Reps. Zoe Lofgren from California and Liz Cheney from Wyoming that would help clear up and correct confusion underlying the belief system Trump touts as the “Big Lie.”

My opponent is so extreme, he refused to vote for it,” Christy says. “So, you can’t say that you stand for democracy when you’re literally actively working to take away – not only people’s freedoms  -but the structure of the democratic institutions and the structure that protect those freedoms.”

Flipping this seat is a necessity. 

Christy says that her top priorities if elected would be first addressing the needs of the North Los Angeles County communities she represents, especially transportation issues for commuters.

“We need to work on local and regional economic growth so people aren’t commuting so far to have gainful employment,” she says. “We really need to focus on an investment in our public schools. We are facing a national teacher shortage right now that could really devastate our public schools….If we don’t come to terms with the fact that we have got to pay our teachers better, support them well, and keep politics out of their classroom, it’s really going to be devastating to our kids and our schools.”

Christy is also keen on urgently addressing climate change, which she considers “our biggest national security threat.” 

And,” Christy says, “I agree with Tony. I think the LGBTQ community is next [on the GOP hit list. “That is really important work that we have to do to stem the tide of the very extreme movement that they’re trying to push on America.

“You will always have an ally in me,” she says to our LGBTQ people. “I came to the movement based on the work that my mom did. My mom was a home healthcare nurse and she was doing home health right at the time that the HIV/AIDS crisis gripped the country. And the stories that she would come home and share with me about what gay couples were going through and how their rights were being violated. And they were really left with so little support at a time of great crisis and need in their life. That just affirmed for me that everything that the LGBTQ community goes through are civil rights issues. And if we’re going to get to true equity and parity in this country and have a future that speaks to the needs of everyone, this movement very much needs to continue to have a seat at the table. And that is work that I’m invested in doing. And it’s more than just preaching to it — it’s actually practicing it. So, I’m very proud of the diversity of my team that reflects the Rainbow Coalition and will continue to do so while I’m in public life.”

Go to ChristyforCongress.org to find out more about how to elect Christy Smith to Congress. 
Go here for the first Episode of “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms” with Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez and CA-41 candidate Will Rollins.

Future of Democracy, Abortion Rights and Climate Change | Featuring Tony Hoang & Christy Smith:

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California Politics

Race to the Midterms: Christy Smith & Tony Hoang

Karen Ocamb & Max Huskins along with the Los Angeles Blade present a limited YouTube series “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms”

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By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The unimaginable is happening. Two years ago, Marc Elias, founder of the voting rights and elections-watcher Democracy Docket, warned that “we are one or two elections from losing our democracy.”

Complete and comprehensive voting rights legislation was needed to prevent that. Nothing happened and now several states are running slates of Trump cultist election deniers and MAGA Republican are “flooding the system” with anti-voting lawsuits. “It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” Elias told MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace on Friday.

“The real threat to America’s electoral system is not posed by ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. It is coming from inside the system,” the New York Times Editorial Board wrote Friday, Sept. 23

“All those who value democracy have a role to play in strengthening and supporting the electoral system that powers it, whatever their party. This involves, first, taking the threat posed by election deniers seriously and talking to friends and neighbors about it. It means paying attention to local elections — not just national ones — and supporting candidates who reject conspiracy theories and unfounded claims of fraud. It means getting involved in elections as canvassers or poll watchers or precinct officers….And it means voting, in every race on the ballot and in every election.”

A warranted panic is slowly moving through minority communities across the country — but there is still little concerted national outreach to LGBTQ voters who have our very lives, rights and future at stake in the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections. Not that LGBTQ organizations and candidates don’t want to reach out – it’s just incredibly hard to break through all the news noise.

That’s why we — Karen Ocamb and (ally) Max Huskins — have teamed up with the Los Angeles Blade to produce a limited YouTube series “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms.” Our intention is to bring visibility to candidates and organization leaders and encourage LGBTQ people to get engaged, donate, do whatever they can to ensure a huge turnout for both local and statewide candidates and ballot measures, as well as electing candidates who will keep the US House of Representatives and the US Senate in Democratic hands. 

If MAGA Republicans win, Trump wins and we can kiss our democracy and our freedom goodbye. Think this is an exaggeration? No one really thought the US Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and put politicians in charge of women’s bodies – but they did. The unthinkable is happening. 

Meet Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California. During the height of the AIDS crisis, the disease was perceived to be isolated to the gay community and gay meant “white.” The result was that many people of color avoided seeking prevention and help. Today, California is a minority-majority state and EQCA has a rainbow staff that reflects that. “We really want to make sure that we reflect the diverse communities that we serve, whether that’s around gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity,” Tony says during the Zoom interview. 

Equality California Votes, their new 501.C4 political action committee, just posted their first ad for out gay candidate Will Rollins (see our interview with Will in Episode 1). “Obviously, this is one of the most consequential election cycles in our lifetimes. And if we want to protect the pro-equality majority that we have in the House, that road runs through California. And so, CA-41, the district where Will Rollins is in, is one of the most important congressional flip opportunities in California. His opponent, Congressman Ken Calvert, for 30 years has voted against things like lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, against abortion rights and reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality.” 

It would be a “sweet irony” for LGBTQ voters to turn this red seat blue. 

Tony also talks about working with Planned Parenthood to explain why abortion rights is an LGBTQ issue and the importance of voting for Proposition One on the California ballot.

Tony is our first interview in tomorrow’s show. 

Full disclosure: since I am no longer a journalist, I get to express my own opinions and make endorsements. My first endorsement was for former EQCA executive director Rick Chavez Zbur, who I’ve known forever and who’s now running for the state Assembly. My second-ever endorsement was for Christy Smith

Meet Christy Smith, candidate for the CA-27. Christy ran for Katie Hill’s seat after she resigned. That race against Mike Garcia was so nail-bitingly close, she ran again. That race was also heartbreakingly close. But Garcia has gone from a dullard Republican to a major Trump fanboy, hanging around with cultists like Marjorie Taylor Green. He was among the MAGA Republicans who signed the amicus brief to the US Supreme Court asking them specifically to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

“Subsequent to that,” Christy says in our interview, “he’s one of the people who coauthored ‘The Life Begins at Conception Act, which — don’t let them fool you — is their roadmap for a national abortion ban. So, while my opponent now tries to hide in safe spaces and say, ‘Well, abortion is safe in California — why are you so upset?’ Really? They have clearly signaled — and Lindsey Graham the other day just doubled down on the fact that they plan to pursue a national abortion ban. 

“But even aside from that,” she continues, “we should never live in the kind of dystopian country where any person’s rights vary from state to state. And you and I both know — we saw that for a very long time with gay marriage rights in this country, right? Where depending on where you live determines whether or not you can marry the person they love.”

Flipping this seat is a necessity. 

But one of the aspects about Christy Smith that folks may not know is that she’s a policy nerd – and a policy nerd who likes to get things done. 

Here’s a quick clip of Christ talking about how climate change is a paramount national security issue. Please check back here Sunday for our full Episode 2 show of “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms.”

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California Politics

LGBTQs- reclaim patriotism in the Midterms or lose everything

We must seize our own power & help Democrats win so we have a chance to secure our fundamental Constitutional rights

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By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – LGBTQ+ people – this is not a drill. Be afraid. Be very afraid of what will happen if MAGA Republicans win enough seats in Congress during the Nov. 8 midterm elections to not only block President Biden’s democratic agenda but fulfill their cruel Trumpian fantasies of what America should look like under Christian National white supremacy.

Already Trump Supreme Court justices have indicated that overturning Roe v Wade is just the beginning. MAGA Republicans want government control over decisions by women, transgender and nonbinary people regarding their own identity and bodily autonomy and they want the recriminalization of homosexuality, starting with striking down the fundamental right to marriage equality. 

For people of color, MAGA Republicans have gone way beyond curtailing voting rights. Now just stepping out the door takes courage. This was published by Statista Research Department on Sep 12: “Sadly, the trend of fatal police shootings in the United States seems to only be increasing, with a total 730 civilians having been shot, 71 of whom were Black, as of September 8, 2022. In 2021, there were 1,055 fatal police shootings, and in 2020 there were 1,020 fatal shootings.” The rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity as of September 2022.

It is not hyperbolic to say our democracy — the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the very freedom to live authentic lives —  is on the ballot in the upcoming midterm elections as MAGA Republicans seek power for the sake of power alone – not to create a more perfect union. 

The evidence? 2022 is on track to set a record for the number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures.  NBC News/NBC Out reported: “State lawmakers have proposed a record 238 bills that would limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans this year — or more than three per day — with about half of them targeting transgender people specifically. Nearly 670 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed since 2018, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, with nearly all of the country’s 50 state legislatures all having weighed at least one bill.” 

MAGA Republican Congressmembers often cite state and local data to propose federal action. Consider Republican Rep. Ken Calvert. According to Bloomberg.com, he supported a Texas lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the 2020 election and he objected to the certification of Biden electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Calvert said: “Today I lent my voice to the millions of Americans and my constituents who are deeply concerned by the integrity of the election.” 

However, after redistricting, Calvert now represents Palm Springs, California which has an all-LGBTQ city council and is considered one of the LGBTQ-ist places on earth. They are probably more concerned that – while Calvert may not have the same violent stripes as the rioters who scaled the walls of the US Capitol on Jan. 6 — he’s still an insurrectionist propagandizing Trump’s Big Lie about a stolen election.  

Enter Will Rollins, a brilliant gay former national security prosecutor who is challenging Calvert for that flip-able CA-41 congressional seat. 

Will Rollins is the true patriot here. 

“I was a federal prosecutor for five years in the central district of California, specialized in counterterrorism and counterintelligence and helped prosecute some of the people who attacked the Capitol,” Rollins tells me for a new limited YouTube series about the midterms. “As those of us in federal law enforcement were responding to that attack, my opponent Ken Calvert, was voting to decertify the election, voted against the commission to even investigate the attack. And then, even after it became clear that five police officers had died as a result of the attack, [he] called for dropping charges against the Capitol rioters. I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret not stepping up when our country needed people to challenge those who don’t believe in the rule of law and our Constitution, regardless of political party.”

Rollins has had a lifelong interest in national security, starting as a junior in high school watching the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001. He wanted to join the military but feared being outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He wanted to join the CIA as an Arab linguist but was bad at learning the language.

Eventually, Rollins went to Dartmouth, worked in media relations in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, went to Columbia Law School, clerked for a couple of judges, and got hired as an Assistant Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he got to specialize in national security, including prosecuting a QAnon cultist who tried to attack a hospital ship in the Port of Los Angeles.  

“As those rising threats from domestic extremism cropped up over the last five years, culminating in January 6, it became clear to me that I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines,” Rollin says. 

Also interviewed in “The Time is Now: Racing to the Midterms” is Mark Gonzalez, the out chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party – which lists their endorsed candidates, including down-ballot candidates, on their LACDP.org website. Gonzalez talks about how the Trump census caused California to lose a congressional seat on the Eastside of LA – undercounting 100,000 people. He also talks about why it’s important for men to stand up for the rights of women who are a major target of MAGA Republicans, along with LGBTQ folks, people of color and migrants.   

This is the first time down-ballot races include city races and local propositions that are usually on the ballot in March or June. Gonzalez exhibits his leadership by admitting that LACDP screwed up by endorsing LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in his first election. Villanueva recently displayed a very “Trumpian” move by having scores of deputies execute a questionable search warrant in the early hours at the home of out Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. 

“We made a mistake,” Gonzalez says. “I think what’s crucial to that is when we endorsed the current Sheriff, this was historic for us to endorse somebody who was a Democrat over a hundred and something years and that we made a pivotal change to put somebody in who was and is a Democrat and expressed those values in the Democratic Party, unlike the previous sheriff. Unfortunately, though, this particular sheriff — many of our membership, many Democrats across the county, feel that they’ve been duped…. [Now] he’s been on Republican platforms talking about his agenda.” 

Gonzalez says LACDP now supports Villanueva’s challenger, former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and calls for a ballot measure that gives the LA County Board of Supervisors the power and authority to remove a sheriff for violations of public trust. 

“Election Day starts the first week of October,” he says. “Why is that important? It’s the sixth time that every single California registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail. That’s important because ads are going to ramp up. Folks are going to start to get their ballot in the box and they’re going to look at it and they have literally a month to return it.” The mail-in ballot must be postmarked by Election Day for it to count. 

Despite the stakes, we really haven’t seen a big Get Out The Vote push yet. That’s what Max Huskins and I are producing this limited YouTube series.

We are tired of letting MAGA Republicans stake a claim to “patriotism” as they carry Confederate flags through the US Capitol, looking to “hang” Vice President Mike Pence and “get” Speaker Nancy Pelosi in order to stop the Constitutional peaceful transfer of power and install their fake prince as President. What the hell? Even in junior high school sports, opposing teams line up and shake hands, no matter who wins or loses the game. 

Max and I are regular people with regular jobs — and we’re American patriots, too. That’s why we are reaching out to you, to stand up as an individual patriot who also cherishes this country and what it and you can become. We must all work hard to fight the Trumpification of America and save our democracy. 

And, as an LGBTQ person, I am tired of always being afraid of making some straight person uncomfortable by my mere existence. I am 72 years old and I do not want to die as an official second-class citizen in this country I love.

We LGBTQs must seize our own power and help Democrats win so we, too, have a chance to secure our fundamental Constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Who is fighting for your LGBTQ+ rights in the midterms?

    

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