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Karen Bass & her LGBTQ staff discuss commitment to equity & justice

“Diversity is something you have to do consciously,” Bass said. “I always look at my staff and [ask myself] ‘who’s missing?’

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Karen Bass with campaign staff, supporters, and former California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (Photo by LeRoy Hamilton)

LOS ANGELES – U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), a leading candidate to become the next mayor of the city Los Angeles, has hired LGBTQ+ folks with diverse backgrounds to leadership positions on her Congressional staff and in her mayoral campaign because of “their dedication to fighting for social and economic justice,” Bass told the Los Angeles Blade over the phone Thursday morning. 

“Diversity is something you have to do consciously,” she said. “I always look at my staff and [ask myself] ‘who’s missing?’ to make sure we have representation. I think it’s really important to approach it that way.” 

Meanwhile three senior members of Bass’s staff, all of whom identify as LGBTQ+ – Senior Advisor and Policy Director Joey Freeman, Campaign Manager Jenny Delwood, and Chief of Staff Darryn Harris — spoke to The Blade about their personal relationships with the Congresswoman. 

They also highlighted what they described as a throughline in Bass’s adherence to principles of equity and justice, beginning with her early career as a nurse and physicians’ assistant through to her candidacy for mayor of Los Angeles. 

Bass is slated to square off against billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso in the November 8 election to replace term-limited incumbent Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The two candidates advanced from the June 7 primary elections, having each received less than 50% of the vote. 

A longtime ally of the LGBTQ+ community, Bass kicked off her “LGBTQ+ for Bass affinity group” Wednesday night at the historic Black Cat restaurant in Silver Lake.

Bass has been a mentor to the next generation of LGBTQ+ leaders on her staff.

When it comes to her staff, Bass said, “I see my role as helping to develop their leadership and helping to support them however I can.” 

“I was able to be my full self here; fully black, fully gay,” said Harris, Bass’s chief of staff, who has known the Congresswoman for his entire adult life and served in multiple positions before being appointed to lead her congressional office. 

“When you have a boss who’s that supportive of you, it helps in so many different ways,” he said. “Not only with the work we do, but also it was one of the things that helped deepen our friendship and deepen our mutual trust, because I was able to bring my whole self to work.”

Delwood, Bass’s campaign manager, has also known the Congresswoman for more than a decade and served in multiple positions before her appointment to lead her mayoral campaign. As a human being, as a professional, and as a lesbian, Delwood said Bass has embraced every part of who she is. 

“The Congresswoman has been not only a boss, but also a mentor,” Delwood said. “I started working for her as a fellow/intern in 2007 in the California Assembly, and she and I have built a very strong relationship over the years. She is part of my extended family, now.”

Jenny Delwood, pictured right, with Bass (center) officiating her wedding to wife Christine
(Photo courtesy of Jenny Delwood)

Beginning with her early career in healthcare, Bass has been an ally of the LGBTQ+ community

“When I went to school to be a physicians’ assistant in the early 1980s,” Bass said, the virus that would become known as HIV/AIDS began to emerge, disproportionately impacting gay men. “It was unbelievable, in the first few years of the epidemic, how [badly] these patients were treated,” she said. 

In her work treating patients, and as a full-time clinical instructor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Bass pushed for better treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, practicing what she preached. 

“From that time on, she’s been standing for and with the community,” said Freeman, Bass’s senior advisor and policy director, who identifies as gay. 

“She was on the ground floor of the HIV AIDS epidemic,” Delwood said, “providing medical care for people with HIV/AIDS when folks were steering clear of and being discriminatory [against those who were positive].” From those early days of her career, Delwood said, “Congresswoman Bass has been in deep solidatiry with the LGBTQ community.”

“It wasn’t just gay men with HIV,” said Zach Seidl, Bass’s communications advisor, “but trans folks, too.”  In the best of cases, doctors would greet HIV/AIDS patients in hazmat suits; in the worst, refusing treatment, Seidl said. Bass, meanwhile, insisted she needed to help them, he added.   

Bass believes in consulting people who will be directly impacted by policy

Policymakers often speak with subject matter experts without consulting those who will be directly impacted, Bass said. It’s an oversight the Congresswoman has been careful to avoid. 

For example, Bass told the Blade she visited a federal prison yesterday morning to hand out copies of draft legislation that concerns women in the criminal justice system, inviting incarcerated women to read and share comments or input by email. 

This will extend to her work as mayor, Freeman said. If elected, Bass will be charged with selecting staff, commission members, and general manager appointments, roles where she will ensure LGBTQ+ people are well represented, because this is how she prefers to govern – by consulting with people who are directly affected by policy. 

Working so closely with Congresswoman Bass, “I have the opportunity to see that every single day,” Harris said, “Ordinary people influencing public policy at state, federal, and – soon – the citywide level” under her leadership. 

Bass believes the most effective way to create lasting change is to work with community members and to bring forward solutions that are community driven, Delwood agreed. “In order to actually solve homelessness or address crime in LA or deal with our lack of affordable housing, it’s imperative” to work with a variety of stakeholders from the community as well as in the county, state, and federal government, she said. 

Bass and her staff have big plans to address problems afflicting Los Angelinos 

“I could have stayed in Congress to fight for a leadership spot,” said Bass, who was reported as a front runner for President Joe Biden’s vice president during his 2020 electoral campaign. But there are crises in Los Angeles, she said, pointing to the latest figures on the city’s unhoused population as an example. 

Bass Policy Director Joey Freeman (Middle) and Campaign Manager Jenny Delwood (far right)
(Photo by LeRoy Hamilton)

It was the second time in her career that Bass was faced with such a decision, she said. “I was a full-time faculty member of the medical school” when Los Angeles began to experience a crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

“I was mortified at how the city was responding to crack cocaine and gang issues,” Bass said. “These were health, social, and economic issues, but the response of policymakers was to criminalize everything and everyone in South LA.”

Leaving USC, Bass formed the Community Coalition and began her work as a community organizer. “I worked to prevent the city from locking everyone up, and to steer people away from gangs,” the Congresswoman said. “And then I looked for how we organize people to fight for drug treatment instead of incarceration for those who were addicted.” 

Likewise, Bass said, the current moment calls for coalition building and working across the government to improve the lives of Angelenos and effectuate just policymaking for, especially, vulnerable communities.

Members of Bass’s staff pointed to how the Congresswoman could be particularly effective as mayor on issues of homelessness, LGBTQ+ rights, child welfare reform, foster care reform, housing affordability, and violence against Black trans people. 

“Forty percent of young people on the streets are LGBTQ+,” said Delwood. “Being able to address that is a top priority of the congresswoman as well as our entire team.” Many children land in the foster care system because of discrimination over their sexual orientation or gender identities, she said, and while LGBTQ+ adoptive or foster parents are greeted with “open arms” in LA, such is not the case in many other parts of the country. 

As Mayor, in coordination with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Bass will be able to champion foster youth, reform the child welfare system, and prove to the rest of the country how successful LGBTQ adoptive and foster parents can be, Delwood said. 

Freeman agreed. There is a lot of overlap, he said, with issues concerning the foster care system, with high rates of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth, with the housing crisis. “What we need to do to address homelessness and prevent future homelessness is to tackle the root cause,” Freeman said. “Are LGBTQ  youth receiving the support they need?”  

Congresswoman Bass “has deep relationships with folks here, in DC, and in Sacramento, so when you’re dealing with challenges in LA, she knows how to go in there and how to pool the resources in order to solve them,” Harris said. 

Harris highlighted Bass’s community organizing and coalition building roots, arguing she is the best candidate to represent all of Los Angeles as the city’s mayor.

One issue Harris said he is eager to see Bass’s leadership in addressing is the high rates of murder and violent crime against members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly Black trans people. “I’m excited to see how she would be able to ensure that they are safe, tracking some of those federal dollars to ensure that they have protections against domestic and sexual violence,” he said.

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California Politics

Out candidate for California’s 41st Congressional seat; Dems best hope

First-time candidate is aiming to unseat an Republican incumbent who has represented the region in the House for the last three decades

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Bob Blake (L) Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton (C) with Will Rollins (R) at a recent campaign event (Photo courtesy of the Rollins campaign)

PALM SPRINGS – Approaching a midterm election season widely expected to favor Republicans to make gains in the Congress, national Democrats are attempting to preserve their narrow majorities on Capitol Hill.

Nestled in the Coachella Valley, they see California’s newly drawn 41st Congressional District and progressive Democratic candidate Will Rollins as one of their best shots at doing so.

Rollins, a first-time candidate for elected federal office, is aiming to unseat Republican incumbent Ken Calvert, who has represented the region in the U.S. House of Representatives for the last three decades.

A former federal prosecutor who focused on counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases in Southern California, Rollins has crafted a campaign platform centered around ousting government corruption and partisan rhetoric he sees as the roots of both harmful and destabilizing conspiracy theories, as well as supporting his opponent Calvert’s tenure in office.

“I think they really appreciate the contrast of somebody who has worked in law enforcement, has gone after corruption, who’s going to take it to somebody who is really about keeping himself in power and enriching himself more than serving the rest of us,” Rollins said.

That contrast, along with the heightened competitiveness of the race following 2020 Census redistricting, has driven the Democratic National Campaign Committee to place CA-41 on its Red to Blue program to provide Rollins with additional support to flip the seat.

While what he sees as Calvert’s affinity for corruption as harmful to constituents, Rollins is seeking to highlight such a reason for voters to consider a shift.

“I think people understand that that corruption affects their daily lives,” Rollins said. “Because if you are willing to put the interests of the gun lobby and the interests of the oil and gas lobby ahead of your own voters because that’s who lines your pockets, then you’re not going to deliver for communities.”

Following former President Trump’s defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Calvert voted to reject election college votes from multiple states when Congress met to certify Biden’s election on Jan. 6, 2021.

Having helped to prosecute members of the insurgent rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Rollins has also sought to combat conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election and Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, that he feels Calvert has promoted and that foreign adversaries could use to their advantage.

“We, as Americans, all have a responsibility to reject those efforts and to think about how we can strengthen our defenses and our democracy in the 21st century,” Rollins said.

But issues of corruption are not the only points of divergence between the two candidates.

Calvert had previously maintained support in what was a reliably conservative Republican district prior to redistricting in part by opposing LGBTQ rights. His record has included voting for legislation such as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as between one man and one woman at a federal level.

Calvert also voted against the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which included an amendment that would repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays and lesbians serving in the military. The NDAA ultimately passed the House in a 229 to 186 vote. 

In contrast, Rollins has been open about his identity as a gay man and has campaigned alongside his partner.

Having experienced a national atmosphere currently rife with federal and state legislative animus toward the greater American LGBTQ community, Rollins feels his identity has helped him to see what can be possible.

“I think the experience gives me and has given me the optimism to know that the country can change and that your family can change and that your friends can change all for the better,” Rollins said. “And seeing that progress gives me hope for our country’s future.”

Over the course of the campaign, he has criticized Calvert for his past voting history, including Calvert’s vote against the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that added crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and disability expanding federal statutes.

“These kinds of votes are so inconsistent with what southern Californians want that I think folks have been excited to see somebody who’s able to beat Ken Calvert,” Rollins said.

As the political geography of Calvert’s district has been altered, the congressman has voted in ways that suggest a move toward more moderate stances. Just last month, Calvert was one of 47 House Republicans to vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal the federal DOMA he once supported and codify same-sex marriage into federal law.

Calvert told the Los Angeles Times in a mid-July interview that his views on matters such as the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the right to same-sex marriage, have evolved.

“It wasn’t always my position,” Calvert told the Times. “It’s a different country than it was 30 years ago.”

Calvert went on to assert his stance that he has harbored no negative feelings toward members of the community.

“I’ve never had any animosity to the gay community,” Calvert told the Times. “I come out of the restaurant business, for goodness’ sake. A lot of people who worked with me were gay.”

The balancing of the playing field regarding LGBTQ+ issues, in part responsible for Calvert’s evolving views or not, is something that Rollins sees as an opportunity.

“Having Democrats outnumber Republicans for the first time ever against Calvert since he was first elected in ’92 has been a huge opportunity for the party and, I think, part of the reason that I’ve been able to set so many fundraising records against this guy, too.”

The prospect of a Rollins success in flipping the seat has already garnered the former prosecutor financial and campaign support from prominent players in progressive California politics including former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and outgoing San Francisco Democratic U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier.

According to campaign finance filings, this support gained Rollins almost $1.5 million by the end of June, with nearly $480,000 from the LGBTQ Victory Fund Equality PAC which has endorsed his candidacy.

“As anti-LGBTQ bills flood legislatures across the country, voters will have the opportunity to elect someone who has made it his life’s work to increase equity in his community and fight for justice and accountability,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a statement. “As a federal prosecutor, Will tackled tough cases and won, including helping prosecute multiple insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. This grit is exactly what we need in Congress at a time of heightened attacks on democracy, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom.”

Even with increased fundraising, including having been the first challenger to outraise Calvert in a quarterly campaign finance disclosure filing, Rollins still faces a well-resourced incumbent with donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars from national conservative PACs aimed at restoring Republican control of the U.S. House in November.

Approaching the Fall midterm elections, Rollins remains stalwart in his belief that his staunch departure from 30 years of Calvert and his track record will encourage voters of California’s 41st District to believe in him.

“The election’s really not, in November, about Democrat versus Republican,” Rollins said. “In a lot of ways, it’s about integrity versus corruption, and I think that that message has really resonated with people especially because of my own background.”

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California Politics

Californians will be able to sue those responsible for illegal guns

Modeled on Texas’ abortion law upheld by SCOTUS, California will allow individuals to sue for damages those spreading illegal guns

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California Governor Newsom visits Santa Monica College to sign SB 1327 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SANTA MONICA – At Santa Monica College, the site of a mass shooting that claimed the lives of six people including the gunman in 2013, Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed the nation’s first legislation allowing individuals to sue those spreading illegal guns as California continues to ramp up its gun safety protections.

SB 1327, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-San Fernando Valley), allows Californians to sue those making, selling, transporting or distributing illegal assault weapons and ghost guns – guns made at home to avoid tracing – for damages of at least $10,000 per weapon involved. The same damages are also available against gun dealers who illegally sell firearms to those under 21 years of age. The legislation is modeled after Texas’ wrongheaded anti-abortion bill, SB 8, which places $10,000 bounties on doctors, providers and others involved in providing life-saving abortion care.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the Texas law last fall, Governor Newsom called on the California legislature to pass a similar bill to add a new tool to California’s gun safety toolkit.

“Our message to the criminals spreading illegal weapons in California is simple: you have no safe harbor here in the Golden State. While the Supreme Court rolls back reasonable gun safety measures, California continues adding new ways to protect the lives of our kids. California will use every tool at its disposal to save lives, especially in the face of an increasingly extreme Supreme Court,” said Governor Newsom.

The Governor spoke at Santa Monica College, the site of a mass shooting that took the lives of six people in 2013, including the gunman. The 2013 shooting involved an unserialized AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle built by the shooter using legally purchased components, a ghost gun that would be subject to lawsuit once SB 1327 is law.

“For the sake of our children, this is a common sense step toward ensuring California streets, schools and communities continue to be among the safest in the nation,” Senator Hertzberg said after the Governor signed SB 1327 into law.

“Today is a momentous day for California,” said Mia Tretta, a gun violence survivor and volunteer with Students Demand Action. “SB 1327 will make it easier for victims of ghost gun violence, like me, to help enforce our gun laws. It will save lives by attacking the illegal ghost gun industry.”

“While some politicians put up roadblocks or say nothing can be done, here in California we are once again proving we can take on the gun lobby and protect our communities,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “With these new laws, California is protecting life, safety, and freedom. We have the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, and one of the lowest firearm mortality rates. This is not a coincidence. More guns do not make us safer — laws like these do. Period. I am committed to enforcing our commonsense gun safety laws, and keeping weapons of war off our streets and out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

“The continued need to adopt sensible solutions to our nation’s tragic history of gun violence is dire and necessary,” said Senator Anthony Portantino. “That includes SB 1327 – which I am proud to jointly author with Senator Hertzberg. I am grateful to Governor Newsom for his partnership on this important bill that will keep our communities safe and improve public safety for all Californians. If Texas can outrageously use this type of law to attack a woman’s reproductive freedom, we can do the same thing in California to hold gun dealers accountable for their actions.”

California Governor Newsom visits Santa Monica College
(Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

“Untraceable ghost guns purchased without background checks have fueled gun violence throughout California and the nation and for far too long,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action and California resident. “Thanks to leadership by gun sense lawmakers and relentless advocacy from our grassroots army, California continues to lead the nation in taking life saving action to combat ghost guns.”

California’s gun safety policies save lives and provide a national model for other states to follow. According to the Giffords Law Center, in 2021, California was ranked as the top state in the nation for gun safety. As California strengthened its gun laws, the state saw a 37 percent lower gun death rate than the national average. Meanwhile, other states such as Florida and Texas, with lax gun regulations, saw double-digit increases in the rate of gun deaths. As a result of the actions taken by California, the state has cut its gun death rate in half and Californians are 25 percent less likely to die in a mass shooting compared to people in other states.

Last month, Governor Newsom announced a record $156 million in gun violence prevention grants provided as part of the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program (CalVIP). The funding will support 79 cities and nonprofit organizations that are implementing anti-violence programs suited to the unique needs of their local communities.

A recent study from the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis found that California’s red flag law was used to stop 58 threatened mass shootings.

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California Politics

Newsom signs new laws to protect Californians from gun violence

Laws to improve school safety, restrict gun possession by people convicted of child/elder abuse, & better regulate the sale of firearms

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Moving to bolster California’s nation-leading gun safety laws, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he has signed additional legislation to protect Californians, including measures to improve school campus safety, restrict gun possession by people convicted of child abuse or elder abuse, and better regulate the sale of firearms.

Governor Newsom recently signed AB 1594, which allows the state, local governments and Californians to sue irresponsible gunmakers for the harm caused by their products, as well as AB 2571, which prohibits marketing of firearms to minors, and AB 1621 to further restrict ghost guns. The Governor has also sponsored SB 1327, private right of action legislation to limit the spread of assault weapons and ghost guns.

“California has the toughest gun safety laws in the nation, but none of us can afford to be complacent in tackling the gun violence crisis ravaging our country,” said Governor Newsom. “These new measures will help keep children safe at school, keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and responsibly regulate the sale of firearms in our communities. California will continue to lead on lifesaving polices that provide a model for action by other states and the nation.”

A full list of today’s bills is below:

  • AB 228 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino) – Requires the Department of Justice, beginning January 1, 2024, to conduct inspections of dealers at least every three years, except for a dealer whose place of business is located in a jurisdiction that has adopted an inspection program.  
  • AB 311 by Assemblymember Christopher Ward (D-San Diego) – Prohibits the sale of firearm precursor parts on the property of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the Del Mar Fairgrounds. 
  • AB 1769 by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) – Prohibits the sale of any firearm, firearm precursor part, or ammunition on the property of the 31st District Agricultural Association, the Ventura County Fair and Event Center. 
  • AB 1842 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino) – Prohibits licensed firearms dealers from charging more than 5 percent of the purchase price of the firearm as a restocking or other return-related fee when the purchase of the firearm is canceled by the buyer within 10 days of the application, with an exception for special order firearms. 
  • AB 2156 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) – Expands the prohibitions on the manufacture of firearms without a state license including reducing the number of guns a person may manufacture without a license and prohibiting the use of a three-dimensional printer to manufacture any firearm without a license.
  • AB 2239 by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego) – Creates a 10-year prohibition on the possession of firearms for individuals convicted of child abuse or elder abuse.
  • SB 906 by Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) – Requires local educational agencies to annually provide information to parents about California’s child access prevention laws and laws relating to the safe storage of firearms; requires school officials to report to law enforcement any threat or perceived threat of a homicidal act; and requires law enforcement or the school police to conduct an investigation and threat assessment, including a review of the Department of Justice’s firearm registry and a search of the school and/or student’s property by law enforcement or school police, if certain conditions are met.
  • SB 915 by Senator Dave Min (D-Costa Mesa) – Prohibits the sale of firearms, firearm precursor parts and ammunition on state property, as specified.

According to the Giffords Law Center, in 2021, California was ranked as the top state in the nation for gun safety. As California strengthened its gun laws, the state saw a 37 percent lower gun death rate than the national average. Meanwhile, other states such as Florida and Texas, with lax gun regulations, saw double-digit increases in the rate of gun deaths. As a result of the actions taken by California, the state has cut its gun death rate in half and Californians are 25 percent less likely to die in a mass shooting compared to people in other states.

Last month, Governor Newsom announced a record $156 million in gun violence prevention grants provided as part of the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program (CalVIP). The funding will support 79 cities and nonprofit organizations that are implementing anti-violence programs suited to the unique needs of their communities.

More information on California’s nation-leading gun safety policies can be found here

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