It is rare for state legislative candidates to get national media attention, but there was West Hollywood attorney Sandra Fluke on MSNBC the other day, talking about the challenges of being a woman running for the California Senate.
It was one of several such appearances Fluke has made since she was thrust into the spotlight in 2012. That's when conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" for testifying before Congress that health insurers should pay for contraception.
Fluke is hoping to translate her national profile as a women's-rights heroine — and her support from feminist leaders including Gloria Steinem and California NOW — into victory in this year's election for the 26th Senate District seat.
The coastal, heavily Democratic district is now occupied by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who is leaving it to compete in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).
"She had 15 minutes of fame. I'm not sure you can translate that into a Senate seat," said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge. "It will probably help some, but voters tend to reward candidates who have accomplished things at the local level."
Fluke's six Democratic rivals in the June 3 primary include former state Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, Santa Monica-Malibu school board member Ben Allen, Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth and Patric Verrone, a former president of the Writers Guild of America who has written for TV shows including "The Simpsons" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
Not surprisingly, the contest in a district that includes Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades is one of the most expensive legislative races in the state this year. The candidates and independent supporters have so far poured more than $3.2 million into the race.
Howorth leads in fundraising, having brought in $543,000, with Fluke and Allen trailing her with $438,000 and $395,000, respectively.
Fluke, 33, is listed on the ballot as "social justice attorney." She said she decided to use her national spotlight to speak out and work for women's rights and other issues, and her campaign for the Senate includes support for pay equity between the sexes, early childhood education, paid family leave and a living wage for fast-food workers.
"In order to get all of those accomplished, we need the system working the way it is supposed to, so I think actually the first thing that I would focus on in Sacramento is on ethics and campaign finance reform," said Fluke, who graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2012 and moved back into the district, residing in West Hollywood.
She supports a proposed ban on campaign fundraising during the last 100 days of the legislative session.
Howorth, 49, has been on the Manhattan Beach City Council for three years and served for eight years on the city's school board.
"I want to do things that make a difference for people's everyday lives, and that goes to everything from creating more jobs, making schools better and cutting out some of the wasteful aspects of government," she said.
She opposes the state's high-speed rail system, saying it doesn't make sense to spend $68 billion so people can get to San Francisco in 21/2 hours when it sometimes takes that long to cross Los Angeles.
"So I would like to spend some money on the public transportation system in Los Angeles," she said.
Allen, 36, has served for six years on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board and previously was a student serving on the UC Board of Regents. The environment and education, including expanded programs for pre-kindergarten, are top priorities for him.
One proposal he would make if elected would provide top high school students with a free ride at state universities in exchange for a commitment to teach for five years in California.
"I would love to see the California State University [system] put in place an initiative to help bring more of our best and brightest into the teaching profession," Allen said.
Verrone, 54, a television writer and attorney, lives in Pacific Palisades. His priorities include "getting the middle class back on its feet in Southern California." That means promoting high-tech jobs and extending Hollywood tax credits to post-production, visual effects and sound companies, he said.
"That's not necessarily where these incentives have been focused," he said.
A former president of the Writer's Guild of America who took members through a strike in 2007, he supports access to preschool for more children and efforts to get more college students to take science, math and foreign-language classes to meet the needs of the economy.
Vito Imbasciani, 67, said his work as a surgeon in Los Angeles means he would bring healthcare expertise to Sacramento as the state implements the Affordable Care Act.
"I've treated thousands of people in the district, so I understand the troubles that people have in both affording and gaining access to quality healthcare," the Democrat said.
The top surgeon for the California National Guard, Imbasciani has served four tours of duty in the Middle East and is interested in veterans' issues. His other priorities include affordable access to college and expansion of pre-kindergarten classes to children as young as 31/2.
Butler has lived in the district for 26 years and served two years in the Assembly. She had 14 bills signed into law, including measures involving veterans, the elderly and consumer safety issues.
"I would like to go back and continue working on those issues, as well as some of the other more pressing issues for the state, including water, education and transportation matters," said the Marina del Rey resident.
Butler, 50, a former director of development for Consumer Attorneys of California, said education needs a consistent funding source, which should include money the state charges polluters in its cap-and-trade system.
Democrat Barbi S. Appelquist, 37, is an attorney at an entertainment law firm. She wants to improve public safety and expand tax credits for the film industry.
She would provide more tax incentives to productions that film in parts of California outside Los Angeles County area and believes credits should also be offered to post-production firms that keep jobs in the state.
"I'm worried that we could become the next Detroit in that [a] major industry, filmmaking, is leaving our state quickly," said Appelquist, a Santa Monica resident.
The lone no-party-preference candidate in the race is Seth Stodder of Redondo Beach, who teaches counterterrorism law at USC.
"My campaign is very much focused on the need to build coalitions across party lines," said Stodder, 43.
His endorsers include former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, and former state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, a Democrat. He would increase funding for schools and universities.
"We do need to focus on making sure that every kid has the best teachers in the classroom, which means recruiting, keeping and paying well our best teachers, and making sure that the grossly ineffective ones … are quickly removed from the classrooms," Stodder said.