Eleven people are vying for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Janice Hahn, who is running for a spot on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Two of the 11 stand out from the rest: state Sen. Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) and Nanette Barragán, an attorney and former member of the Hermosa Beach City Council.
Both are solid Democrats in a solidly Democratic district. Both grew up in and remain connected to the 44th district, which stretches from the working-class cities of South Gate and Compton to the oil refineries of Wilmington and the Port of L.A. And both have public-service resumes that suggest they are far better prepared for the House of Representatives than the rest of the field.
But only Barragán has demonstrated the integrity, courage and commitment to the environment that this industrial district needs. Voters should choose her on June 7.
Barragán has an up-from-the-bootstraps story that certainly resonates in this district: from the hardscrabble streets of Carson to the halls of UCLA and USC law school, to a White House internship and a job at one of Los Angeles' top law firms, Latham & Watkins. Her accomplishments were earned, not bestowed. Even her political opponents concede that her intellect and policy chops are impressive. And her legislative priorities — the environment, education and jobs — are clear.
Barragán has demonstrated that she can get things done in a short time. In her less than two-year career on the Hermosa Beach City Council, she led efforts to block oil drilling in the small city and pushed through a citywide plastic bag ban. Her record has won her the support of two powerful environmental advocacy groups, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.
Practically everyone else in the state's Democratic political establishment, however, is backing Hall. This is not because he's a demonstrably better candidate, but because of his longevity in politics. Hall has held elected office for 15 years, climbing from the Compton school board and city council to the state Legislature. That might mean something to party operatives, but voters should ask what more he has done than win elections.
The answer is in Hall's record as a state legislator, particularly his years as one of the self-styled “moderate Democrats” in the Assembly who consistently opposed crucial climate change policy and tougher gun laws. For example, Hall did not join his colleagues in calling on the federal government to halt offshore drilling leases, or vote for a statewide ban on plastic bags, or a moratorium on fracking. His consistency was rewarded by the oil lobby, and he is one of the top recipients of donations from oil interests. Other big donors to his campaigns are casinos and gambling interests, tobacco companies and the alcohol lobby.
If Hall's votes were guided by a deep-rooted political conviction, that would be one thing. But he took an unexplained left turn after moving to the state Senate in December 2014. There he supported issues he once opposed, notably tougher gun laws and last year's landmark climate change bill, SB 350. Perhaps it's an intellectual evolution by Hall, but it raises questions about what his real priorities are.
By comparison, the biggest knock on Barragán is that she recently lived in Hermosa Beach, which is outside the 44th district. Federal law doesn't require members of the House to live in their districts; even so, Barragán has moved her residence to San Pedro, at the southern end of the district. More important to voters, she has historic ties to the district where she was born and raised, and where her family still calls home. Barragán does have challenges she must overcome if elected. On the Hermosa Beach City Council she displayed sharp elbows and an impatience that won't serve her well on Capitol Hill. But those are minor flaws compared with the major red flags of her main opponent.