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Opinion

Endorsement: Christy Smith is the best choice to replace Katie Hill in Congress

State Assemblywoman Christy Smith
State Assemblywoman Christy Smith
(Los Angeles Times)

After up-and-coming Democratic Rep. Katie Hill resigned from her 25th Congressional District seat in October amid a swirl of scandalous allegations and leaked photos, more than a dozen candidates lined up to replace her in the Santa Clarita-area district.

Among them are Steve Knight, the Republican former congressman whom Hill unseated in the 2018 blue wave, and a number of local grass-roots candidates, as well two relatively well-known political figures from outside the district: George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign advisor convicted of lying to the FBI during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, and Cenk Uygur, the fiery progressive founder of the Young Turks online talk show.

But the best choice voters can make is the candidate whom many of them already have voted for: Christy Smith, a low-key but effective member of the California Assembly and former school board member. Smith is a centrist, pragmatic Democrat who in just a year in the state Legislature has distinguished herself as an elected official more interested in pushing good policy than playing politics, something we’d like to see more often in Congress. We recommend that voters choose her on March 3, and that they do so twice.

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Why twice? Because — bizarrely — there are two concurrent elections for the seat on the March 3 ballot. The first is a special election for someone to fill out the remaining months of Hill’s current term, and the second is the primary for the regularly scheduled election for the two-year term that begins in 2021. Voters don’t have to choose the same person in both elections, but they ought to for the sake of continuity.

In a sense, Smith has been preparing for this job since she got involved with student politics at Santa Clarita’s Hart High School. After getting her undergraduate degree at UCLA, Smith moved to Washington to do policy work at the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration. She and her husband returned to Santa Clarita after the birth of her first daughter, and Smith continued to advocate on local education issues, including starting a nonprofit to raise funds for school technology while a stay-at-home mom. And in 2009, Smith was elected to her first term on the Newhall School District board, where she served until she was elected to the state Legislature in 2018.

Smith is not a part of the progressive left that is pushing for dramatic changes in Washington, and she’s certainly not a carbon copy of Katie Hill (though Hill has endorsed her). Smith’s appeal is that she spends her time crafting policy and working with colleagues to get it passed. A good example is AB 1507, one proposal in a package of bills to improve regulation and oversight of charter schools. A number of the other, more politically motivated bills in the package were clearly meant to obstruct new charter schools, but Smith’s was a sincere and sensible policy fix that stopped a sketchy money-making practice by small school districts to approve charters outside their boundaries. Nevertheless it was a tough political fight and one that the first-term legislator won.

As for the higher-profile candidates whom we aren’t endorsing, Mike Garcia, a real estate businessman and former Navy pilot, is the Los Angeles County Republican Party’s pick despite the fact that Knight is also in the race. Garcia’s lack of relevant experience in government or politics suggests that he will not have the ability to rise above the party line when it comes to making important decisions for the nation. Papadopoulos, who is running only in the race for the full two-year term, seems more interested in hawking his new book than campaigning. Uygur is seeking the seat to further the progressive agenda he has promoted on his show. But while we agree with him about the corrupting influence of money in politics and some other subjects, we find his pugnacious style off-putting and not conducive to a more civil Congress.

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One of the lesser-known candidates shows a lot of political promise: Aníbal Valdez Ortega, a thoughtful young lawyer from the Antelope Valley who impressed us with his energy, intellect and accomplishments. We hope he continues to seek elective office. But in this race, Smith is the best candidate. Vote for her on March 3, and do it two times.


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