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Endorsement: Sydney Kamlager is the right choice for California state Senate

Sydney Kamlager seated inside the California state Capitol.
California Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), seated, is among seven candidates for an open state Senate seat.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Under any circumstances, rookie California legislators have a steep learning curve to climb before they can hope to get much done in Sacramento. It takes a while to build the relationships and forge the alliances necessary to pass legislation, to hire a solid support staff and to carve out a policy niche.

But the curve is steeper still for newbies joining the California Assembly or Senate midsession, without the support and camaraderie of a freshman class. That’s what the winner of the upcoming special election for the 30th state Senate District will face, and it is one reason — but only one of many — that the best choice in this race is Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

As a member of the Assembly since 2018 and chair of the Los Angeles legislative delegation, Kamlager has already made crucial political connections and has proved her ability to work effectively within the labyrinthine apparatus of the California Legislature. We are confident that she will be able to step into this seat and immediately get to work, unlike the other candidates in the race.

Kamlager is one of the seven people running to fill this seat, left vacant when Holly Mitchell won election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in November. Ballots for the March 2 primary have already been sent out to voters in this district, which stretches from South Los Angeles to downtown, and west to Mar Vista and Culver City. And if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes cast, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff May 4.

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Ideally Kamlager will win outright in the primary and save the district from a runoff election (though it would trigger another special election in the overlapping Assembly District 54). She’s by far the best qualified candidate, and that won’t change in two months’ time. Kamlager is an astute and considered policymaker who understands the complexities involved and the issues facing the communities in this district, the region and the state during this uniquely challenging time.

Before joining the Assembly, Kamlager worked as district director for Mitchell, first in the Assembly and then in the Senate. We endorsed Kamlager in 2015 for her first elected position on the Los Angeles Community College District board because of her deep understanding of how community colleges fit into the political and educational ecosystems.

Kamlager skews progressive, though not radically so. She supports the state’s climate change goals and the Green New Deal, and was a coauthor of a landmark plastic packaging reduction bill. She’s an advocate for more housing, but not at the expense of the Black and Latino neighborhoods in her district. A case in point is her opposition last year to SB 1120 by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), a bill that would have allowed duplexes on all single-family lots. It took courage to vote no on a bill carried by the leader of a body whose cooperation you need to get anything passed.

But she’s had the most impact so far working on police accountability and criminal justice reform, which are issues central to a large portion of the district she represents in the Assembly and hopes to represent in the Senate. Among the bills she has sponsored are a lower cap on probation terms for most offenses and a pilot program to shift emergency response services away from police and toward community-based organizations.

There is another impressive candidate in this race: Daniel Lee, a member of the City Council in Culver City. In his three years in that role he was instrumental in passing the city’s first rent control measure and started important conversations about police accountability. Lee is a more progressive Democrat than Kamlager but pragmatic as well, and we think he would make a fine legislator.

We briefly considered endorsing Lee over Kamlager with the reasoning that his victory would allow both to serve in the Legislature. Kamlager hasn’t given up her Assembly seat and won’t be termed out for another decade. But ultimately we decided that the question before voters isn’t about the ideal composition of the Legislature, but which of the seven candidates is the best for the district. Without question, that person is Kamlager.


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