MAIN LIBRARY — Education and affordable housing were the leading topics in a Santa Monica Democrats Club debate to fill the State Senate seat of Ted Lieu (D-Santa Monica), who is currently running for Congress.
Ben Allen won the club’s endorsement by a landslide, taking 71 percent of the vote. Sandra Fluke and Betsy Butler tied for second, each receiving 14 percent. Vito Imbasciani received one percent.
Five candidates and a campaign manager squared off, taking a few minutes to introduce themselves and then answering questions from the club and audience.
Allen is a Board of Education member at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. He’s a graduate of Santa Monica High School and the only Democratic candidate born and raised in the city.
In his introduction, Allen highlighted his work in education and said he is passionate about the environment, affordable housing, and — the magic word — development issues.
“I’ve stood with so many of you on over-development issues in Santa Monica,” he said, speaking rapidly before an audience of more than 50.
Butler, who was elected to the State Assembly in 2010 but lost to former Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom in 2012 after redistricting, said that her time in office focused on veterans issues, elder care, environmental justice, and consumer product safety.
Fluke, a legislative advocate and reproductive rights activist, emphasized her grass roots experience and progressive ideals.
Imbasciani, a urological surgeon and former medical officer in the U.S. Army, noted that he supports campaign finance reform and a bullet train that would run up and down the West Coast.
“You will hear no difference among us if you ask us questions on fracking, drought, women’s reproductive rights, educational funding, and job creation,” he said.
Patrick Verrone, who’s written on The Simpsons, Futurama, and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, pointed to his time as a union head of the Writers Guild of America, West during the 2007 writers strike.
His goal, he said three times, is to “fight for the middle class.”
Matt Leighty spoke on behalf of Barbi Alquist, who had a work engagement.
When asked about affordable housing funding, which is disappearing with the dissolution of the redevelopment agencies, Fluke said she’d push for changes to a 1978 amendment to the California constitution that limited property taxes.
“This all comes down to reform of Prop 13,” she said. “That’s how we’re going to make progress on every one of our priorities because they all take resources to get there.”
One state bill, which gives developers an incentive to build affordable housing even if they demolish existing affordable housing to do so, has got to go she said. Many of the other candidates agreed.
Allen lauded the Dems Club’s fight to keep control over affordable housing policy in the hands of local government.
Butler was in the assembly when RDA money was cut. She said that the result was not what she expected and that Governor Jerry Brown needs to make sure the problems are fixed.
Transportation was the focus of Imbasciani’s affordable housing views. Good public transportation, he said, allows people to work in expensive neighborhoods and live in affordable ones.
When asked about education, Butler said she wants to even the playing field for students from Pacific Palisades to Compton.
“We need to make sure that education is a consistently funded venture in this state, no matter what the economic woes are,” she said. “Getting rid of Prop 13 or changing it, at least for the corporate interests, will go a long way in doing this.”
Fluke made clear that much of her work in education has been at the college level, pushing for affordability, but she’s also a believer in early childhood education.
“It’s the smart investment because it helps close the achievement gap and gets kids ready to learn,” she said.
Allen noted that he’d worked with the Board of Education on solving budget issues in the district and that much of his professional work has been in the field.
Candidates took two questions from the audience, which were both essentially repeats of the two questions asked during the forum.
Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth was not present at the event.
The primary election will be held on June 3.