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Here’s What to Watch for Locally on March 3 in Los Angeles

Five L.A. Races to Watch in the 2020 Primary Election

Los Angeles voters face some key decisions on March 3, deciding how to replace a Congresswoman knocked out of office with a personal scandal, whether they want a public defender to run the District Attorney’s Office and whether they want to play musical chairs with termed-out veteran politicians hoping to swap jobs.

Voters also will find a new touch-screen ballots with a controversial "MORE" button and new centers to cast their votes, instead of their old neighborhood stops.

SoCal Connected asked three political science experts – California State University, Northridge political science Professor Tom Hogen-Esch; Chapman University leadership studies lecturer Michael Moodian; UCLA  Ralph J. Bunche Center Policy Advisor Isaac Bryan, and  Claremont McKenna fellow Douglas Johnson; for insights on some of the area’s most interesting races. 

Here are some of their answers:

25th Congressional District, Northern San Fernando Valley, Palmdale, Lancaster, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley

Voters in this open seat must vote twice to immediately replace their former representative, Katie Hill, a Democrat who toppled the Republican incumbent in 2018. Hill, however, didn’t last long. She resigned Nov. 1 following allegations that she had extramarital affairs with staff members.

Voters are asked to replace her immediately in a special election, but also to vote for a candidate in a primary election that will pit the top two candidates against each other in November. Eleven of those candidates are running in each election. Voters can choose different candidates if they want.

"This race is interesting for a couple of reasons," said Hogen-Esch said. "First, it is one of the few competitive house districts in California…The race also has some interesting dynamics in that the previous incumbent, Steve Knight, has not been endorsed by the Republican Party, which has instead endorsed newcomer Mike Garcia."

On the Democratic side, Assemblywoman Christy Smith is the most well-funded and has the most high-profile endorsements, but faces competition from Cenk Uygur, one of the founders of a very progressive news outlet known as the Young Turks, Hogen-Esch said.

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Johnson said it’s possible with the new voting machines that require voters to wade through pages of names, and because the ballot order is different in the special and primary elections, Smith could win the winner-take-all special election while failing to qualify for the "top two" run off in the primary election.

"It may come down to how many voters vote absentee – where all the candidates are listed together – and how motivated polling-place Democrats are to click 'More' to find her name on the 3rd page of candidates," Johnson said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor, District 2 and Los Angeles City Council District 10

Each of the experts picked the District 2 race as one to watch. Termed out former Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson is trying to replace termed out Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for the seat the represents a huge swath of the central portion of the county. Former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry and State Sen. Holly Mitchell also want the job.

"Each supervisor represents about 2 million constituents and oversees a budget in the neighborhood of $30 billion a year," Hogen-Esch said.

Meanwhile, Ridley-Thomas is hoping voters will elect him to walk across Grand Park to Los Angeles City Hall to swap jobs with Wesson in the race for Council District 10, representing residents of central Los Angeles along the 10 Freeway.

"Homelessness is the most important issue in the City of Los Angeles. Over 30k people sleep on the streets of our City and every council seat is an opportunity for voters to elect the leadership we need to restore dignity and invest in uplifting those often failed by historically bad policy," Bryan said. "The 10th is a powerful district that represents so many diverse Angelenos. Who we elect there will undoubtedly shape the leadership of the entire City Council."

Los Angeles City Council District 4, San Fernando Valley to Griffith Park

Moodian suggests keeping an eye on whether incumbent City Councilman David Ryu can hold onto his seat.

"Ryu has raised a lot of money, the largest war chest of this cycle, but he faces two challengers -- Sarah Kate Levy and Nithya Raman -- who are also well-financed," Moodian said.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education District 7, from South Los Angeles to San Pedro.

Hogen-Esch and Moodian said to keep an eye on this open seat, where several candidates are running.

"As always, the balance of power between pro-charter and anti-charter forces hangs in the balance," Hogen-Esch said.

Los Angeles County District Attorney

Former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and former local and federal public defender Rachel Rossi are vying to snatch the job from Jackie Lacey, who has run the largest prosecutor’s office in the country for eight years.

Rossi and Gascon see themselves as more progressive than Lacey on criminal justice reform. Some big names and community organizations have endorsed candidates in this race: Sen. Kamala Harris supports Gascon; Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff prefer Lacey; Numerous clergy members and leaders of Latino and black organizations pick Rossi.

Gascon is a former Los Angeles Police Department assistant chief who later served as San Francisco’s police chief. He co-wrote Proposition 47, which reclassified many theft and drug felonies to misdemeanors and allowed people serving time for those crimes to petition for release. Rossi supported the measure, but Lacey opposed it, saying it would lead to more crime. 

Lacey touts her top reform measure as working to divert the mentally ill into treatment programs instead of jail, and recently dismissed about 66,000 marijuana convictions dating to the 1960s. Gascon dismissed more than 8,000 marijuana convictions in San Francisco a year ago

"Over the last few years LA County criminal justice reform movements have led the nation," Bryan said. "The county at large has decided to invest in care and healing instead of purely punitive incarceration, and this DA election is an opportunity for voters to double down on that progress by electing a DA with a vision for justice as bold as theirs."

Los Angeles City Council District 14, which runs from Boyle Heights to downtown Los Angeles.

Open seats, Hogen-Esch said, are always more interesting and unpredictable.

"Probably the most well-known candidates are Kevin de Leon and Monica Garcia, both of whom have had high-profile political offices in the past. Kevin de Leon is probably the favorite. He is also rumored to be eyeing a run for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2021."

New voting machines

Voters who choose to go to the polls at one of the new polling centers will find new electronic voting equipment. No longer does a voter push a pin or an ink marker through a hole onto the ballot.

The new ballots use touch screens, which have proved controversial because they require voters to scroll through long lists of names using a "MORE" button. Some people fear voters won’t use the more button and will miss names that don’t appear on the first page. The City of Beverly Hills is suing over the issue.

"How well do voters do with the county’s new voting machines?" Moodian said. "For elections with more than four candidates, how big is the vote penalty for not being on the first screen of candidates?"

To review all of the candidates in the races in Los Angeles County, please go to this link.

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