By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
Almost a year ago, when Nanette Barragán entered the race to succeed Janice Hahn in Congress, Random Lengths called her a “grassroots fighter.” She was an upstart outsider candidate in a race the political establishment had seemingly pre-decided. The day Hahn announced she would be stepping down to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, she turned around and endorsed State Sen. Isadore Hall to succeed her, just two months after he won his state senate seat in a low-turnout special election in December 2014. Hall had won with just 17,951 votes, which wouldn’t have gotten him past the primary in 2012.
Hahn’s endorsement seemed wildly disconnected from the will of the district’s voters, particularly since Hall was a top recipient of oil company money in the state legislature—second only to his predecessor, Rob Wright. According to a 2014 report by Common Cause, Hall has also been a major recipient of contributions from tobacco, gambling, sugared beverage, and payday lending interests—all diametrically opposed to the welfare of Hall’s constituents. For example, twice since he announced, Hall helped kill a bill in committee requiring warning labels on sugary drinks—a measure supported by 78 percent of Californians, by 82.3 percent of African-Americans and 85.3 percent of Latinos, according to in a field poll released this January. Yet, Hall still insists that fighting childhood obesity and diabetes are top legislative priorities.
Hall quickly gained a slew of endorsements from fellow lawmakers, scaring off a dozen or more rumored aspirants. But not Barragán, then Hermosa Beach Mayor Pro Tem, who had played a key role in the landslide 3-1 defeat of “Measure O.” The measure would have opened up Hermosa to oil drilling for decades to come. Since then, Barragán has moved back into the district, where she was born and reared. She has not only built grassroots support, she’s also gained significant endorsements, including early support from the Climate Hawks Vote super political action committee.
“I consider this the most important congressional primary in California from a climate perspective,” said R.L. Miller, Climate Hawks Vote co-founder and chairwoman of the state Democratic Party’s environmental caucus.“Climate Hawks Vote endorsed [her] very early and has been joined by League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, representing Nanette’s strength as a climate hawk. And, we’re happy to see the broad coalition of support she’s assembled: Latinos, women, progressives (Democracy For America). Nanette has proven to be a strong fundraiser, which she needs going up against the machine politics forces backing Isadore Hall.
“The working class people of her district want a shot at the middle class, clean air and clean water, and a brighter future for their children. Isadore Hall stands for big oil, big tobacco, big sugar, the gambling industry and billboard blight…. The more people hear about him, the more they support Nanette.”
In addition to organizations, Barragán’s also gained support from a growing list of Congress members, and recently even the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that “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 recently spoke about what she considers is the most important factor in building support.
“It’s just been getting my message out there and talking to people about my values which are their values—whether it’s protecting our air and water, protecting and improving social security and Medicare, bringing better paying jobs, improving the waterfront or just improving quality of life issues,” she said. “The values that I have stood up for time and time again are the very values that were instilled in me growing up in this district.”
Given the gridlocked state of Congress, the more informal role of facilitating local problem-solving within the district looms larger than ever. When asked what problems she’s observed while campaigning that would capture her time and attention, Barragán cited homelessness right off the bat, citing the efforts of city and county government, as well as federal policies that could be improved for veterans, for mental health services, and for affordable housing.
“Housing prices are huge issue[s] here in LA, and we need to collaborate with local stakeholders, businesses and nonprofits to increase and build affordable housing,” she said. “We need to bring together local activists and leaders to make a bigger impact on this issue…. Bringing parties to the negotiating table as a lawyer would be an important piece to making sure we strategically tackle this problem with the best local and federal efforts possible.”
Barragán would also take a similar approach to education.
“ Mayor [Eric] Garcetti’s recent proposal that all [Los Angeles Unified School District] grads should get at least one free year of community college was a step in the right direction, and as a member of Congress, I would support free community college,” she said. “We need to increase Pell Grants to reflect the exponential rising cost of college…. Student debt is a financial crisis in this country…. We should allow people to refinance their student loans at lower, fair rates that don’t threaten their financial stability.”
Hall’s Campaign Contributions
In contrast to Barragán’s advocacy for reducing financing costs, Hall has received more than $35,000 in campaign contributions from payday lending companies and their executives since entering the state assembly in 2008. He’s voted to help expand their businesses.
A third issue Barragán cites is something related to what she is helping her mother with.
“You shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to get your Social Security benefits or Medicare coverage,” she said “This is something I would work to solve through open-door constituent services and working on efforts at a national level to reform the system.”
This ties into something else Barragán said about the strengths she would bring to bear in office. “My strength is that I’ve experienced and had to overcome the problems that people in my district face every day,” Barragán said. “I grew up in a family of immigrants, so I know firsthand what immigration reform would mean to this community and how important it is that families here legally can get good jobs and health care. I really struggled to make it through school and I had to take on massive amounts of student debt to make it through college.”
But she hasn’t just lived with these problems herself.
“I also have the experience to help solve them,” she said. “As an attorney, I have spent my career advocating on behalf of people and families who have been failed by the system…. What I’ve learned is that people can’t do this on their own. They need someone who can bring people together, someone who’s not in it for themselves, but who actually wants to find solutions for their constituents.”
It’s overwhelming likely that Barragán and Hall will both make it through the primary and face each other in November, so there will be plenty of time for voters in the district to weigh their competing arguments, as well as their track records. But one helpful example to consider is the ongoing public threat posed by the Rancho LPG facility.
This past year, after activists approached him, Hall originally promised a State Senate hearing on the dangers posed by Rancho LPG. But the meeting was first postponed, then repurposed for a much more general forum in late March, which was largely boycotted by local activists.
“I will not waste my time in Sen. Hall’s sham to try to ‘placate’ the potential victims of such an overwhelming disaster,” homeowner activists Janet Gunter announced.
But Barragán said she has strong concerns about the tanks, especially since Plains All American have already proven to be careless when it comes to our environment and making sure their facilities are safe and up to code.
“I took a position on this very early on and signed on to a letter demanding more oversight of the tanks,” Barragán said. “I’ve met with community leaders and marched with them to raise awareness about the site.”
She said that if she were to get into Congress she would push for greater oversight and a full report on the potential dangers along with options to relocate the tanks.
“This should be a given with the mistakes that have already been made by Plains All American, but I also think there needs to be a local component to this,” she said. “Some efforts have been made but they have not lead to any action, we need to do more, especially now in light of the recent indictment.”
Retired oil industry consultant Connie Rutter said Barragán met with Gunter and her some months ago and seemed to understand the danger.
“We certainly would welcome her input,” Rutter said. “The logical place to start would be to endorse the LAUSD resolution, Tony Patchett’s petition to the EPA and a promise to ride herd on the EPA’s Kowtoing to the American Petroleum Institute.”
“The most important thing I want voters to know before this election is that this district needs someone who shares our values and will be a champion on the issues that we care about,” Barragán said.
She’s done a lot to convince many that she’s the one for the job. But as Rutter’s remarks indicate, there’s still more that remains to be done.