By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photos by Debra Dipaolo
Dave Freeman stands in the rain, holding a plastic grocery bag and looking a little lost. It’s a Wednesday morning at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, but he has no interest in organic produce or fresh flowers; it’s the shoppers he’s after. He spots a potential target, a woman examining a mound of Japanese yams.
“Hello, ma’am,” he says with a Tennessee twang. She smiles tightly, then returns to the yams. Freeman reaches into his bag and pulls out a pamphlet. “I’m running for the state Assembly. Maybe you’ll vote for me.” She gives him a long look, taking in the red cowboy boots, the white felt cowboy hat soaked with rain, the long fingernails and the whiskery eyebrows that seem poised to poke him in the eyes. She opens the pamphlet and scans the text: “closed nine nuclear power plants . . . helped desegregate lunch counters in Knoxville . . . Chairman Tennessee Valley Authority . . . Conservationist of the Year . . . fought the oil companies . . . saved billions in public money.”
“My goodness,” she says, impressed. “You’ve got my vote.” He thanks her and moves on.
Several miles away, on an equally soggy day in Hancock Park, Dan Stone adjusts his clear, blue-plastic poncho and knocks on yet another door. The screen opens and an elderly man peers out. Stone takes a breath and begins.
“Hi. I’m a doctor over at Cedars and I’m running for the Assembly my two opponents are very nice people a West Hollywood councilman and a lawyer but there are already 30 local government officials and 15 lawyers in Sacramento and there hasn’t been a doctor there for more than a decade and I believe I can make a difference.”
Stone is barely through this 10-second spiel (some variation of which he will have rattled off some 9,000 times by the March 7 primary), when the elderly man lets out a whoop. “Hooray!” he says. “We need a doctor up there.” He tells Stone about his wife’s trouble getting her insurance to pay for her medication, which runs about $500 a month. Stone promises to fight for better coverage, and the man promises to vote for him.
Other than their desire to win seats in adjoining Westside districts and their propensity for getting wet, these two Democrats don’t appear to have much in common. Freeman is a 74-year-old Southerner trained as an engineer and an attorney, whose expertise lies in energy policy — he’s taken a leave from his job as head of L.A.’s Department of Water and Power to run for the open seat in the 41st District. Stone, a 43-year-old L.A. native who’s hoping to fill the seat in the 42nd, is associate medical director of the Cedars Sinai Medical Group and led the successful crusade to get the birth-control drug RU-486 into the U.S. for testing. He decided to run after learning that nearly a third of L.A. county residents have no health insurance.
Their commonality lies in what they represent: a new breed of candidate who has never held elective office, has little depth of knowledge outside his chosen field and whose existence in the race is owed entirely to term limits. Arguably, what each lacks in breadth of experience is ameliorated by his passion for an issue of critical importance to the state: Stone wants to secure universal health insurance, while Freeman could be phenomenal in shaping the state’s water and energy policies. For better or worse, term limits mean people like them — not political creatures by nature but attracted by the chance to make a splash — can jump into the race and commit to politics for a limited time. “Everybody talks about how bad term limits are because you’re not there long enough to get anything done,” Freeman says. “But it’s the thing that encourages someone like me to run — the opportunity to be a citizen legislator. Years I might otherwise spend goofin’ off.”
Thanks to term limits, Freeman and Stone are just two of the scores of candidates who have lined up across California to vie for an abundance of open seats — in L.A. County alone there are 11 competitive Democratic legislative primaries. Nowhere are the stakes higher than in the 41st and 42nd, two predominantly Democratic districts that traditionally produce high-caliber legislators who take the lead on a variety of progressive issues, some with state and national import.
In the 41st, which stretches from Santa Monica into the southwestern San Fernando Valley, Sheila Kuehl has shepherded through a variety of bills protecting patients, gay students, battered women and abused children. In the 42nd, which includes both Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, Wally Knox fought to limit handgun purchases and to restore overtime pay. He also foiled a plan by the phone companies to add yet another Westside area code. (Kuehl and Knox are now vying for the same Senate seat.)
Considering that standard, it’s not surprising that both Freeman and Stone face some serious opposition. (Tom Hayden considered running in both districts before opting out). In the 41st, Freeman is squaring off against former Agoura Hills Mayor Fran Pavley and former Santa Monica City Councilman Tony Vazquez. Pavley teaches history at a public school in Moorpark, serves on the California Coastal Commission and is endorsed by the Sierra Club. Vazquez, an L.A. native, is a former schoolteacher who’s endorsed by the California Labor Federation and Senator Richard Polanco.