The much-watched primary race for a South Los Angeles congressional seat now has three candidates instead of four — conservative political commentator and former actress Stacey Dash, a Republican, has dropped out.
The three remaining candidates — women of color who are at various ends of the political spectrum — are the well-connected incumbent Nanette Diaz Barragán, Compton’s “millennial” Mayor Aja Brown and Jasmina Saavedra, a businesswoman who helped found Latinos for Trump.
Barragán and Brown are Democrats; Saavedra is a Republican. But in the state’s election system, the top two vote-getters in the June primary will face off in the November general election, unless someone receives more than 50 percent of the vote in June.
Dash announced on March 30 that she was dropping out of the race after introspection and discussions with her family. “I believe that the overall bitterness surrounding our political process and … campaigning would be detrimental to the health of my family,” she wrote on Twitter.
The 44th Congressional District race drew national attention on Feb. 26 when celebrity gossip website TMZ reported that Dash, best known for her role in the 1995 film Clueless, had filed paperwork to run. She is also known for her political commentary on Fox News.
Days after Dash announced her candidacy, social media buzzed with news that Compton’s mayor, Brown, was considering a run — some said to challenge Dash. Brown made history in 2013, at the age of 31, when she was elected as the city’s youngest mayor in a landslide election, beating out the city’s “good ol’ boys” regime. Her vision for the city included sleek new housing developments, food co-ops, art galleries, a small-business incubator and a bike-sharing program. She made national headlines when she called Compton the “new Brooklyn.”
Brown announced her candidacy on March 8. “I am running for Congress to be the voice and vote for the people who are striving every day to feed and raise their families,” she said in a phone interview. Brown said she has no problem with being seen as a political outsider. “I truly believe in the pit of my soul that it has to be a calling to serve your community,” she said. “There is a system in place that if you’re not a part of the political ‘gangs’ as I call them, then you’re labeled as an outsider. Well, I’m OK with that.”
On March 15, days after Brown kicked off her candidacy, the state controller issued an unfavorable audit review report, evaluated between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2016, citing lack of financial control and stable leadership as causes for Compton’s nearly $38.5 million deficit.
Brown contends the problems resulted from “nearly three decades of mismanagement” and that a fix requires good leadership, new policies and time. “Compton is on a firm and definitive path to recovery, which includes a new solid source of annual tax revenue, new economic development, new fiscal policies, stable senior management and full city council support — which all occurred under my administration,” she said in a statement after the audit was released.
Brown may have had Dash in her sights, but her direct opponent is the experienced and heavily endorsed incumbent Barragán, an attorney and former Hermosa Beach City Council member who is the first Latina to represent the largely Latino district. Among Barragán's supporters are L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; state Sen. Steven Bradford, representing the 35th District; U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
“We plan to share with voters that someone is standing up to the president who’s trying to tear down communities with people of color,” Barragán said in a phone interview. “We’re securing funding for more affordable-housing grants, taking homeless veterans off the street and building coalitions to take control of the agenda. It’s challenging to move the ball forward now having to win another election.”
Dash’s withdrawal won’t change how the race is run, Barragán said. “We will continue to reach out to every voter to listen to their concerns and update them on my work in Washington.”
Charles Ellison, a veteran political strategist, said Barragán is the favorite of the establishment — the DNC chair and those from the Obama and Clinton fold. “What we see playing out in these active Democratic primaries like CA-44 is a proxy war between so-called establishment Dems and progressives, particularly those in the Sanders camp,” he said.
Brown may have seen an opening, and gotten a push from the Sanders people to challenge Barragán, Ellison said. “I think you’re seeing a younger black political class, and especially black political women, asserting themselves more aggressively in the Democratic Party and demanding respect and resources,” he said.
Challenger Saavedra, a Bell Gardens resident, is a founding member of the Latinos for Trump political group. She is also the Spanish-speaking spokeswoman for the Christian Coalition and Make America Great Again Inc. “The good people in the 44th District of California deserve to have a candidate who will reach out directly to them and focus on the issues of employment, reducing crime, empowering the families and providing our veterans with the respect they deserve, among other things,” she said.
Saavedra doesn't see any problems with being a Trump supporter in the race for a largely Democratic district. “I'm not a politician, I'm a citizen,” she said. “It's not about Democrats; it's not about Republicans. It's about God.”
Shirley Husar, CEO of L.A.-based Urban Game Changer and Black Conservative Activists, said the 44th District race is about economics and power. “There’s a war going on between the old black Democrats and the new generation for Democrats, and the Latinos are in the middle,” Husar said. “They are not on the same page. Why would they be fighting for the same seat? Traditionally parties don’t run against each other, but look what’s happening. They don’t even trust each other — how are we supposed to trust them?