Ben Allen has friends in high places – L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and state Sen. Fran Pavley, for example, who convinced Allen, 36, a Santa Monica/Malibu school board member and UCLA lecturer, to run for state Senate District 26.  And friends like Bill Bloomfield, the well-to-do Westsider who's spent more than half a million dollars to elect Allen.

But loads of talented people are running in sun-kissed District 26, which hugs the sparkling California coastline. They are: former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, feminist and Rush Limbaugh sparring partner Sandra Fluke, Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth, former Writers Guild president (dude wrote for the Simpsons and Futurama!) Patric Verrone, LGBT activist and doctor Vito Imbasciani, lawyer Seth Stodder (an independent and the only non-Democrat running), and the wonderfully named Barbi Appelquist, also a lawyer. 

Did we miss anyone on the ballot in the 26th district on June 3? OK then …

Betsy Butler, walking on the beach

Betsy Butler, walking on the beach

Butler represented nearly half of this voter district for two years as a state assembly member, but then her  district's borders were completely redrawn – moved to another part of town – by a citizens redistricting commission in 2011. Displaced, she ran for Assembly District 50 instead, but lost to the lesser-known underdog, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.

A big issue in that race was Butler's non-vote on Senate Bill 1530 (written by State Senator Alex Padilla) which would have made it easier to fire teachers accused of physically or sexually harming children. 

Her role in the bill's failure isn't a huge talking point this time, in part because Sacramento legislators finally, in April, came up with a teacher dismissal law that everyone supports, including the teachers union, school reform group EdVoice, Jerry Brown, and even Butler. 

“The Padilla bill was a bad bill,” insists Butler. “The Buchanan bill is exactly what we needed. I'm just sorry that Alex Padilla didn't put in the same effort.”

Education and public schools are big issues in District 26 – a lot of families send their kids to private or charter schools instead.  

Yet Ben Allen, the school board member in the race, a Harvard Graduate and lecturer at UCLA in law and education, is reluctant to take sides in the familiar “school reformers vs. teachers union” debate.

“I teach this stuff, I'm deeply engaged in this stuff, I feel like I know too much to be an ideologue,” says Allen. Even so, Bill Bloomfield, generally a booster for the school reformists, is backing Allen, and that campaign money could help put the unknown  Allen into the “top two” on June 3. The top two then face each other in November, even if it's a Democrat versus a Democrat.

“Education reform is the most important agenda item for our state,” says Bloomfield, who's met Allen only once. He found Allen “smart and highly ethical,” and was impressed that Yaroslavsky is a big fan. 

The prognosticators were all wrong about who would win Assembly District 50 in 2012, which covers the northern tip of Senate District 26, so it must be said that nobody knows who the top two will be on June 3.

Just as Richard Bloom got ignored by experts, then won District 50, Sandra Fluke has the potential to pull off an upset.

Sandra Fluke, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2012; Credit: PBS News Hour / Flickr

Sandra Fluke, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2012; Credit: PBS News Hour / Flickr

You might remember Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who got called a “slut” by Limbaugh after urging an unofficial Congressional hearing (Republicans wouldn't let her testify at the official hearing) to force insurance companies to pay for contraception. 

When Fluke further stood up to Limbaugh, many were impressed, including Westside activist Marta Evry, who wrote recently:

What differentiates Fluke is not that she was attacked by Rush Limbaugh. What differentiates her is what she she did once she was attacked by Limbaugh. She didn't give in and she didn't give up. She didn't hide. She kept the conversation going. She kept it on point. She expanded her activism and with it the conversation about women's reproductive rights, their health and their equal role in society.

Also not to be discounted in this wide-open race is fellow Democrat Amy Howorth, the beneficiary of a few hundred grand in outside spending from a Super PAC called the Alliance for California's Tomorrow, funded by a rogue's gallery of tobacco companies, oil companies, real estate groups, Indian casinos, unions, medical associations, and so on.

Voters have plenty of talent to pick from, many of them women, none an incumbent and none a Republican.

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