By Darlene Donloe
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The New Frontier Democratic Club held a virtual debate on April 17 for candidates seeking to represent the 54th Assembly District in the seat recently vacated by state Sen. Sydney Kamlager-Dove. The special primary election is set for May 18.
One of the goals of the New Frontier Democratic Club is to foster active participation by the community in politics toward the end of electing qualified Democratic candidates to partisan and nonpartisan offices.
New Frontier Democratic Club President Mike Davis, a former assemblyman, said the debate was held to hear “the goals and visions of those who seek to serve the district.”
Four of the six candidates squared off in a two-hour debate on Zoom. Participants included educator and community organizer Isaac Bryan, Dallas Fowler (businesswoman and nonprofit executive) Heather Hutt, former state director for Sen. Kamala Harris, and Cheryl Turner, an attorney and state commissioner.
Bryan, who has a master’s degree in public policy from UCLA and sits on the board of the Justice-LA Coalition, is a former advisor to Kamlager-Dove.
He said he is running to push for change at a higher level. A criminal justice expert and executive director of UCLA’s Black Policy Project, Bryan said he’s campaigning to bring positive reform to his community.
Fowler, a member of New Frontier Democratic Club, and graduate of Florida A&M University, has served on various boards and committees since 2006, under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Fowler, who has experience in the public and private sector, comes from a construction background. She is currently the president and board chair of the Museum of African American Art.
“My particular set of experiences meet the challenges that we’re facing as it relates to a lack of affordable housing and a lack of care and true action around our environmental impact,” said Fowler, who grew up in South Los Angeles.
Hutt, is a 20-year member of the New Frontier Democratic Club and a second-generation Angeleno. She is a single mother of “three little boys.”
“When it comes to homelessness, and being un-housed, I will be the compassionate Assembly member because I know what housing insecurities are,” Hutt said. “A priority is police reform.”
Hutt spoke about her children being shot and tased and “treated like assailants by the police” and about “being the first African-American state director from the state of California working for U.S. Senator and now Vice President Kamala Harris where I served as her senior advisor.”
“We did a lot of work on equal pay and immigration, teacher pay, and billions of dollars on infrastructure projects,” she said.
Turner is a lifetime member of the New Frontier Democratic Club and a former trustee. She said she is “very familiar with the district,” because she “grew up in it.”
At USC Turner studied international relations because she “wanted to make the world a better place” and had a desire to help her community.
“I’m fighting for the area for clean air, to expunge criminal records, and to work with organizations to help with the right to vote,” said Turner, who added she is the first African American president of a 7,000-member housing association.
Candidates were asked a series of questions from representatives of the Center for Southern California Studies at Cal State Northridge; John M. Langston Bar Association; Los Angeles Urban League Young Professionals; National Action Network; NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women.
Diane Robertson, representing the John M. Langston Bar Association asked the candidates if they supported the California state legislator who is putting forward police reform proposals such as Sen. Steve Bradford’s SB 2, which seeks to decertify rogue police officers – and Assemblyman Chris Holden’s AB 26, which seeks to disqualify police officers from ever being police officers again if they fail to intervene when witnessing excessive use of force.
“Do you believe California police officers are doing enough to gain public trust in the communities,” Robertson asked. “If you think they are doing enough, please explain your reasons why. If you do not think they are doing enough, what police reforms would you propose?”
“Thank God for our cell phone cameras so that we can document what Black and brown families have known all along,” Hutt said. “I am a proponent of Senator Bradford’s SB 2 and Chris Holden’s AB 26. We now as a state entity need to look at the peace officer’s Bill of Rights — revisit and revise them. Too many times we see officers are hiding behind the Bill of Rights and just shooting to kill. So revising and revisiting the Bill of Rights is my first plan of attack.
Fowler said she also supported both bills.
“Also, as it relates to our officers, I do think that there have been some efforts in the city of Los Angeles,” she added. “Do I think they are doing enough to earn the public’s trust? No, absolutely not. There is a long way to go. We have many roads to cross. We have to end qualified immunity in the state.
“Too many years and decades of allowing the individuals to investigate themselves of the crimes that they commit. That is unacceptable. It is up to us in the Legislature to do that work and hold officers accountable and make sure we not only have accountability, but consequences.”
Bryan also spoke in favor of both bills.
“We absolutely have to pass the decertification bill by Steven Bradford,” Bryan said. “The only reason why it didn’t pass last year is because we didn’t have the courage in the Assembly specifically to move it through. I’m proud of Holden’s bill as well. It’s a great step in the right direction.
“It’s not just about law enforcement’s relationship to our communities. It’s about making sure that we have alternative crisis responders in our communities that are not carrying a badge and gun for things that don’t require a badge and a gun. We know that sometimes law enforcement exacerbates the root causes of poverty and the conditions of social inequities that we have already been facing.”
Turner spoke as an attorney who has defended clients in the criminal justice system.
“I have also filed cases against officers when they use excessive force and my clients or family members were killed,” she said. “These are very important issues. And, no, I do not think that the officers are doing enough to establish public trust. They need to do a better job of it, but we do need our police officers. Let me say that first of all.
“Thank goodness for cell phone cameras that are recording these things. We do need to find out more about the records of rogue police officers and we do that by creating a civilian oversight commission that can keep officer’s records private. We need a quality police force that is very responsive when they are called.”
The 54th Assembly District includes the communities of Baldwin Hills, Century City, Culver City, Ladera Heights, Leimert Park, Mid-City, View Park, West LA, Westwood and Windsor Hills.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.