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13 candidates seek 51st Assembly District seat

LOS ANGELES — The issue of how to get a single-payer health care system in California, the possibility of making community colleges free for all students, and solutions to affordable housing are among the issues being discussed by candidates for the 51st Assembly District who meet in a special election Oct. 3.

Thirteen candidates are on the ballot, 10 Democrats, a Libertarian, a member of the Peace ad Freedom party and one declined to state.

Dr. Ron Birnbaum, a Democrat who is a dermatologist and teacher at USC’s Eisner Family Program pledged to canvass all members of the state’s Legislature until Medicare for all is approved and becomes law.

That platform comes on the heels of this week’s doomed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, orchestrated by Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, which threatened to cut $100 billion in coverage for patients who benefitted from the Medicaid expansion and subsidies under President Barack Obama’s landmark domestic achievement.

Democrats Luis Lopez, Gabriel Sandoval, Wendy Carrillo, David Vela, Mark Vargas and Alex de Ocampo have expressed similar views, although campaign mailers show Birnbaum has invested more resources to press the single-payer issue.

“We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and we still don’t provide basic human necessities to our citizens,” said Birnbaum, the son of immigrants from Argentina. “I believe that universal health care is a right. We can’t let Trumpcare come to California.”

Most candidates showed support for SB 562, also named the Healthy California Act, which calls for a publicly administered health care program with costs controlled by the state, and a nine-member panel of medical experts called the Healthy California Board to govern the system.

Gabriel Sandoval, a civil rights attorney who worked for President Obama in the Department of Education, pledged to defend constitutional rights of people affected by President Trump’s increased deportation crackdowns and protect students hurt by the looming end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

He added the housing crisis in Los Angeles deserves special attention because it is an ongoing issue all residents of the city talk about.

“Our civil rights and immigrant communities are under attack,” Sandoval said. “As your Assembly member, I will fight for and support equity in the classrooms, the workplace and the broader community so that no one is the victim of discrimination, harassment, bullying or violence.”

Wendy Carillo said a woman brings a unique perspective to politics in Sacramento, and said she would stand for issues concerning all residents in the district.

“Like the women before me, I will fight for everyone, standing up for access to health care, protecting choice, educational opportunity and social justice,” said Carrillo, an immigrant brought as a minor to this country from El Salvador.

Luis Lopez, who received endorsements from the East Area Progressive Democrats, Planned Parenthood and Democrats for Neighborhood Action, promised to stop the expansion of the Scholl Canyon Landfill in Eagle Rock and end homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

“With the Trump administration threatening to take away access to reproductive and preventive care and overturn hard won privacy rights for America’s women, I will continue to stand up strongly for women’s rights and full access to reproductive healthcare,” Lopez said.

Mark Vargas, the son of Colombian and Mexican immigrant parents, said at a forum organized by the League of Women Voters in Silver Lake that as a member of the California Coastal Commission, he is the only one on the panel suing Trump for his breach of environmental laws protecting the border region with Mexico where the divisive wall is slated for construction.

If elected, he said he would revive the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency, and start an affordable housing system accountable for regional and statewide growth in units and land used for new apartments.

David Vela said university students in the California State University and University of California systems deserve enrollment priority to clinch spots often taken by international and out –of-state students, who paid at least twice more than state residents.

Alex de Ocampo, who said he manages a $400 million budget for the Saban Family Foundation, said he would introduce a job-training program for youth in the film industry to keep them away from crimes and gangs.

Independent Patrick Koppula, a fellow in the presidential innovation program under President Obama, said he would push for tax diversions from the incarceration system to strengthen education at all levels.

“I promise you I would never approve a budget that has more funds for jails than for education,” Koppula said.

Peace and Freedom candidate John Prysner said Trump’s election is a guarantee that racial and alt-right issues will stay at the front of public affairs in the next years, and proposed a bold approach to stifle divisions by approving an agenda that includes universal health care for all residents, additional funds for education and less punitive laws for minor offenses such as smoking pot or ingestion of other psychedelic substances.

Libertarian Andrew Arguello said self-empowerment through education is a core concept of his campaign, and criticized politicians in Sacramento for their abuse in excising an unpopular 12-cent gas tax slated to start Nov. 1 that voters could repeal in the next statewide election in June 2018.

Arguello also supports deregulation of the state’s building codes to expedite construction of affordable housing.

Mike Fong, the vice president of the nine campuses that compose the Los Angeles Community College District, said making the two-year colleges free will improve enrollment and graduation rates, issues that ensure access to middle class careers and better wages.

Fong said his plan would eliminate loads of college loan debt.

“In the state Assembly I will work to ensure every student in California has the opportunity and support they need to earn a college degree,” Fong said.

Mario Olmos pledged to protect children from bullying and sexual abuse and said if elected he would improve funding for education and wipe out funneling of money from special interests to Sacramento politics.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 3. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held between the two top vote-getters Dec. 5.

The winner will replace Jimmy Gomez in the 51st Assembly District seat. Gomez was elected to the 34th Congressional District seat in June.

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