The LA Podcast

LA Podcast 2020 Voter Guide: Primary Edition

by LA Podcast
February 18, 2020

Back in November 2018, when it was time to produce the inaugural LA Podcast Voter Guide, there was a disagreement among the hosts when it came to the endorsement for Sheriff. Specifically, whether to endorse at all.

One of the hosts (Hayes) thought the podcast had an obligation to exercise its right to vote and pick a candidate. Another host (Scott) thought both of the candidates were bad (something everyone agreed on) so the podcast shouldn’t pick either of them. Hayes whined loudly until he won the argument, and the podcast endorsed Alex Villanueva for LA County Sheriff. This was all recorded for an audience of thousands to hear.

Alex Villanueva has gone on to be an absolute shitfuck of a Sheriff. And now this podcast is permanently on record as having endorsed him, a fact of which certain hosts are frequently reminded in their Twitter mentions.

Scott was right. As important as the right to vote is the right to not implicate yourself in the actions of the many bad candidates who seek power in LA: the right to LEAVE IT BLANK. So for this voter guide, LA Podcast will be exercising that right a lot.

Below is the official LA Podcast voter guide in cheatsheet form. You can download a full-size image to save or share. If you want the explanations behind the endorsements—or, perhaps, the lack of endorsements—read on.

LA City Council

What kind of changes in LA have these Councilmembers overseen in those five years?

In November, our podcast reported that for the last five years, LA’s City Council has voted unanimously 99.37% of the time. There have been almost no substantive policy differences between the members in that time—at least none that we’ve been allowed to see in public.

Despite this record—objectively disastrous on virtually every front—the LA Times endorsed every single full-term incumbent for reelection.

In a way, endorsing them across the board makes sense. Their records are indistinguishable. If you support one of them, you pretty much have to support all of them. 

We will not be supporting any of them.

Council District 2

Paul Krekorian, two-term Councilmember, is running for re-election after a second term marked by… not much! It has been a sleepy five years for Paul Krekorian. Like the rest of the council, he votes yes on almost literally anything that comes before him. Every once in a while he pokes his head up to complain that if the city spends any more money there won’t be anything left for the police, or that sanitation crews are being too soft on people who are homeless.

“The fact that we haven’t done enough outreach does not give anyone — whether they’re housed or unhoused — the right to violate the law and to make our neighborhoods less sanitary,” he said in December, arguing that the city should throw out more of people’s last possessions in the world, even though there are no better options available than the street. Booooo, Paul!

Running against him are Rudy Melendez, a Republican who has very little policy on his website but does have a picture of himself as Baby Yoda, and Ayinde Jones, an attorney with a nicely-made campaign video that also has virtually no indication of his policies anywhere in it. Neither of them appears to have raised any money in this race. Sure would have been nice if someone had tried to do that!


Council District 4

This is going to be a long one.

Nithya Raman has simply run the most exciting and transformative campaign for City Council in decades. This bar is, admittedly, not high. But she has soared over it.

Two of the hosts of this podcast have volunteered for Nithya, and we make no apologies for it. What Nithya’s accomplishing in her campaign is exactly what we set out to do with this show: educate Angelenos about the power of their local governments, get them excited about engaging with the city, and fight for the policies that can pull us out of worsening crisis.

Nithya’s an MIT-trained urban planner who spent a decade in India advocating for the rights of slumdwellers, and in LA co-founded of SELAH (the local neighborhood homeless services nonprofit of which one of the hosts of this podcast is also on the board) and served as executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment.

One thing that distinguishes her from most city candidates is that she doesn’t act like she’s in a local race. She doesn’t talk about fixing potholes. She has never mentioned Waze in a speech. Instead, she’s treating the LA City Council like the global power that it is, and running on compassionate, evidence-backed solutions to the most dire issues our city and planet face today: homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, and immigration reform.

People are listening. The level of active engagement she’s generated for her campaign is not precedented. She’s written comprehensive policy platforms on multiple issues, gotten major social media engagement, been written about in national media, gotten Hollywood celebrities to actually get involved, and brought out between 100 and 150 volunteers to knock on doors for her every week for many weeks in a row.

But what makes the success of Nithya’s campaign most surprising and unlikely is the fact that she’s running against an incumbent. It’s traditionally been a foregone conclusion that sitting elected officials in LA will coast to victory off of pure voter disinterest. Nithya has changed the math on this.

The incumbent she’s running against is Councilmember David Ryu. Ryu won in 2015 by selling himself as a reformer who would get special interest money out of politics. Since then, he’s flagrantly sold his influence to whoever’s willing to give him campaign cash

Ryu has raised more money in this primary than any council candidate ever – over a million dollars. But that wasn’t enough – he decided to accept $150,000 in public matching funds from the city on top of his already enormous fundraising haul. You paid for that.

Looking at his donor list demands a shower afterwards. Mega-landlords with a history of astounding safety violations and death on their properties. Single-use styrofoam packaging manufacturers who want to stop a styrofoam ban. Registered foreign agent oil and gas lobbyists who took Scott Pruitt to Morocco – donors who Joe Biden returned money from.

And, also, hundreds of thousands of dollars from the real estate industry. After passing a “landmark reform” to prohibit developers from donating to campaigns, he’s been accepting mountains of cash from their immediate family members, employees, and other associates. City lobbyists are prohibited from donating, too. Not a problem! He’s taken max donations from at least nine of their spouses.

None of this has stopped him from tagging himself as the campaign finance reform candidate. But the exact money he campaigned on getting out of campaigns has been flooding into his – more than any other candidate ever.

That he’s sold influence so nakedly while running as a reformer is disgusting enough. But he also oversaw a 53% increase in homelessness in his district (the highest in the city), drastically underbuilt supportive housing compared to his peers, and voted to criminalize parking on the street while neglecting to open a single Safe Parking space. He does care about more parking for new housing developments and businesses, though!

Also running for this seat is Sarah Kate Levy, a screenwriter and women’s activist who has strong transportation policies and has shown a deep commitment to campaigning and spreading her message. She’s a good candidate!

But Nithya is a transformative candidate. Electing her to City Council could be a significant moment in LA history. Do what you can to make it happen.


Council District 6

Nury Martinez, new City Council president, celebrated her promotion by immediately ordering a series of devastating sweeps on encampments, dispersing hundreds of people right before the homeless count.

As a first use of her new power, it’s pretty scary. Another scary thing: she calls her new policy approach “Families First.” I mean… that’s weird, right? Why families before single people? Or, like, childless widowers? Where do childless widowers fit in here?

Running against Nury is music studio owner Bill Haller. Bill seems nice! He was the state chair of the Sierra Club Air Quality Committee. He was in this commercial for something called King Cola (the white guy at 12 seconds who says “King Cola.” He has not raised a dollar in this race, but apparently that is intentional. 

Haller is a progressive, running on some decent environmental policies and increasing the size of the City Council to combat corruption. But when you’re not raising any money, the burden is on you to truly bust your butt to prove your commitment to governing – and Haller hasn’t busted his enough in this race to get our endorsement.


Council District 8

Okay, we endorsed one incumbent. Marqueece Harris-Dawson is running unopposed, and his first term was deeply unimpactful. He’s also brushed up against minor scandal related to the appearance of cannabis dispensary licenses being funneled to a close associate.

But Harris-Dawson has made a couple of recent handwaves at setting himself apart from the rest of the Council, including putting his name on every one of the motions put forward in Councilmember Mike Bonin’s excellent Homes Guarantee Package. That’s enough to get you our endorsement in a one-man race.


Council District 10

The frontrunner in this race is Mark Ridley-Thomas, a very powerful figure in LA politics – he was already a Councilmember for two terms, and is the current Supervisor of County District 2. For just some of the reasons why you shouldn’t vote for Ridley-Thomas, here’s the LA Times’s Editorial Board: 

“He can be Machiavellian in his approach to politics, alienating others. He has made questionable ethical decisions, most notably when he funneled $100,000 from a campaign fund to USC, which then hired his son as professor. He can be both long-winded and infuriatingly evasive when asked basic questions at candidate forums.

Ridley-Thomas previously served two terms on the City Council, and thus, under L.A.’s term limits law, may serve only one more four-year term. That isn’t much time to carry out big projects. Furthermore, he has made it clear that he intends to run for mayor in 2022.”

That was from their *endorsement* of him. Nice work all around, LA Times editorial board!

Aura Vasquez, a former DWP commissioner, is the strongest candidate running against him. She has a deep knowledge of environmental policy that should probably be a requirement for anyone who aspires to govern in 2020. She wants to aggressively pursuing renewable energy, and has been a voice for compassionate solutions to homelessness – unlike Ridley-Thomas, who sought permission from Trump’s Supreme Court to arrest people for sleeping on the sidewalk, even with no housing or shelter to offer them. That wasn’t mentioned in the editorial board’s endorsement, even though they came down hard on it just a month and a half ago.

Another candidate, Grace Yoo, was one of the leading voices against the homeless shelter in Koreatown and is now trying to sell herself as a progressive advocate. Boooo!

The final candidate on the ballot, Channing Martinez, is a wonderful labor organizer who’s running to cut LAPD’s budget in half. But Vasquez is better positioned to make a runoff, and in this case that’s important if we’re going to avoid a Ridley-Thomas/Yoo showdown.


Council District 12

If it feels like we just did this, that’s because we did. After losing a special election to John Lee last August, astrophysicist Dr. Loraine Lundquist is back to challenge him again, this time in an election that promises much higher (and probably more left-leaning) turnout.

Lundquist is still the values-driven candidate she was last year. She’s running on closing Aliso Canyon, the natural gas storage facility responsible for the largest man-made emissions leak in history, and greening her district with bike lanes, bus infrastructure, and affordable housing.

Lee, meanwhile, has even in a very short time proven himself to be a truly awful Councilmember in a very short time. He’s fought against just about everything the city needs most urgently right now. Supportive housing, bus rapid transit, bike lanes – John Lee hates all of these things. He also appears to have lied repeatedly about whether he graduated from college, and was implicated in a sexual harassment suit that was settled out by the city. Despite all this, he was endorsed by Council President Nury “Families First” Martinez.

This is the one traditionally Republican seat on the Council (although Lee just changed his affiliation to “No Party Preference” apparently). Flipping it from Lee to Lundquist would be a dramatic swing for the better. It remains to be seen whether CD12 will blow it a second time.


Council District 14

Kevin de Leon, former California Senate president and recent US Senate candidate against Dianne Feinstein, is still gunning for higher office – but not this one. He wants a seat on the Council as a credential before his run for Mayor of LA in 2022. His mayoral campaign has really already begun – this is it. You’re watching the first phase. We have no problem with de Leon running for Mayor from outside of City Hall, but this job is too important to use as a political springboard.

Luckily, there’s a very good candidate opposing him. Cyndi Otteson, leader of a nonprofit that assists refugees resettling in the US, has run an impressive outsider campaign and taken some progressive positions that the other candidates haven’t had the courage to. She’s the only candidate in this race supporting Bus Rapid Transit on Colorado Boulevard, for example.

The other candidates in the race are LAUSD board president Monica Garcia and social worker Raquel Zamora. Garcia was understood to be a mouthpiece of the charter industry for most of her time on the school board, and while she bucked that reputation somewhat in recent years, it doesn’t indicate that she’ll be able to stay independent on the Council. Zamora hasn’t put forward a lot of meaningful policy proposals.


LA County Offices

The five people who oversee the largest county in America, larger than 40 states, have for the most part been one of the more progressive bodies in our local government. They’ve led the charge to rein in our reactionary Sheriff, scuttled plans to build enormous new jails, and provided increased services for people who are undocumented. Unlike the City Council (86% male), the county board is also 80% women.

The glaring stain on this Board’s term was the 3-2 decision to file an amicus brief seeking to overturn Martin vs. Boise at the Supreme Court—meaning that three of the board members wanted the right to arrest people who are homeless for sleeping on the street, even without any available shelter to send them to. Truly contemptible act. Coincidentally, all of the seats that voted Yes are now up for election.

Supervisor District 2

Former City Council President Herb Wesson is running for this seat, after making an arrangement with Mark Ridley-Thomas to switch spots. Wesson is, for sure, one of the most talented, charismatic politicians in LA (again, low bar). He’s used his talents for good at times, advocating for increased services for people who are homeless—he was the first to site a new homeless shelter in his district (before rolling over and moving it somewhere else) and requested a shelter in the parking lot of one of his district offices (which does appear to be going forward, even if he won’t be there to see it open).

But he’s also been marked by scandals related to his family benefiting from his influence. (There’s no question that his campaign has benefited financially from that influence, as well – he’s outraised the other candidates in this race by huge margins.) And for every progressive reform his council made on homelessness, they overwhelmed it with increased criminalization measures.

But there’s another, more significant reason not to vote for him. Herb Wesson should be banished from LA politics for upholding and enabling a City Hall culture of backroom deals and political careerism, rather than civic engagement and public debate. Wesson wouldn’t bring a motion to the floor without unanimous support, and didn’t tolerate Councilmembers hashing out their differences before voters. The predictable result was 99.37% unanimous votes in the last five years. His approach to governing walled Angelenos out of the process, giving them no reason to engage with their city, because their input clearly wasn’t wanted. 

Herb Wesson led us to a Los Angeles where multiple crises are unfolding on our streets and in our air, and residents are given no idea who they’re supposed to hold accountable. This was, no doubt, the plan. But while the Councilmembers’ careers may have been kept safe by the smokescreens Wesson provided, the rest of the city suffered. His tenure as Council President has been very bad for Los Angeles.

Holly Mitchell is a much better choice. She’s been a true progressive on criminal justice reform. She’s an advocate for labor rights and social services. She’s also just as talented and charismatic a leader as Wesson is.

The other two candidates in the race are former Councilmember Jan Perry and community activist Jake Jeong. Perry is neither a compelling politician nor policymaker. Jeong was the loudest voice against the Koreatown shelter. Neither deserves your vote. Holly Mitchell does.


Supervisor District 4

In the 4th District, voters are presented with the choice between incumbent Janice Hahn, the former congresswoman and LA city councilmember who also happens to be the scion of one of LA’s most famous political families, and Desiree T. Washington, an attorney who dislikes California’s sanctuary policies and thinks the state should stop being so hard on gun owners. The challenger, Washington, is a non-starter.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs for voters in Hahn’s district, which splays around the horn of the Palos Verdes peninsula, covering the affluent South Bay as well as working and middle class port and gateway communities of the southeastern county.

Janice Hahn has done little to distinguish herself during her latest tour in local government. As a member of the Metro Board of Directors, her tenure has been marked by logic-defying proposals to overturn the staff-recommended operating pattern for the new Crenshaw Line and to spend transportation dollars on upgrading internet infrastructure in her district.

In county matters, votes that Hahn has taken to halt jail construction projects and to attempt to rein in the rogue Sheriff’s department are noted as positives, but we nonetheless regard them as outweighed by her vote to seek the overturning of Martin V. Boise by the conservative Supreme Court in order to allow the same Sheriff to criminalize the homeless. No endorsement.


Supervisor District 5

This seat is currently occupied by Kathryn Barger, former Chief of Staff of longtime Supervisor Michael Antonovich and the only Republican on the board today. She’s governed like a Republican, too—decrying wasteful spending while advocating for the extremely wasteful expansion of jails and the criminalization of sidewalk sleeping, while also using a very wasteful helicopter to fly around her district.

She’s up against two Democrat opponents. One is Darrell Park, a very pleasant-seeming person who signed on to the Homes Guarantee and the Services Not Sweeps petition, two efforts that this podcast supports. But he also ran against Barger last time around, and didn’t turn out to be very strong competition in the runoff.

John Harabedian, current Mayor of Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel foothills, is also a progressive, so we’ll take a chance on him this cycle. He’s running on serious criminal justice reforms and providing healthcare for undocumented people, two things that the County has some real power over. Either candidate is a longshot against Barger, though.


District Attorney

Jackie Lacey, current holder of the powerful position of District Attorney for Los Angeles County, attended a single candidate forum in the lead-up to March’s election. It became immediately clear why she had been skirting public view for so long. During her speaking time, she defended her credentials for the job by saying that public defenders like Rachel Rossi are not “real lawyers” and suggested that Black Angelenos are overrepresented in incarcerated populations because they make “bad decisions.”

Lacey blamed her comment regarding public defenders on being flustered by the round jeers she received from an audience that included many representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement, but she should be used to that by now: they’ve been protesting outside of her office every week for years. Lacey has been intractable in her refusal to take action against police violence, but she also failed to intervene to stop Ed Buck’s alleged serial predation on Black men in West Hollywood and postponed for years before seeking to expunge criminal convictions for marijuana. The urgency with which Los Angeles needs new blood in this office can hardly be overstated.

While George Gascón, former District Attorney for San Francisco, would also be a decided improvement above the status quo, the best choice for this position is Rachel Rossi. Rossi is a public defender who knows Los Angeles intimately and has been directly working to counteract the regressive leadership of Jackie Lacey from her side of the courtroom.

California, and Los Angeles in particular, has been defined for decades by its violent, dehumanizing approach to criminal justice. Rossi is the candidate who most represents a long-awaited closing of that chapter, and we hope you will join us in giving her your vote.


Ballot Measures

A mercifully short list this time!

Measure R

This is the Reform LA Jails initiative. It is extremely good and important. It would codify into law increased oversight over the Sheriff’s Department, which has been increasingly urgent with the election of an egomaniacal psycho that some people endorsed for some reason to Sheriff. It would also increase emphasis on diversionary programs like drug and psychiatric treatment rather than jails.

The Sheriff’s Department is one of the most broken institutions in Southern California. Any reform of this body is a positive thing. Vote Yes on Measure R and tell your friends to do the same.

LA Podcast Says: YES

Measure FD

This is an LA County parcel tax to provide funds to hire more firefighters. Based on the last few years, we are going to need them.

LA Podcast Says: YES

Proposition 13

Much has been made of the confusion around the number of this state prop: wasn’t Prop 13 the bad one? Yes, but that was back in the late ‘70s, and this one actually seeks to undo aspects of it. While Olivia Newton-John-era Prop 13 gutted school budgets by making huge cuts to property taxes, Billie Eilish-era Prop 13 claws back billions of that lost money by increasing property taxes on large commercial properties. In a county with a floundering school district, the failures of which are directly attributable to insufficient funds, voting Yes on Prop 13 is the right thing to do this time around.

LA Podcast Says: YES

School Board

Seemingly every time LAUSD Board elections come around, all of the voter guides begin with a very depressing itemization of the nightmares the district is facing. Crushing debt. Crumbling infrastructure. Poor student performance. Low graduation rates. But this time, things are… actually they’re the same.

There are three incumbents running for reelection, all of whom are generally seen to represent the teachers union wing of the board, rather than the charter-aligned wing. We’re supporting all of these incumbents. Admittedly, it feels a little weird to pass through so many people who have led a district that is struggling deeply. But for the most part, the lack of resources faced by LAUSD is not the fault of these incumbents, and they’ve consistently fought to funnel more money to the district rather than stripping it for parts.

The one open seat is District 7, which runs vertically from Historic South Central through Carson and Gardena down to San Pedro. Patricia Castellanos is a community activist and former deputy director of the LA Alliance for a New Economy, and she’s the consensus choice of progressive groups and teachers’ union. She’d also be the only LAUSD parent on the board.


Here they are—the judge races nobody knows much about. Including us! There’s so little media coverage of the people running in these races, it’s really hard to know who to vote for from the outside. We relied heavily on other voter guides to come up with these picks—especially Ground Game LA’s, which was informed by the choices of the Public Defender’s Union. Our choices are the same as theirs, except for one where we went a different way and explained why.

One of the candidates in this seat is former child actor Troy Slaten, who was endorsed in the Ground Game guide. Gen X’ers may know him as Jerry, the nerdy friend in “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.” Millennials may know him from this Reese’s Pieces commercial. The Greatest Generation may know him as a legal analyst who appears on Fox News a lot. This voter guide doesn’t know enough about him to make a confident endorsement —some progressive guides have supported him, but the most batshit conservative guide in the city also gave him a 10. His opponent is a prosecutor who has gotten some progressive support, but is also accused of falsifying evidence. We are happily staying out of it.

US House of Representatives

We’re skipping these. It’s a local news podcast. They’re covered in a lot of other places anyway, and most of the races aren’t really competitive. We’ll give shoutouts to a few candidates who are running to pressure some very powerful Democrats in a more progressive direction: CJ Berina, Maebe A. Girl, Anjelica Marie Duenas, and Keanakay Scott (who’d represent the district that contains Skid Row as the only person in Congress with extensive experience being homeless).

Assembly Seats

Most of the state legislature races in districts that overlap LA just aren’t that competitive this year, so we’re only picking a few of them. If you’d like a guide that makes endorsements for all of them, check out the ones from Ground Game LA, DSA-LA, or Michael MacDonald of Bike the Vote.

District 38

This is the seat being vacated by Christy Smith to run for the seat that was vacated by Katie Hill. Dina Cervantes is the consensus pick by all the voter guides we trust for her work supporting unions and immigrant justice.


District 53

This downtown seat is currently held by Miguel Santiago, who’s been decent with regard to expanding public banks but is otherwise a centrist voice in the state. Godfrey Santos Plata is running an exciting upstart campaign: he’d be the only renter in the State Legislature, and he’s a true progressive.


District 64

A public school teacher and community advocate from Watts, Fatima Iqbal-Zubair has been endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, which gets her an Automatic Endorsement from this podcast.