TERM LIMITS SWEEP OUT much of the state Assembly this year, a fact that must be cheering to anyone who instinctively dislikes politicians. But there's not much to cheer about. After six years, state legislators are just beginning to become effective on the public's behalf. Then they're gone, replaced by a new crop of novices who have to start from scratch.
And because the political parties draw the lines and keep their districts safe, there isn't much of a debate about the new guys. The June 6 primary is the real election, with November's general election little more than a formality. There's little to be done about it but to make your choices carefully and to hold your representatives to account once they take office.
Yet voters can hardly be blamed for not knowing who represents them in the Assembly. Districts take bizarre shapes, and in news reports and official publications, each representative is often associated with a community chosen for no apparent good reason. Assemblywoman Karen Bass, for example, is routinely described as a Democrat from Baldwin Vista. Where? You'd have to be a real local to know where to find Baldwin Vista, and besides, the designation gives voters in Westwood, Cheviot Hills, Leimert Park and parts of Century City and Culver City no clue that Bass is their representative. If you're unsure of your district, check your sample ballot or go to www.leginfo.ca.gov/yourleg.html.
The Times endorses selectively. We look for candidates ready to work in a bipartisan spirit, willing to release their parties' stranglehold on districting and able to work fast as well as smart. In the last six weeks we have announced our choices for several statewide and local offices, including four crucial Assembly districts as well as two ballot propositions. Here are our Democratic primary endorsements in four more key Assembly districts. The Times will publish a summary of these and previous endorsements on Sunday and again on Election Day.
District 41: Jonathan Levey is the best candidate to succeed termed-out Fran Pavley in this coastal district, which stretches from Santa Monica to Oxnard. All five Democrats emphasize improving education, the environment and traffic flow; the main differences are how they would go about accomplishing their objectives.
If the race were decided by endorsements, Julia Brownley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education, would win handily; she's backed by Pavley and much of the Democratic Party establishment. But Brownley is close to a one-issue candidate. Her passion is for improving education by pumping more money into public schools. Three of her opponents -- Kelly Hayes-Raitt of Santa Monica, Barry Groveman of Calabasas and Levey of Santa Monica -- pay greater attention to a more basic problem in Sacramento: the Legislature's continual struggle to accomplish anything of consequence.
All point to their ability to build coalitions to get things done. But Hayes-Raitt may be running for the wrong office. She wants to pressure the Bush administration to end the war in Iraq, a job better suited for a member of Congress. Groveman, a lawyer and the mayor of Calabasas, offers some interesting proposals about education and traffic. The most compelling ideas in the campaign, however, have come from Levey, a former developer and litigator who has never held office. His plans for improving schools, reducing pollution and improving transportation are pragmatic enough to seem achievable, even with the partisan rancor in the state Capitol.
District 45: Elena Popp is bright, plain-spoken, accomplished and the most independent of the five Democrats vying to replace Jackie Goldberg, who is termed out. This district ranges from Hollywood and Echo Park east to Mount Washington and El Sereno. A tenants' rights lawyer, she has a record of transcending parochial interests and crafting pragmatic solutions to community problems. Popp, a native of Mexico, grew up in the district and knows its needs.
Kevin DeLeon, with close ties to the California Teachers Assn. and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), is well funded and broadly endorsed but would have to work hard to carve an independent path. Christine Chavez is enthusiastically backed by Hollywood stars and others who remember her legendary grandfather, labor leader Cesar Chavez, but pedigree is not enough. Gabriel Buelna is impressive, although not ready for the Assembly.
District 48: Anthony Willoughby is the best of three Democrats seeking to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is leaving the Assembly to make a run for the state Senate. The district forms a vertical near-rectangle that runs from south of the Century Freeway up the west side of the Harbor Freeway, then over to Hollywood. The Guatemalan-born Willoughby, a trial attorney, provides the proper balance of insider savvy, having served on Los Angeles city and county boards and committees, and newcomer perspective in this rapidly changing district.