Recommendations for State Assembly, District 18 special election, Tuesday June 29th

State Assembly, District 18:

Janani Ramachandran*, James Aguilar*, or Victor Aguilar*  

           * = Recommended but not endorsed — please see article

Here is the Green Party’s views on this special election as regards multiple candidates and a recommendation (but not an endorsement) in a partisan race for State Assembly District 18, which includes Alameda, San Leandro, and most of Oakland, except for North Oakland.

There are several reasons why we are taking this position. First, this is a rather unusual field of candidates, reflecting a range of differences of varied constituencies in the left-liberal wing of the East Bay political spectrum, including, but not only, the Democratic Party and labor establishment. Thus three of the candidates are openly LGBTQ and most have significant linkage to the left and labor (though one could argue this is the norm in our area, at least in the past). There is also a broad range geographically, with all parts of the district represented, which may increase visibility of this campaign. There will be considerable interest in this election and that requires taking a position.

There are eight candidates, six of whom are registered Democrats, one is a Republican and one is no party preference (representing the Socialist Workers Party). Six responded to our questionnaire, of the two who did not, one is a marginal candidate, Eugene Canson, while the other is a ‘major’ contender, Malia Vella .

Of the ones who are registered with the Democratic Party (with the exception of Canson), let us consider the commonalities and differences and the importance of such. There are a range of policy/program issues that are shared by most (we can make some assumptions about Vella based on her Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO positions). In addition, we should consider the backgrounds and experiences of these candidates.

The common grounds are mainly, at least in rhetoric: Medicare for All, support for progressive taxation/Prop 15 (though there are some additions with different candidates), expansion of union rights, a CA Green New Deal and an end to fracking, repeal of Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act and other actions for tenants rights, public banking, free tuition for community college and higher ed, further legalization of banned substances, support for Black Lives Matter and restraints on the police, and a passionate drive in defense of LGBTQ rights. There is even support for proportional representation (except we’re unclear on Vella’s position). There are differences around public education, though all claim to want to restrain spreading of charter schools.

The more activist group includes the two Aguilars (Victor and James) and Janani Ramachandran; they are all LGBTQ and are not part of the Alameda political scene (unlike Vella and Bonta). All three say they are refusing corporate monies (we will return to campaign funding near the end of this article).

Victor Aguilar

What makes Victor Aguilar impressive is the degree of specificity in his responses. He is the vice mayor of San Leandro and has the most experience in local government. He and Ramachandran strongly advocate for a $22 an hour minimum wage. Aguilar goes into considerable detail about his ecojustice/Green New Deal vision, not only advocating the end of fracking but also a stiff carbon tax; he is in favor of free public transit (as are the others in this trio) and for public ownership of utilities.

He is a strong advocate of tenants rights, and discusses different forms (including cooperatives) of public housing. Aguilar discusses at length funding for social services (including restorative justice programs) instead of policing. And he favors no mandatory minimum sentences and the abolishing of the death penalty.

Besides his detailed proposals, his vision of politics as integrally linked to grassroots organizing is impressive. He has organized with Unite/HERE Local 5. His endorsers are largely officials in San Leandro and other elected officials like Rebecca Saltzman as well as many LGBTQ activists and organizations. He is employed by the Veritext Legal Solution firm.

Janani Ramachandran

The most dynamic of this progressive bloc is probably Janani Ramachandran. She is a ‘social justice lawyer’ and is an Oakland Public Ethics Commissioner. She is especially outspoken around housing issues, having been very active in opposing evictions. Ramachandran is also the only candidate who has highlighted her opposition to the proposed new waterfront stadium. This is a major issue in considering whom to support.

She also advocates an immediate end to fossil fuel extraction in the state. Her advocacy around progressive taxation includes a call for a special wealth tax. While her knowledge of housing issues (and struggles) is impressive, she seems to have less understanding of public education issues (though she opposes the expansion of charters and seemingly other aspects of the education corporate deform program).

She has been endorsed by the East Bay Times, Our Revolution East Bay, and the ILWU Northern CA Council as well as a range of liberal Democratic officials (mostly outside AD 18) including Vinnie Bacon but also Trish Spencer (who we have endorsed for office in Alameda) and activist intellectuals like Randy Shaw and Joel Benin.

James Aguilar

James Aguilar also seems to be a young dynamo, serving on the San Leandro school district board, though he grew up in Oakland and comes from a family of union activists. He had the least specifics of this group but was forceful in his opposition to police violence and oversight of the county Sheriff’s Department. He also was the most aggrieved by Prop 14, though all these candidates, (including Bonta) agreed the signature requirements should be radically reduced.

He also advocates that 16 year olds should vote in all local elections. He is most focused predictably on education issues and helped write legislation limiting charters. Aguilar is also especially concerned with LGBTQ rights for students. Interestingly, he was an intern with Rob Bonta, doing research on education matters and is endorsed by former state education superintendent Delaine Eastin. His other endorsers are mainly school board officials and activists.

Mia Bonta

Of the two ‘frontrunners’ only Mia Bonta responded. She too has a focus on public education (she is president of the Alameda school board). However, we did not support her for Alameda School Board, in part due to her involvement with Oakland Promise, of which she is CEO.

Oakland Promise sounds like a benevolent program, preparing (and financing) students through college, but it is heavily linked to groups like GO Public Schools and the education deform network, as well as Libby Schaff. However, she has supported measures to limit the spread of charter schools (including legislation her husband sponsored when in this seat). She also supports free tuition for higher education.

She says that she advocated for SB467, which would have restricted fracking, is for a Green New Deal, for progressive taxation and public banking. While she opposes Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act, she favored Measure Z in Alameda, which we opposed as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for developers. In addition, she has no stand against the proposed waterfront stadium in Oakland. And she most clearly accepts corporate funding, despite having been raised by parents in the Young Lords.

Her endorsers include much of the Democratic establishment including some who are left leaning like Art Torres and Sandre Swanson, 21 State Assembly members, centrist Oakland city council and school board members, and some significant labor backing, especially the education sector unions (CTA, CSEA), as well as the SEIU state council and UFCW Local 5.

Malia Vella

While Malia Vella did not respond, we have discussed her merits when we previously did not endorse her for Alameda City Council; this was in part related to a scandal around interference in the selection of the fire commissioner. That said, her labor officialdom credentials (she is a member of the Alameda Labor Council and a lawyer for the Teamster locals and other unions) normally would have led one to expect her being the darling of the usual political powers, but that has been thrown into chaos when the Alameda Labor Council exec board proposed an ‘open endorsement’ (meaning that each local gets to choose), which passed nearly unanimously, despite numerous verbal protests. Though she has not only union locals, but Oakland Rising (heavily influenced by SEIU 1021) backing her, this is a tumultuous situation.

Stephen Slauson and Joel Britton

We will briefly mention the other two candidates (who did respond to our questionnaire). Stephen Slauson is a Republican who is in favor of fracking and opposes rent control, public banking, and free tuition for higher ed. Enough said; and by the way, he has no endorsements.

A different kind of propaganda campaign is being run by Joel Britton of the Socialist Workers Party. He did not answer many of our questions, saying they were not relevant to his campaign. He does favor Medicare for All, but beyond that, most of his campaign points are agitational slogans; for a labor party, no layoffs, for a federal housing program, prisoner rights, nationalization of health care (and other) corporations. While many of these ideas we probably support, there is major difficulty in any possible endorsement. Not only is this campaign not addressing many of the immediate issues in the state, but the SWP has degenerated into a small sect.

That then brought us to the question of whether we should ignore the field and attribute the divides among progressives in labor and the mass movement as further confusion, with much of the conflict simply around careerism and/or opportunism.


Rather, we are showing preference (sans endorsements, due to them being registered Democrats) to the bloc of Ramachandran and the two Aguilars, as an alternative to the Democratic Party/labor establishment; a justification being that these three candidates are foremost involved in local activism and the social movements and in opposition to much of what the traditional Democratic Party approach has been and will continue to be.  In addition, we are publicizing the stands taken by these three candidate activists around which we have significant agreement (health care, ecojustice, progressive taxation, public banking, funding for social services and not police, racial/gender justice, etc.) even while we express our differences with the three aforementioned candidates as regards their Democratic Party links.

Two final points: we have some preference for Ramachandran due to her involvement in key issues involving housing and the port stadium as well as her greater chance of finishing in the top two. (Please note: this is not a ranked-choice race).

Finally, on campaign donations, as of the latest available report (May 15). Bonta has raised over $250,000, heavily from gambling interests, and Vella has raised over $180,000, much of it from building trades unions. Janani Ramachandran has raised $144,000, mainly from the Indian-American community in the Bay Area, but Victor Aguilar is only at $19,000, and James Aguilar has raised less than $4,000. (The three remaining candidates did not file reports so they very likely have raised less than the $2,000 filing threshold),

California Assembly District 18 map: