Viewpoint: Untangling the 51st State Assembly District race

Candidates Wendy Carrillo and Luis Lopez

Matt Bogdanow is not a political expert – he’s a musician and author of a book on how to play the drums. But he is interested in politics. After moving to Echo Park from New York several years ago, Bogdanow began taking notes for himself and then his friends to track and make sense of all the confusing California ballot measures. Now, he shares his take on the 51st Assembly District race with Eastsider readers.


Candidates Wendy Carrillo and Luis López are progressive Democrats whose ideologies are largely in line with my own, and whose populations are woefully underrepresented in politics. That’s the good news! The bad news is both of their campaigns have been pretty icky, and the question is how much of that ickiness will remain once one of them is in office.

As far as I can tell, they have almost no substantial policy differences. The closest I’ve found is this: Lopez fully supports The Healthy California Act (SB-562), which is a single-payer plan for the state. Carrillo says she’s in favor of single-payer in theory, but has not committed to supporting this particular bill. During the primary, candidate Dr. Ron Birnbaum convinced me that, with a rare democratic supermajority in the state legislature, now is the time to get single-payer passed in California. I am neither a doctor nor a politician, but I’m in favor of single-payer, and I trust Birnbaum when he says SB-562 is the right bill to get this done.

  • Polls for the 51st Assembly District runoff will be open on Tuesday, Dec. 5 from 7 am to 8 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Click here to find out if you live in the district and here to find your polling place and sample ballot.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT LUIS: He’s a nonprofit healthcare director with a great qualifications, from co-founding Honor PAC (Latinx LGBT org), to being on the board of Planned Parenthood, to co-founding the Silverlake Neighborhood Council, to helping pass the plastic bag ban and protect our local parks.

WHAT MAKES ME SAD ABOUT LUIS: At the primary forum in Highland Park, he was the only candidate whose answer to the following question: “Can an elected accept special interest money, and still remain impartial in representing the best interests of their constituents?” was YES. (Wendy did not attend the forum) So that’s a red flag. He also has run a super negative smear campaign against Wendy, and while some of the things he’s said about her appear to be true (see below), others are a bit of a stretch (like comparing her to Betsy DeVos).

LUIS’S KEY ENDORSEMENTS: Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, legendary progressive Jackie Goldberg, various LGBT groups and a whole slew of local democratic clubs.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT WENDY: She made national headlines earlier this year with her impassioned and fearless speech at the Women’s March in Washington, and as a formerly undocumented immigrant she’d bring a valuable perspective to Sacramento. She then ran against Jimmy Gomez for Xavier Becerra’s vacant seat in Congress; Gomez won, and has now endorsed her for his vacant seat in the State Assembly, which seems noteworthy.

WHAT MAKES ME SAD ABOUT WENDY: She doesn’t really have experience holding public office. She recently took money from Women in Power PAC, a group aimed at getting more women elected (good!) who in turn received a donation from Chevron (not so good!). There’s also the endorsement from SEIU, who (through a work-around that I can’t claim to fully understand) seem to have spent over $300,000 on her campaign without technically donating the money to her? Plus now she’s also been accused of ballot harvesting. Technically it’s legal for canvassers to come to your house and ask to collect your mail-in ballot, but it’s *not* legal for them to get paid per ballot they collect, and it’s *not* legal for them to pressure you into handing over your ballot. If her team’s been doing this, that’s pretty high on my ickiness scale.

WENDY’S KEY ENDORSEMENTS: Jimmy Gomez, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Councilmen Jose Huizar and David Ryu, California Democratic Party, California League of Conservation Voters, a bunch of local unions and an array of women’s empowerment organizations.

FINAL VERDICT: For me, this is a win-win big picture (Trump will absolutely hate these two), but a lose-lose small picture (because even at such a local level, things already feel dirty). Given the tactics of each campaign, I don’t feel comfortable officially endorsing either candidate, but I still think it’s incredibly important to vote, even if just for the fate of SB-562. Turnout will be low and the margins could be razor thin, so head to the polls on December 5th!

Matt Bogdanow is an Echo Park-based author, educator, and performer whose favorite fashion accessory is an “I Voted!” sticker.

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  1. Thanks for this. These politicians all promise the moon which is why I think you need to follow the money as you can get a much better sense of whom the candidates are actually working for. I like Wendy and was super excited with her at first but then you realize she is backed by all this gross special interest money from Chevron, the SEIU, etc., etc. Those groups don’t care about our district, they care about THEIR interests. Luis is maybe not as exciting but he has been an advocate for almost 20 years here in AD51. And his campaign is funded by small donations, almost all of which come from the district. That means he has actual support from people that live here. Luis is my guy, I hope he wins.

    • Insightful post. I’ve been somewhat torn while leaning towards Luis and highlighting the special interests supporting Wendy tilted my preference even further in his favor. I was also a big supporter of Jackie when she represented CD 13 and her endorsement means something to me.

    • Personally, I dislike the idea of being Wendy Carrillo’s consolation prize. She wanted Xavier Becerra’s seat in Congress, lost that election, and will now settle for being a member of the Assembly. I believe that we need someone who has a vested interest in improving this district — not someone who is deliberately using AD51 as a stepping stone for future political aspirations.

    • Exactly! How may mailers did you get for each? I also like that the Sierra Club endorses Luis.

  2. Count me as grateful to get someone’s – anyone’s! – perspective on this. Wendy has been off-putting to me in a way I haven’t quite been able pinpoint ever since she suddenly appeared on the scene for the Congressional election. There’s just a lotta chutzpah in someone thinking they deserve my vote, despite their complete lack of public service experience, just because they went to Standing Rock and took some selfies. From my vantage point, she’s emblematic of the sort of self-righteous millennial progressive that often fixates on the shiny objects (Standing Rock, bathroom bills, etc.) that Republicans serve up so they can rob us blind while we’re distracted.

    I think I’ll take someone who’s got a long track record of keeping his eye on the ball.

  3. “For me, this is a win-win big picture (Trump will absolutely hate these two),”

    This is such a frustrating, stupid line of thinking. Quit trying to nationalize local elections! There are local and state issues these two are going to be involved in that will have direct impacts on our lives and nothing to do with Donald Trump. In fact, those kinds of issues are the only things of consequence they’ll work on.

    Hacky local politicians like these two love to talk national politics. What better chance to pander to constituents like this Matt dude? Taking a “stand” against a repugnant, lecherous twerp like Trump has nothing to do with their actual jobs and it always brings in the applause and donations.

    This fawning writeup spends maybe a graf talking about one proposed bill in the the state leg. Pay attention!

    • Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to respond. I absolutely agree that the focus here should be on local impact – SB-562 is the only substantive issue I’ve found where they disagree, but please let me know if you identify others!

      • Reporting idea: Lopez accuses Wendy Carrillo of taking Chevron money (using admittedly pretty tortured logic) – find out what bills Chevron has lobbied for and against in the state assembly, ask her what her stance on those bills is.

  4. It is easy to follow the money on this one. Yesterday we got 6 fliers in the mail for Wendy and only one for Luis.
    That make my decision to vote for Luis so simple with that tally.

  5. I desperately want to see more women in public office but I’ve come to the decision that Wendy Carrillo isn’t the one I want representing my community. Luis has a long track record around here so I was inclined to vote for him from the start, but I wanted to give Carrillo my consideration. While there isn’t a whole lot to differentiate the two policy-wise Carrillo has distinguished herself with the meanness of her flyers. Luis is a good guy. He isn’t the enemy Carrillo repeatedly makes him out to be. I don’t want a mean person representing me. Luis has my vote.

    • Also Luis Lopez has Jackie Goldberger’s endorsement which is an endorsement I value a great deal. I very much don’t value the endorsement of David Ryu and the fact that he endorses Wendy Carrillo makes me question her even more.

  6. Interesting perspectives and endorsements! Looking forward to the outcome of the election and how many residents will bother to go to the polls and vote! Career politicians need to proactively work to better our communities and improve the quality of life of its constituents. We voted for CARRILLO.

  7. I think Luis has been stronger on the issues and has a stronger healthcare plan. I’d like to know the context of being impartial even when collecting special interest money. I hope he has a reason campaign financing policy, which I cannot find, and hopefully after push reform, the special interest money item becomes no longer applicable and he continues representing his people.

  8. Matt,

    First, I want to thank you for taking the time to publicly evaluate the vote decision. After some consideration, I have decided to support Luis Lopez. I wrote about that in a piece I put on Medium link below.


    I appreciate too your mentioning me in your piece. If you or anyone want clarification on how SEIU and others spent independently on the campaign, feel free to PM me on Facebook and we can communicate more. Let me just say that the total is now 1.1 million dollars not just 300k. They are allowable as Independent Expenditures which are basically part of the regime we live under post Citizens United. Regardless of what Luis or Wendy or anyone says, *always* follow the money. Your instinct that it matters is dead-on right.

  9. Regarding Luis Lopez’s response to the question at the Highland Park forum: There’s a classic story about one old-time politician (I’m thinking it was a Texan, maybe LBJ?), in the days of the smoke-filled rooms, who said, “If you CAN’T take their money and then vote against ’em, son, you don’t belong in politics!”

    (Maybe it’s apocryphal, and I’ve probably paraphrased it badly, but I still like that line.)

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