Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, two Democratic candidates vying for the same seat to represent the newly drawn 44th Congressional District, pleaded for votes during a forum at Cal State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) on Oct. 25, two weeks before Election Day. Their short, separate presentations before an assembly of about 50 students were part of a two-hour-long event that also included moderated debates between local representatives for and against five state propositions, as well as representatives from the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.
Although a university press release promoting the event stated that there would be “an opportunity for questions from the audience,” both Richardson and Hahn immediately left the University Theatre after giving their speeches and did not take questions.
David Gamboa, CSUDH spokesperson, said the university had planned the event as an “educational forum” and not a debate. “We weren’t trying to get into any type of debate format for this forum,” he said. “This was more of an educational format for our students in the greater community. We felt that the issues [were] going to be lost if they decided to debate… we just wanted them to present their views and initiatives.”
Richardson and Hahn, who both currently serve in the US House of Representatives (Richardson serving the 37th district and Hahn the 36th), are battling for a chance to represent a new South Bay district that was recently formed out of redistricting. The district now includes Carson, Compton, Lynwood, parts of Long Beach, San Pedro, South Gate, Watts, Walnut Park and Wilmington.
Richardson, who has been a congresswoman for five years, after serving on the California State Assembly and Long Beach City Council, has had a tough run this year.
After losing to her opponent by 20 points in the primary election in June, Richardson continues to trail Hahn in recent polls. Much of her declining support may be due to recent controversies over alleged ethics violations. Most recently, Richardson was reprimanded and fined $10,000 after an investigation by the House Ethics Committee determined in August that she had violated House rules by pressuring her official congressional staff to work on her re-election campaign. Richardson has also had a hard time financing her campaign, according to recent campaign finance reports that show she is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Still, Richardson, who briefly attended CSUDH, focused on her past accomplishments during the forum, telling students she helped obtain close to $1 million in federal funds to support programs at the university and classes during her tenure. “This is home for me,” she said. “[It’s] important for me to make sure that you’re successful and have the same chances that I had.”
Richardson also mentioned that she voted for federal stimulus funding four years ago that helped restore cuts to CSUs and was one of the sponsors of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, pending legislation that, if passed, would give illegal citizens who have lived in the United States and have attended school for more than three years the ability to apply to college and take advantage of financial aid. She said she also voted to reduce interest rates on federal student loans. “There’s a lot that I’ve done to bring money to this school and to also bring programs, so it’s going to be better for you being here and that’s important,” Richardson said.
Despite recent controversies, Richardson has received a wide spectrum of endorsements from local governmental officials, including a faction of African-American representatives. Most recently, she was endorsed by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who, in a prepared statement, called Richardson “a person who over the years has stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves.” Cleaver added, “It’s critical that I reiterate how important it is for us to hold on to every seat we have, and if possible, to expand the number of African-Americans in Congress… unfortunately, there are still issues that are racial, and I don’t know how you solve a problem if you exclude race.”
Hahn, who is white, however, has received the endorsement of the California Democratic Party in addition to the California Labor Federation.
Hahn, the daughter of longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and the sister of former Los Angeles mayor and now Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Hahn, said the election will ultimately determine the primary concerns for voters in the new district. “This is a critical race,” she said. “And, while it’s not a race between a Democrat and a Republican… it’s a reflection of this new district’s priorities and values and what our future will bring us.”
A longtime Los Angeles city councilmember, Janice Hahn aligned her views with re-electing President Obama while promoting investments in education and providing more job opportunities from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. “If you send me back to Congress, I’ll fight every day to make sure everyone in this district has an opportunity to succeed and has a fair shot at the American Dream,” she said. “My vision for this district is one where everyone graduates from high school and has an opportunity to go to college… I want people in this district to have the skills to pay their bills.”
Hahn added that she is “going to be the kind of Congresswoman this 44th district deserves,” with “common sense, brains and also guts.”
One student, however, said it was “unusual” that the candidates didn’t debate any topics or answer questions from students, adding that the candidates appeared to be “pandering” to the audience. “Basically, they gave the audience candy,” said Burton Herwitz, a communications major. “They told [students about] all the goodies they’re giving them, but never touched on the $16 trillion we’re in debt or how we pay for all these social programs and all these amenities we’re giving out.”