One of the most explosive races in California is the battle for the 50th Assembly District in the Westside of Los Angeles. Of the four candidates in the June 5 open primary, much of the attention has been focused on the battle between Assemblymember Betsy Butler and Torie Osborn, the energetic lesbian community organizer who has become both a lightning rod and a voice for those raging against the ‘machine.’
But Osborn is no political novice. Her savvy team of advisors includes former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, L.A. City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s chief deputy Mike Bonin and Democratic marketing and messaging strategist Dante Atkins. Leading up to the California Democratic Convention, Osborn plainly out-organized her rivals by buying memberships to local grassroots Democratic clubs that then endorsed her. While some longtime club members complained, the procedure is a longtime practice and was totally
But at a time when the Occupy Wall Street movement has awakened grassroots activism, and in a state where the budget deficit seems perennially out of control, this 25-year Santa Monica resident with an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and many years as director of four nonprofit social change advocacy organizations has caught the attention of a range of supporters from billionaire gay philanthropist David Geffen to Venice activist/blogger Marta Evry.
“Sacramento is broken, and we need fixers. Torie has the three things it will take to be an effective assemblymember—an
intimate knowledge of her district; skill at working with people of all views to build consensus; and the experience and ability to create opportunity from crisis,” Bonin told Frontiers. “From the Gay & Lesbian Center to the United Way, from Liberty Hill to the mayor’s office, Torie’s passion has been creating solutions, empowering people and improving people’s lives. She’s not a politician; she is a proven problem solver.”
At the start of an almost two-hour interview, Osborn noted three polls suggesting that either she or her rivals—Butler, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom or gay Republican attorney Brad Torgan—could wind up in the top two spots for a November election run-off. “I think the story is that the race is totally up in the air,” Osborn told Frontiers. “There is no leader, in terms of the voters who have already decided. The majority are undecided, and the race is anybody’s to win.”
Osborn is counting on the LGBT community in pockets of the 50th District such as West Hollywood to help her win. Indeed, her campaign has flooded the mailboxes of likely LGBT voters, much to the consternation of some environmentalists. She often quotes the late icon Harvey Milk’s directive “that we must continue to elect our own to represent us,” especially since the LGBT Caucus will be minus a lesbian when Christine Kehoe terms out.
“Part of the dynamic of this campaign is that both of my Democratic opponents have strong LGBT backing,” Osborn said. “So it’s absolutely critical because of term limits that we continually elect our own to protect existing rights as well as advance our rights.”
But the LGBT Legislative Caucus—including openly gay Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez—has endorsed strong straight ally Assemblymember Betsy Butler, as has the LGBT lobbying organization Equality California, on which Butler sits as a boardmember. One of the more controversial aspects of Osborn’s campaign is her harsh rhetoric indicting Pérez as part of the Sacramento “machine” and “the incumbency-protection racket.”
“I’m an effective, pragmatic person. I have always been good at doing the leadership work that’s necessary to build a winning coalition. It’s worth mentioning that of EQCA’s 12 bills last year, my opponent championed none of them. My opponent received the Equality California endorsement without my getting an interview. It was self-dealing. It was absolutely the worst example of
incumbency-protection and self-dealing that I, frankly, am running against and that the voters are sick and tired of.
“Listen, I’ve had 48 meetings in Sacramento. They have all gone fantastically. Sacramento, except those who are part of the incumbency-protection racket, is ready, willing and able to embrace me with open arms. My capacity to build and maintain relationships across the board, with multiple constituencies—with labor, with business, with all kids of constituencies—will be excellent.”
Osborn remains livid over Pérez and the Democratic Party designating Butler as an incumbent seeking re-election rather than recognizing Butler as a “carpetbagger” who moved into Osborn’s district despite the citizen-initiative-created Citizen’s Re-Districting Commission designating the new 50th A.D. as an open seat. However, Osborn is confident that after she wins, all hard feelings will be smoothed over.
Asked to identify “the machine,” Osborn said, “We’re talking about the Speaker’s Office, we’re talking about the existing lobbyists—the Sierra Clubs—all circled the wagon. It’s not just the Speaker. It’s an entire Sacramento machine that circles the wagons around those who have already been elected. ... It is not personal about me or Richard Bloom. The machine is amoral. It is not about a person. It is simply doing what it does. The Speaker is doing his job.”