Rep. Laura Richardson (D)
Elected: Aug. 2007, 1st full term.
Born: April 14, 1962, Los Angeles .
Home: Long Beach.
Education: U.C.L.A., B.A. 1984, U. of S. CA, M.B.A. 1996.
Elected office: Long Beach City Cncl., 2000-06; CA Assembly, 2006-07.
Professional Career: Teacher, 1984-87; Mktg. rep., Xerox Corp., 1987-2001; Field Dpty., Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, 1996-98; Southern CA dir., Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, 2001-05.
The new congresswoman from the 37th District is Laura Richardson, a Democrat who won the seat in an August 2007 special election after the death of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a Democrat who was chair of the House Administration Committee. A former field deputy for Millender-McDonald, Richardson majored in political science at the University of California at Los Angeles, worked as a marketing representative for Xerox, and got an MBA from the University of Southern California. In 2000, she began her career in elected office by winning a seat on the Long Beach City Council and simultaneously served as Southern California director for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. In 2006, Richardson ran for an open Assembly seat and won the primary 54% to 46%; she won the general with 68% of the vote.
|Laura Richardson (D)||131,342||(75%)||($1,075,767)|
|Nicholas Dibs (I)||42,774||(24%)||($64,894)|
|Laura Richardson (D)||25,713||(74%)|
|Peter Mathews (D)||5,860||(17%)|
|Lee Davis (D)||2,983||(9%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2007 (67%)
In the special election, the June primary was the critical test of African-American and Hispanic voting clout in a district where power is shifting from blacks to Hispanics. Seventeen candidates filed for the election, but the front-runners were Richardson, who is African-American, and state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, who is Latina. Both are from Long Beach. Oropeza had served six years in the Assembly, where she chaired the Budget and Transportation committees, and was elected to the state Senate in 2006. Each candidate sought to downplay the racial component of the contest, but Richardson’s endorsements came chiefly from African-American leaders, including Rep. Maxine Waters of the adjacent 35th District, and Oropeza got her support mostly from Hispanics, including some Los Angeles-area members of Congress and state legislators. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, however, supported Richardson.
Oropeza and Richardson both called for an end to the war in Iraq and said that they would focus on the needs of the local port, such as additional security. Oropeza got significant financial support for voter-turnout efforts from an Indian tribe in Riverside County. Organized labor’s opposition to the tribe’s proposed casino led national and county labor federations to back Richardson. In the low-turnout voting, Richardson won 37% to secure the Democratic nomination, while Oropeza got 31%. Valerie McDonald, daughter of the late congresswoman, finished third with 9%. John Kanaley, a Long Beach policeman and Iraq war veteran, finished first among Republicans with 8%. Since none of the candidates received more than 50% of the vote, each party’s leading candidate faced an August 21 runoff. But this was a pro forma contest in this solidly Democratic district, with Richardson winning 67% to Kanaley’s 25%.
In the House, Richardson has a relatively moderate voting record for a Los Angeles-area Democrat. She joined the locally useful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Homeland Security Committee, where she pledged to educate House members about the “national significance” of her district’s transportation infrastructure. In response to a racially charged 2007 incident at a high school in Jena, La., in which six black teens were accused of beating a white high school student, she pushed a resolution to criminalize the use of hanging nooses.
But most of the early attention Richardson drew was unwanted. Her personal finances were a mess, especially her home ownership. Local news reports detailed that she had defaulted on home payments six times in eight years. Her home in Sacramento was foreclosed on by a bank, which sold it but then reversed that action after Richardson objected. She also abandoned her car after failing to pay a repair bill. The liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called her a “deadbeat,” and filed an ethics complaint alleging lenders may have given her preferential treatment. Richardson gave little explanation, though she told the Long Beach Press-Telegram in October 2008 that “everything is currently in order” with her finances. Her constituents did not seem to mind her personal problems. She was re-elected easily that year.