SMMUSD Board Member Ben Allen Eyes State Senator Ted Lieu's Seat

Friday, 14 Feb 2014, 9:23:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

SMMUSD board member Ben Allen.
Mirror Archives
SMMUSD board member Ben Allen.

The game of political musical chairs has created vacuums of openings for certain seats in county, state, and federal office. In Congress, Rep. Henry Waxman’s announcement he is ending his tenure representing Santa Monica and the Westside in Washington, D.C. has drawn quite the field of potential candidates to fill a seat not open in 40 years.

One of those potential candidates – Ted Lieu – is vacating a seat himself and causing another rush of candidates to take over representing his district in Sacramento.

One of those seeking Ted Lieu’s seat in the State Senate is current Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) board member Ben Allen, who formally announced Feb. 10 his candidacy for Lieu’s District.

Lieu currently represents Santa Monica and other portions of the Westside in the 28th Senate District. With redistricting taking effect this year, Lieu’s district, which also includes portions of the South Bay, will be renamed as the 26th Senate District.

Just a few days prior to Allen’s announcement, activist and attorney Sandra Fluke announced her candidacy for the new 26th Senate District.

After announcing his candidacy, Allen spoke with The Mirror about his campaign and how his experience as a SMMUSD board member would help him represent Santa Monica and the rest of the district in Sacramento.

Below is an interview with the school board member.

Why run for this office now?

These sorts of opportunities don’t come open very often, and when the news came down that Ted Lieu was vacating the seat, I started getting a lot of calls from people encouraging me to consider it.

What was the appeal to run for State Senate versus staying on the School Board or perhaps running for City Council?

I have loved serving on the School Board, and have gotten very engaged in education policy-making. I serve on several regional committees and boards relating to education, and teach education law and policy at UCLA Law School. Half of the State’s budget is in education, and my education experience will be very relevant if I’m elected to the Senate. I’m passionate about a lot of other relevant issues – from job creation to environmental protection.

If you are elected to the State Senate, how can you impact key Santa Monica issues, such as development, traffic, public transit, and education, from Sacramento?

I want to be a fighter for public education – giving schools the resources they need to educate our kids. I want to fight to get additional funding for greater public transit in the area – from busways to rail. I grew up hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains and swimming in the Santa Monica Bay and am passionate about preserving and protecting those extraordinary local natural resources.

How has being on the School Board helped you position yourself to be effective as a State Senator?

It has taught me a tremendous amount about how the budget and regulatory processes in Sacramento dramatically impact the ability of local governments to do their work. It’s put me in difficult negotiation situations that will certainly help me behind closed doors in Sacramento. I’ve also learned how to be a good constituency leader – showing up at meetings, listening to people, hearing people’s concerns, following up, and making decisions taking folks’ ideas and concerns into account.

What are the education issues within the 26th District that need to be addressed and how are you poised to tackle such issues?

I’m not sure that there are educational issues that are particular to the 26th District that are that different from the rest of the State, except that the Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula might impact our school districts a little differently. Generally, we face the same imperatives that exist everywhere in the state: the vitally important work of improving educational quality, school funding, support for the arts, addressing the achievement gap, figuring out better ways for assessment, … creating openings for creativity and innovation within the mainstream system and the charter school system to help kids learn, building more access to robust early childhood programming, … ensuring an affordable pipeline to higher education with our community colleges and universities, addressing the mounting debt we are asking younger people to take on to afford an education, [and] creating opportunities for lifelong learning in our communities. There are a lot of challenges, but they need to be addressed if California is going to have a bright, prosperous, and just future.

As a potential newcomer to Sacramento, how do you address those who question the ages of some of the candidates in this race, such as you or Sandra Fluke?

I am younger, but I’ve now spent nearly eight years in significant leadership positions – two years on the Board of Regents, and I’ve served on the School Board since 2008. I have served as President of the Board, help set the agenda, led meetings, served as a spokesperson for the District, been in negotiations for the District, participated in high level executive searches, thought about and cast difficult votes, etc. I have deep, deep roots in this community. But I think it’s great to have some younger folks in the mix this year. The world is changing rapidly, and it’s good to have different generational voices at the table.

Through this seat, how can Santa Monica be a leader in shaping policy for the entire district?

Santa Monica is a vital regional leader. We always seem to be punching above our weight – people turn to our city for policy inspiration in many respects – education, environmental best practices, tech, and livability, etc. We should be proud of our leadership role, but never be complacent. We have a lot of work to do to protect our quality of life here.

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