What inspires someone to run for office? What type of character does one need to become a respected leader? What kind of motivation does it take to pass first-of-its kind legislation? In an interview, the California Globe sat down with State Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) in this week’s edition of Friday focus.
• Holly J. Mitchell, Democrat, Senate District 30
• Third-generation Angeleno
• The LA Times called Mitchell “the moral compass of the Senate.”
• Issues: At-risk children, prison reform, healthcare
Proudly representing California’s 30th district, the Los Angeles born representative has turned a career in public service into a legacy of public achievements. But long before any ambitions of holding public office emerged, the UC Riverside grad spent her time accumulating a notable resume. Mitchell grinded away as a Consultant to the Senate Health Committee, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty and most importantly, executive director of Crystal Stairs. Not only was the latter of the three one of the biggest nonprofit childcare agencies in the state, but it would eventually change the way Mitchell viewed public policy making for years to come.
While running the Crystal Stairs child development agency, in 2008 Mitchell would become inspired to do more. During a fieldtrip to Sacramento with a large parent advocacy group called Community Voices, she led the group to testify to the assembly on the early care and education budget. Shockingly, upon arrival Mitchell was informed that the committee member who previously represented LA County – which accounts for nearly 1/3 of California’s kids, was no longer with the committee. With no one to stand up and support their position, Mitchell and her group watched as the committee slashed roughly $1 billion from subsidized childcare without a single representative from LA County.
At that moment, it hit her. “I sat in that hearing room and got mad enough and decided to run,” said Mitchell. “I also looked at that committee and realized there wasn’t anybody who could match me in terms of my working knowledge of all of the family support programs the state has a responsibility to administer.” During the long bus ride back to LA, frustrated and anxious, Mitchell experienced a wave of ideas encircling her. These ideas would soon transform into groundbreaking legislation.
Representing a total of 4 different districts throughout her political career, Mitchell became an elected official in 2010 when she earned her seat in the State Assembly before transitioning to the Senate after a 2013 special election victory. Despite these impressive accomplishments, perhaps her most significant undertaking was when she was appointed chair the powerful Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. As if Mitchell’s 6 foot tall stature and kind but boisterous character wasn’t already gaining attention around the capitol, she was also the first African American to lead the powerful committee.
“When I was subcommittee chair I was very comfortable being a strong advocate for the issues that fell in that subcommittee. When I was appointed budget chair two years ago my role changed and I’m now manager of the overall budget process. I have to make sure that for my colleagues on the other side of the isle, that the process is inclusive and fair. And I work very hard to deliver on that.”
Since becoming chair of the budget committee in December of 2016, Mitchell hasn’t lost sight of the values that shaped her growing up. Raised by two parents involved in social work and a mother who would become the warden at CIW – appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, Mitchell said “I don’t remember it being directly communicated. But I do know that it was a part of the ethos and culture of our home… to go the extra mile for the kids.” Mitchell has certainly incorporated the kids into her most recent legislation.
Asked for some of her proudest accomplishments, the Senator without hesitation cited her equity and justice package, which she jointly authored with fellow Democratic Senator Ricardo Lara. Placing a greater emphasis on prevention, rehabilitation and maintaining family cohesion, the equity and justice package is comprised of six bills from 2017 and four from 2018. The most recent of collective includes; SB 439 – Minimum Age Incarceration, SB 1391 – Juvenile Justice for Children Under 16, SB 1393 – Fair and Just Sentencing Reform and SB 1050 – Services and Support for Exonorees.
Noted in an early 2017 piece by the LA Times, the site acknowledges that most of Mitchell’s “legislation has been unapologetically liberal. She wrote laws to reduce the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine, limit the assets police can seize from individuals not convicted of a crime and expand access to contraception.”
Home to an impressive list of politicians who have gone on to hold higher office, with 4 years left in the Sacramento, Mitchell has ample time to consider future ambitions, but as of now she “no idea” what will come next.
Meanwhile, Mitchell says she will focus on cementing her legacy. “I think the whole equity and justice package is really powerful. When I had sat back and thought about the impact that package of bills was going to have on potentially hundreds of thousands of lives, it could be overwhelming.”