Editorial: Arreguín best suited to replace Skinner in state Senate

Over the past half century, the East Bay’s liberal state Senate district centering around Berkeley and Oakland has been represented by some of California’s leading legislators: Nick Petris, Barbara Lee, Don Perata, Loni Hancock and, most recently, Nancy Skinner.

Now with Skinner forced out at the end of the year by term limits, five Democrats and one sacrificial Republican are vying to replace her. Of those, the person who can best carry on the tradition of impactful lawmaking is Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

Smart, articulate, well-informed and willing to pragmatically bridge the treacherous divides of progressive politics, Arreguín, 39, is entering his 20th year in office. He was just 20 years old when he was elected to Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board, 24 when he won a City Council seat, and 32 when he became mayor in 2016. Now, he deserves voter support in the March 5 state Senate primary election.

Senate District 7, which stretches along San Francisco Bay from Hercules to Oakland, has 69% Democratic Party registration, the highest for any Senate district in the state, and 6% Republican registration, the lowest proportion. Twenty percent have no party preference, and the remaining 5% are scattered among minor parties.

Of the six candidates, Arreguín is the most direct and succinct about his policy positions: unequivocally supportive of badly needed student housing on UC Berkeley’s People’s Park site; opposed to Gov. Newsom’s plan for a water tunnel through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta; supportive of consolidating the Bay Area’s 27 transit agencies and insistent that service must be improved; a backer of Proposition 1, the mental health measure on the March 5 ballot; and an advocate of planning now for the transition of the region’s refineries and their workers as the state and nation move off of fossil fuels.

Arreguín has found that many of the issues he cares deeply about — such as housing, homelessness and public safety — require help from the state Legislature. With the rare vacant state Senate seat, he wants to try to make a difference in the Capitol.

It will be a heavily contested race. The other candidates are:

• Kathryn Lybarger, president of the California Labor Federation, a collection of 1,200 affiliated unions across the state. She’s clear on her plans to advance labor’s agenda in the Capitol but struggles on other policy issues.

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• Jovanka Beckles, a hard-left progressive who served on the Richmond City Council for eight years before running unsuccessfully for state Assembly in 2018. She then won election to the AC Transit Board of Directors in 2020 by touting her union backing.

• Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb was another unsuccessful 2018 Assembly candidate. In 2021, as the city hit the highest level of homicides since 2006 and the lowest police staffing level since 2014, he was part of the council majority that pared back then-Mayor Libby Schaaf’s request for more officer training academies. To this day, crime in the city remains at unacceptably high levels.

• Sandré Swanson, who served in the state Assembly from 2006-12 and ran unsuccessfully against Skinner for the state Senate seat in 2016. He was so tied to labor that in 2012 he was one of just nine in the 80-member Assembly who voted against then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s modest pension reform plan.

• Real estate broker Jeanne Solnordal, the only Republican in the race, who declined to be interviewed.

While the politics of the district bend sharply to the left, the key to success for any legislator will be winning support from more moderate members. Of the six candidates, Arreguín has the progressive politics to match the district and the strongest record for navigating political differences. Voters should select him on March 5.

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