Sen. Loni Hancock leaves legacy, open state Senate seat in District 9

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After eight years of service, Sen. Loni Hancock has termed out of her position as state senator of California’s District 9.

After serving as Berkeley’s first female mayor from 1986 to 1994, Hancock started her time in state government in 2002 as a member of the state Assembly. In 2008, she was elected to the state Senate to represent parts of Alameda County and Contra Costa County.

In the first decade of the 2000s, when California was in an economic crisis, the Senate could not raise taxes because it required a two-thirds vote to pass the budget. Instead, the Senate made cuts in areas such as education and student services to get sufficient funding. Of all the work she has accomplished in the Senate, Hancock said she is most proud of 2010’s state Proposition 25, which changed the passing vote from two-thirds to a simple majority in an effort to prevent future budgetary issues.

“It was horrible. Students wonder now why the University of California isn’t adequately funded — it goes back to that error. So I raised the issue that became (Proposition) 25 — that we had to have a simple majority,” Hancock said. “Ever since that time, we have gotten budgets on time. It has made all the difference.”

Hancock also did considerable work on environmental issues, including the recently approved SB-1279, which prohibits any state money from going into coal exporting in light of Oakland’s burgeoning coal exporting industry. She made criminal justice reforms, such as SB-1391, which allows community colleges to be reimbursed if they go into state prisons to conduct in-person classes to help inmates get degrees.

But with the 2016 election approaching, two new candidates are vying for Hancock’s open seat — Nancy Skinner and Sandré Swanson.

Nancy Skinner was elected to the state Assembly in 2008 and served until 2014. In 1984, she was elected to Berkeley City Council as a UC Berkeley graduate student.

Skinner’s platform is fourfold: universal education for children under the age of four, resolving income equality, environmental protection and reinvesting in higher education.

While an Assembly member, Skinner said she facilitated the largest increase in funding for preschools that the state has made in more than a decade. As budget chair, she established a $100 million fund to support community-based re-entry programs for individuals who had either been in the juvenile justice system or who had dropped out of high school. She also helped to increase the funding for the UC schools to help freeze tuition rates.

“This district is absolutely the most forward-thinking district in the state and it’s a privilege to represent this area because in District 9, residents really want their elected officials to push the envelope — to try to accomplish heavy-lift policy changes,” Skinner said.

Debbie Toth, the CEO of Rehabilitation Services of Northern California, worked with Skinner on issues regarding health care. Although she does not endorse Skinner because Toth works for a nonprofit, she said Skinner would make a good candidate for the state Senate.

“She’s willing to be progressive even when it may not be popular in a statewide context,” Toth said. “Particularly because she has the respect of the statewide Senate, I think that she will really be effective in her role.”

Sandré Swanson served in the state Assembly from 2006 to 2012 and has worked at the local, state and federal level having served as chief of staff for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, from 1998 to 2004.

The driving force behind Swanson’s platform is kids — he said he puts their needs and education first. His platform also includes addressing issues of poverty and reforming the prison system.

As an Assembly member, he tackled the issue of human trafficking at a time, he said, when no one else was giving it much attention despite it being a prevalent problem in his district. During his tenure, he increased the fines for perpetrators of human trafficking and used that money to provide services to survivors. In light of the community’s concerns regarding police accountability, he also authored AB-1586, which, when passed, created a citizen review board for BART police.

“I would really like to go to the legislature so that we can not only write great laws but also provide great constituent service,” Swanson said.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who succeeded Swanson in the state Assembly, said although both Skinner and Swanson are talented, Swanson in particular would make a “tremendous senator” for the district.

“I think Sandré has really distinguished himself as being a leader,” Bonta said, referencing his work with human trafficking and men of color. “I think he would prevail — because of that leadership, because of his unique leadership, because of his experience as a servant for so long.”

According to Hancock, the issues that she faced as senator — education, environment and economic equity — will continue to be pressing issues for her successor. She said she hopes the next senator will continue to tackle these issues and will pick up some of the work that she has done in criminal justice reform.

Although Hancock has publicly endorsed Swanson, she added that she has “high regards for both the candidates.”

Many of Hancock’s colleagues from the state Senate also expressed their deep respect for her and their disappointment that she will not be in the state Senate next year.

“Senator Hancock never shied away from a tough fight,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, D-North Coast. “She has been so successful in the legislature because of her tenacity, her ability to work across the aisle and because people respect her. No matter if you are a progressive Democrat or a conservative Republican, you know that Senator Hancock is true to her word.”

In fact, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, said even though he and Hancock could not be on more opposite sides, he has worked with her on multiple issues and is now close friends with her.

“It’s unusual to have somebody as progressive as she is and somebody as conservative as I am working together consistently year after year, and I think that speaks a great deal to Loni’s personality and her focus on getting things done,” Anderson said.

McGuire said Hancock’s Proposition 25 in particular is one of the biggest accomplishments ever in the Senate because it made the state more functional and productive. He added that it would be a fantastic legacy.

“If it was not for Senator Hancock, we would not see these groundbreaking reforms,” McGuire said. “It is part of her life’s work. And again, I am so sorry to see her go because she is one of the best.”

Hancock said she was not sure what she is going to do now but that she would like to use what she’s learned in office to continue to make changes in the community.

“There are many ways to make change in this world and elected office is just one of them,” Hancock said. “I was active in local issues before I was elected and I expect to be again.”

Contact Chantelle Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.