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‘Be your authentic self’: Assemblywoman Laura Friedman on run for Los Angeles-area congressional seat

The assemblywoman says her past as a semi-pro pool player taught her skills she's taken into politics.

(CN) — Laura Friedman has spent a lot of time in pool halls. The Los Angeles County assemblywoman was semi-pro while in college, and later while working in the film industry. She’s familiar with professional pool and poker circles. Both games teach a person how to negotiate and be professional, she said.

It’s those skills, learned in a non-traditional setting, that Friedman said she’s taken into the political world. If she wins the Democratic primary for California’s 30th congressional district, she’ll likely take those skills to Washington, D.C. 

The north Los Angeles-area 30th, after all, is a solidly blue district even by California standards, going for Democrats in every election cycle since the early 1960s. U.S. Representative Adam Schiff has served the region since 2001, most recently for the 30th after the latest round of redistricting. Earlier this year, he announced he wouldn’t seek reelection and would instead run to succeed Senator Dianne Feinstein, setting off a tough fight for his former seat.

Being a woman player in the male-dominated game of pool gave Friedman confidence for dealing with another male-dominated sphere: that of politics. It’s helped her think under pressure and become more confident, pushing her into realms she otherwise wouldn’t have been comfortable in.

“The pool room taught me people want to play mind games when they want to win,” Friedman said in an interview. 

Friedman says lessons like this are helping her in her current race for Congress. She’s contending with a large field of candidates for the job, most of them men. Other candidates include Mike Feuer, former city attorney for Los Angeles; Nick Melvoin, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education; State Senator Anthony Portantino; Ben Savage, an actor known for the TV show “Boy Meets World;” and Sepi Shyne, the mayor of West Hollywood.

The 30th Congressional District is home to iconic Los Angeles and American spots, including Griffith Park, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios Hollywood and the Hollywood sign. The district also includes Glendale, where Friedman previously served as a city council member, including a stint as mayor from 2011 to 2012.

Under Schiff — a current star of the Democratic Party — the 30th has grown into a high-profile seat. Schiff became a target of Republican ire when, as ranking member of the U.S. House Select Intelligence Committee and later chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he played a large public role in the investigations into then-President Donald Trump. The Republican-controlled House in June voted along party lines to censure Schiff for his role in those investigations. Schiff called the move “false and defamatory.”

Friedman could face a tough primary — and not only because of the large number of contenders or the significance of the seat. As she’s found her political footing first as a local Glendale official and later as a Los Angeles County assemblywoman, she, like all politicians, has racked up her share of critics and frenemies. 

Her biggest political headaches came after Friedman accepted a powerful role as chair of the California State Assembly’s Transportation Committee, a position she still holds. In that role, she found herself at the center of an impasse over $4.2 billion in high-speed rail funding.

Friedman told Politico she wanted more specifics on funding. Critics blamed her for delay. Streetsblog, a news and advocacy group focused on urbanism, slammed Friedman in a series of editorials, accusing her of killing a ban on diesel trains and holding her responsible for the funding delay. Friedman responded directly to the second op-ed on social media, calling it a “biased & incomplete” editorial.


As Friedman’s growing profile has earned her angry blog posts, it’s also made her friends and allies in high places. Friedman was first elected to the Assembly in 2016. She has a handful of years before she’d term out and potentially could stay in the safe seat.

Her current Los Angeles County Assembly district includes all of Burbank and La Crescenta-Montrose, as well as parts of Glendale and Los Angeles city. “I’m willing to give that up, even though I love the job that I have,” Friedman said. “I want to take my drive and my skills to Washington.”

Asked about those skills, Friedman pointed to her ability to work well with other elected officials. She’s introduced significant bills on water and concert tickets and currently has a pending bill on speed enforcement. That bill needed consensus because of initial pushback, but Friedman was able to cobble together a winning coalition.

It’s been in moments like these where supporters say Friedman’s strategic skills have truly shone — winning her backers for her current run. Assemblyman and former Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat, first met Friedman when she was a candidate for the Assembly. She contacted him and asked for his endorsement, and Rendon agreed.

“I think the world of her,” Rendon said, describing her as a progressive and thoughtful legislator and ”as interesting as anyone I’ve ever met in politics.” Many people involved in politics are consumed by the game of it all, he said — but Friedman seeks to get the policy right.

“The world shouldn’t be about politics,” Rendon added. “I think that’s what makes her very special.”

Besides, while some see Friedman as a diesel supporter, others see her as a stalwart steward of the environment. Mary Creasman — CEO of California Environmental Voters, an environmental advocacy group she says has around 150,000 members — also praised Friedman. The group seeks to build political power to solve the climate crisis while advancing justice and "creating a roadmap for global action," according to its website.

Friedman has been an important partner on that front, Creasman said, playing a large role in plastic pollution policy and acting as a leader in transit issues. “She really thinks about the development of transit as it relates to housing,” Creasman added.

As an assemblyperson, Friedman has taken up both fights personally. She currently chairs the assembly’s Transportation Committee and has also served as chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee. She thinks the state is doing well with its clean energy goals — but not so much when it comes to transportation. In her view, many of those policies “are stuck in 1950s parameters.”

Friedman made the move from Natural Resources to Transportation because she wanted to implement the goals of sustainability in that area. For example, while Governor Gavin Newsom has set high goals for the state’s transition to zero-emission vehicles, California leaders must discover how to prepare for the transition, she said.

According to Rendon, it’s Friedman’s wonky focus on policy that led him to endorse her. He remembers Friedman and others working on policy three to four nights in a row until 3 a.m. Friedman stays focused on solutions, Rendon said, but is always prepared to do what a good legislator must do sometimes: walk away from a bad deal. It’s a tough form of negotiation, a kind of mind game Friedman encountered at the pool table years ago.

A more direct connection between Friedman and her district comes in the form of film. Friedman’s current Assembly district contains the heart of Hollywood, and she has five producer credits to her name. She worked with studios while her husband was a film editor. Should she win the 30th, she’d continue serving this area.

It’s that history in the entertainment industry — an industry that fuels her Assembly district — that Friedman says gives her an extra level of connection with her constituents.

Like politics, it’s an industry that runs on optics. On that front, Friedman’s pitch is authenticity. It’s a refreshing pitch, and one that casts a positive light on even the moments when she and others have butted heads. “I tell people, be your authentic self,” she said. “That’s the way I’ve always campaigned, and that’s the way I’ve been in office.”

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