Assemblymember Laura Friedman grew up marching for civil liberties and abortion rights alongside her mom in South Florida, but as a kid she didn’t expect to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The tradition of activism, it turned out, was in her DNA. Friedman, 57, has distinguished herself as leader with compassion and determination since she was first elected to the California Assembly in 2016. Now, she hopes to continue working to improve the lives of her constituents in Glendale and their neighbors in the other communities of Congressional District 30, including West Hollywood, on Capitol Hill come 2024. Friedman spoke to WEHOville about what makes her an effective legislator, her struggles with cancer and starting a family, and why she’s the right candidate to represent WeHo in Congress in this exclusive interview.
ON THE START OF THE CAMPAIGN
I didn’t know that there was going to be a seat open until early this year. There have been rumors in the past about whether Adam Schiff was going to run for Senate at some point, so you know, I had it in the back of my mind, “Oh, maybe that’s something that would happen someday,” but it wasn’t until this January that we knew that this was actually going to be a reality this year. There’s a lot of interest, and especially since the seat has never been held by a woman before, there are a lot of different stakeholders who care about different issues who are engaged already.
ON HER BEGINNINGS
I was first elected to the Glendale City Council in 2009. I was the mayor of Glendale for a year, and then I was elected to the state assembly in 2016, and have represented a very large portion of the assembly district. And I’ve lived in this congressional district since 1992. I’ve always lived in this 30th assembly district, in every kind of permutation. I’ve always lived in what’s now this district, from Hollywood to Glendale in 2000. I was a city commissioner on the design review board, after being a volunteer for the Los Angeles Conservancy. I went on to the Glendale City Council in 2015.
But going way back before that, my mother was an activist when I was growing up in South Florida, and I grew up marching for abortion rights and ERA and civil rights. I was in a very liberal family in a part of the country that was not that at all. I didn’t think it was going to follow this tradition of activism.
I was in the film industry for many years, and I always thought that was my life’s work, but then when I found myself brought into politics locally in Los Angeles, I ignited. And now, with what’s happening across the country with civil rights being rolled back, the right wing driving policies throughout the country and even in California, I’m very compelled to evolve my activism to the federal level.
I’ve been very effective at the state level for the past seven years, being a leader in the environment, and in criminal justice reform, social issues. I’m a very goal-oriented and effective leader. And this is a district used to having very prominent representation throughout the nation, and I’ve never been one to shy away from bringing my energy to the congressional level.
ON THE ASSEMBLY VS. CONGRESS
Making progress takes a lot longer in Congress. At this point, we enjoy a Democratic majority. And being in Congress, where there’s a lot more polarization and split, is definitely going to be different. And being in a place where, for many years, often there’s natural change is something that, you know, it’s going to be different than what I’m used to.
I do work very closely with colleagues from across the aisle. I’m kind of used to having that patience and being able to converse. But this will be different.
The biggest difference, however, will be the relationship with certain issues. I work a lot on infrastructure and I chair the Transportation Committee in the assembly. And so, sometimes those issues are less partisan. But I have tried to share and to address issues from all parts of the state regardless of whether they’re considered a Republican area. For example, I used to chair the Natural Resources Committee in the legislature, and wildfire issues are a huge issue across the state, and they have impacted in many cases areas that are more Republican.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to dive into trying to find ways to help those communities. And I work very closely with Republican colleagues on issues that impact rural districts like wildfire and air quality. It’s my job to work for all the people I represent, and you can’t do that if you’re not willing to listen and build relationships with representatives from those areas. I was thanked on the floor of the legislature by one of my Republican colleagues for the work that I did to help the communities around Paradise after those wildfires.
And I’m proud of that, but that doesn’t mean that on issues that we have different fundamental values on, like abortion rights, that I’m going to meet them halfway. Some issues are very, very important to take a stand and to make my values clear.
ON HER VALUES
My focus is on climate. I think that it’s very important that we move rapidly towards being sustainable, towards reducing California emissions. That’s work that I’ve been very effective on, and that is one of the reasons why I want to be in Washington. California is a leader in the nation when it comes to climate and the environment, I see myself as one of the most important leaders in sustainability in California, and I’ve led quite a bit on phasing out oil production and our dependence on oil in California, and that’s an area where I feel the United States has not led the way that it should on the world stage.. That’s why I think my record on bettering the climate and my leadership in that area, even when it’s controversial, sets me apart from anybody else in this race, and that’s why I am supported by environmental leaders in California.
HER PROGRESSIVE BONA FIDES
Well, that’s what I would say. I have a strong track record in leadership, particularly in progressive leadership. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the race with the kind of experience and accomplishments I have, such as with the Courage Campaign, the Assembly Progressive Caucus, and as an author of air legislation every year since I’ve been in the legislature. I’m known for my progressive values and my respect for those working on criminal justice reform issues, as well as for my efforts to shift our transportation policies away from an over-reliance on automobiles towards investing more in mass transit and active transportation. These are areas where I’ve been a real leader in California, and I’m not afraid to take on difficult or controversial issues if it’s necessary to make progress.
ON PUBLIC SAFETY
I think the real question to ask is: Have we invested enough? And you need to be honest, if you look at traditionally redlined communities, the answer is no. We have a long history not just in California, but across the nation of not investing in communities that have been traditionally redlined or are environmental justice communities. The first step is to ensure that we focus our investments on green spaces, better transportation, small businesses, and even things that the federal government is discussing, such as student loan forgiveness. When you look at the beneficiaries of student loan forgiveness, you’ll see that primarily disadvantaged communities of color benefit. Ensuring that our policies uplift everyone in the nation, particularly those who are struggling, is the first step in creating a truly safe society.
I wouldn’t say that I talk about defunding the police often because it frightens people. I think that a lot of the things that people are really talking about is that we could add funding into programs that prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place. For example, into a better education system, social services, supporting young families and communities of color, and into recreation centers and libraries that aid young people.
Secondly, I do think that we need to help people feel safer in their communities. I work in the transportation space a lot, and there’s been a lot we’ve been hearing for the past couple of years from people not feeling safe in transit. And I’ve been spending a lot of my focus on making sure that our transit systems are supported and that people feel safe. Our transit agencies need to invest in safety and cleanliness. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean more police on transit, but we certainly need a presence there to make riders feel safer. We need to make sure that people who are doing drugs in the system are not able to do that and that people who are living in the system have better options.
I think people want to know that if they call the police, there’s gonna be people who show up.
We need to make sure that people feel comfortable calling the police when they need help. And at the same time, that shouldn’t stop us from also putting funding and putting our focus on the areas that we know are going to eventually make us safer and happier.
ON ADAM SCHIFF
Let’s be clear, Adam Schiff has done an amazing job of saving democracy. The same energy that he put into safeguarding democracy, I want to put into saving our environment and pushing back against climate change. And I’m never going to pretend that I’m going to be Adam Schiff in Congress. He’s a very different person than I am, and I admire everything that he’s done. But I don’t trust anybody who says they’re going to be the next Adam Schiff in Congress. He’s a pretty special politician that way, and there’s only one of him in the whole country. My priorities have been different. I’m not a prosecutor. I’ve had a very different background, but I’m going to lean into it. I’ve been able to hear people and I’ve been very effective and excited about my track record, and I want to take that and use it to represent my constituents. I’d be very honored to have his endorsement, but I don’t know if that’s happening.
ON RUSSIA & CHINA
There are certainly major human rights violations and abuses happening right now, and I do think that Russia is an aggressive actor in the region, not just toward the United States, but in terms of military action. However, I believe that the United States has a role to play in the United Nations, which is currently being demonstrated, in holding other nations accountable through pressures such as sanctions, condemnations, and support for human rights. Maybe we need to be very strategic about how we approach these issues around the world in order to avoid provoking other nations and exploiting their exports. Unchecked violations of human rights are terrible for the world, and doing nothing is not an option for the US. Diplomacy on the ground, working with our partners in the UN rather than going it alone, is also very important.
China is more important as a trade partner than Russia, and I think we are an important partner for China. Using our position as a trade partner and our relationships with other nations in the region, we can achieve our goals through policy. However, I also want to make sure that we are protecting the sovereignty of our allies. I certainly don’t think anyone is looking forward to trying to provoke China into war, as that could be disastrous. Using all of our economic power, which we do have, is important. I have hope that our connections with China as a trading partner are something we should fully explore. Even just looking at the cross-fertilization between Chinese companies and US companies, it’s hard to imagine that China is not going to take that very seriously, not to mention the rest of the world, including our relationships with Korea and Japan, other powerhouses in the region.
ON REPRESENTING WEHO
It’s a very dense part of Los Angeles County, and it’s surrounded by the city of Los Angeles. As an independent city, West Hollywood has its own government, including a city council, but it also contracts with the county for policing services. Having represented four cities in the region, including one as mayor, I understand the unique challenges of independent cities and the importance of their self-determination.
Public safety and homelessness are major concerns for West Hollywood, as they are throughout the region. It’s crucial that we work on these issues not only at the local and state levels, but also at the federal level, where the government has a role to play in areas such as housing and tenant support.
With my experience working at all levels of government, I know how services are delivered and how the federal government can be a better partner to cities on these important issues. This breadth of experience is unique among the candidates in the race.
ON HER FAMILY
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my thirties, and after that, I wasn’t able to carry my own child due to cancer treatment. We went through the foster care system and spent many years trying to adopt. Finally, we had that honor, and she’s an amazing little girl, a typical nine-year-old.
In terms of our racial makeup, my husband is an immigrant, and I’m first generation on my father’s side and second generation on my mother’s side. My husband is French, and my daughter is African American, and we live in Glendale. My daughter attends public school in Glendale and is a product of the public school system. I’m a strong believer in public education, and the world is a better place because of it.
Juggling being a mom and a public servant is not easy, but I always explain to my daughter that the reason I’m gone during the week is that’s the work I have to do to give back to my community. She’s grown up with me campaigning or being in office, so it’s normal to her.
When she was three years old, I was elected to the legislature, so she would come with me in a stroller. Over the years, she’s gone to events with me on weekends, and now that she’s a little older, sometimes she thinks it’s a drag to have a mommy who’s always working, but there are also times when she’s proud of the work I do. She asks questions about why I do what I do and what it means.
It’s wonderful that we have more women in politics, and given what’s happening with the attacks on women’s rights across the country, it’s important that we have allies. But I do think that there’s still a place for women in the federal government to protect their rights.
Having grown up with a mother who marched for abortion rights in the ’70s, I was very fortunate at 32 years old to see my daughter growing up with more rights than she had. And I feel very compelled to go to Washington to fight to keep those rights intact, through all the women who came before me and gave their lives to that movement.
Also, my leadership style has always been about realizing that the big issues that we care about, like homelessness or women’s rights, are not going to be dealt with by one politician, or even a group of politicians. It’s about the whole community building consensus around how we deal with these issues and then working together to see those solutions through. That’s the way I currently operate as a legislator, very much in concert and hand-in-hand with my community. That’s why I have the support that I have across this district, and that’s the kind of leader that I want to be in the federal government as well.