CA Dem Abstains from Voting on Controversial Bills Amid Congressional Run

Christy Smith declined to vote on bill easing punishment for statutory rape, among others

Residents of the 25th Congressional District vote to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Katie Hill. Santa Clarita Assemblywoman Christy Smith is trying to become the second consecutive Democrat to win what had been a seat long held by Republicans until Hill's 2018 victory over then-Rep. Steve Knight / Getty Images
September 19, 2020

California state legislator Christy Smith (D.) has made a habit of abstaining from controversial votes as she campaigns to unseat GOP congressman Mike Garcia.

The Democrat on August 31 refused to vote on Senate Bill 145 (SB145), which eases criminal penalties for adults who have sexual relations with minors. When confronted over the abstention by a constituent on Facebook, Smith claimed that "in the CA Legislature 'not voting' counts as a no." California legislative records show Smith was not counted as voting "no" and was instead marked as "no vote recorded."

Smith also abstained from voting on an August 24 amendment that would have repealed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a 2019 labor law that experts say impedes the state's economy by limiting employers' ability to classify workers as independent contractors. Roughly two months prior, the Democrat abstained from voting on Assembly Bill 2501 (AB2501), which aims to provide mortgage and rent relief during coronavirus.

State records show that Smith was present during all three legislative sessions in question and voted on dozens of other pieces of legislation, including a "menstrual equality" bill that requires companies to disclose ingredients found in tampons, pads, and other period products. While that legislation passed the state assembly unanimously on June 15, the bills Smith refused to take a position on likely would have opened her up to criticism amid her race against Garcia.

SB145 allows judges to decide whether to place someone on the sex offenders' list who engages in anal and/or oral sex with a minor within a 10-year age difference. Proponents of the bill argue that it ends discrimination against LGBTQ youth, as such discretion was already granted to those who have vaginal intercourse in the state. The bill was supported by California LGBTQ groups, including Equality California, which praised the bill for treating "all Californians fairly and equally—regardless of who they are, what they look like, or whom they love." Smith has received $20,000 from Equality PAC since December 2019.

Opponents of the bill argue that the legislation aids sexual predators. Democratic assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez railed against the bill during its August 31 floor debate, saying "give me a situation where a 24-year-old had sex with a 14-year-old, any kind of sex, and it wasn't predatory."

Smith has also backtracked on legislation that she once supported in her bid to unseat Rep. Mike Garcia (R., Calif.), who defeated the Democratic legislator in a May special election. She failed to vote on an August 24 measure to repeal AB5, despite her past support for the controversial labor law. The Democrat voted in favor of AB5 in September 2019 and went on to vote against suspending it in February. The law has proven unpopular in the state—a May Berkeley Research Group report found that most freelance workers "prefer the unique flexibility" associated with independent contracting. AB5, however, was written by the AFL-CIO—the union's affiliates have given Smith $35,000 since December 2019.

AB2501 also found Smith stuck between voters and special interest groups. While many Democrats have advocated for the rent relief and foreclosure moratorium provisions offered in the bill, Smith refused to take a stand. The California Association of Realtors led the charge against the legislation, saying it would have a "potentially damaging impact on the mortgage market." Smith received support from the National Association of Realtors in her May special election run against Garcia—the group spent at least $1,400 on digital ads saying Smith "stands with realtors when it counts" and gave the Democrat $10,000 in direct contributions.

Smith, who did not respond to a request for comment, is again running against Garcia after the Republican beat her by more than 9 points in May, becoming the first Republican to flip a Democratic seat in California since 1998. The nonpartisan Sabato's Crystal Ball rates the race "lean Republican."