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Human Voter Guide: Get ready for the special election to replace Becerra

Candidates present their views at a 34th Congressional District forum at Eagle Rock High School on Wednesday, March 23, 2017.
Susanica Tam for KPCC
Candidates present their views at a 34th Congressional District candidate forum at Eagle Rock High School on Wednesday, March 23, 2017. In all, 23 candidates are competing for the seat.

Tuesday is the special election for the 34th Congressional District seat, which was formerly held by Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general.

Becerra was recently appointed to the post after California's former attorney general, Kamala Harris, won election to the U.S. Senate. 

In all, 23 candidates are seeking the district seat that represents Los Angeles communities like Boyle Heights, Westlake, Mount Washington and Koreatown. 

The election will be the first opportunity for local voters to send someone new to Washington, D.C., since November, when President Donald Trump won election and the Republicans solidified their hold on both houses in Congress. 

To help you get ready for the special election, we are back with the Human Voter Guide, our question-and-answer feature about California elections. The Human Voter Guide answers your voting questions on KPCC's Take Two and on the Human Voter Guide webpage

Here are the questions: 

Q: What can you tell us about the candidates and the choice voters are facing?

The field of competitors for this race is very large: 23 candidates are competing for the seat. The candidates are mostly Democrats, this is a district that voted heavily for Hillary Clinton in November. 

There are notably several female candidates. In all, 12 women and 11 men are running for the seat.

When it comes to issues of importance, there’s a lot of agreement among many of the candidates. They list health care, the environment and immigration policies among their top concerns. You can learn more about the race in this story on a recent candidate forum. 

Q: There’s also an interesting connection among some of the Democrats running. Tell us about the role that Bernie Sanders is playing in this race?

A few of the candidates running were backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate. Most of them are Democrats: Wendy Carrillo was an early Sanders supporter and Tenaya Wallace backs Sanders’ economic ideas. Arturo Carmona has the closest ties — he was Sanders’ national deputy political director during the senator's run for president.

In addition, Green Party candidate Kenneth Mejia embraces many of Sanders' ideas.

All of these candidates are competing against one of the front-runners in the race, state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who has drawn many Democratic Party establishment endorsements. Gomez is also Becerra’s pick for this seat; Becerra recently endorsed him. 

Q: Isn't Becerra one of Southern California's better-known politicians? How effective was he serving in Congress?

Becerra was certainly well-known to many in the district, he served 12 terms in Congress. At the time of his appointment, he was in the midst of making a bid to become the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, the powerful tax-writing committee.

In terms of effectiveness, he has a strong record of supporting issues that are important to many Democrats. Pro-abortion rights groups rate him highly as do environmental groups. 

When it comes to legislation, however, his record in Congress is a bit thin. This is an issue that some of the district's voters have raised, saying they want someone who can get things done during his or her time in Congress. 

Q: Let’s switch gears now and talk about logistics. How do these special elections work exactly?

Special elections run like any other election. The difference is that when you go to cast a ballot, you’ll just be voting in one race. If you are a registered voter in the district, you can go to the polls on Tuesday or you can cast a ballot by mail. Those need to be postmarked by Tuesday.

Early voting will also be available. It runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday. There are three early voting locations available in the district.

Special elections can be expensive: the Los Angeles County Registrar's office estimates this one will cost nearly $1.4 million. 

Q: And for people who are still undecided in this race, what resources do you recommend to them to make a choice?

KPCC conducted a candidate survey. We asked the candidates to answer five questions about themselves and district concerns. The topics they address include how they will provide constituent services as well as issues like immigration and health care. 

The survey is a great resource for people looking to get a side-by-side comparison of the candidates. 

Also KPCC is again partnering with Voter’s Edge. This is the website that allows you to look up candidate info by your zip code. Ballotpedia and Vote Smart are other reliable sources on the candidates.

You can also read the Los Angeles Times' endorsement piece

Series: Human Voter Guide

Municipal elections will be held across Los Angeles County through November. To help you navigate the way, we revive KPCC's Human Voter Guide, a series of questions-and-answers about California elections.

Have a question? Email our senior political reporter Mary Plummer, tweet her @maryplummer or leave a voice mail or text at 323-538-5722.