Martha Michael | In the Barrel of a Winning Wave


What is it like to be Christy Smith? To sometimes ride the top of the swell, but at other times, experience the throes of a wipe-out?

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, it wasn’t clear which way the wind would whip the 38th Assembly District wave. But a week later, Christy Smith saw the gap closing between her total votes and those of her opponent Dante Acosta. It didn’t entirely sink in that she won until he graciously conceded, she said.

“I was hopeful that we would have known the results on election night. When we didn’t, it was a disappointment, it was a blow,” she admitted. “You know how to torture a control freak? Living one day to the next, not knowing what your future holds.”

When I met Christy Smith in 2016, I was the first to tell her that she bore a strong resemblance to a sorority sister of mine, former L.A. City Councilmember Wendy Gruel. Since then, Christy said she’s been mistaken for her more than once. That 2016 race ended in defeat against Acosta, but in addition to a flip in the outcome, why did the tables turn?

“Obviously, the momentum overall was different. With the political climate changing, combined with all the resources coming to this area, that’s what made the difference,” she said. And there was more of a “‘get out the vote’ effort.”

If you wondered if she responded to her loss two years ago by taking the first flight out to the Tropics, you probably don’t know Christy Smith.

“I haven’t vacationed in four years,” she said. “We knew we had infrastructure work to do after the 2016 loss. I had only a three- to four-month break when I wasn’t a candidate. The primary change is that we started earlier.”

Which of her course corrections led to the successful outcome of this election?

“I’m more self-assured about who I am as a candidate,” Smith said. “It’s incredible, but not surprising, the number of voters I talked to that said they were voting ‘straight women.’ It really was another ‘year of the woman.’”

But it was also personal for Smith.

“Coming out of 2016 as the mother of two daughters who felt their life potential was limited … now I can say, ‘The world is still wide open for you,’” she explained. “The force of women is in large part a reaction to things coming out of Washington, D.C. – the president, his own conduct regarding women. In this cycle in particular, women did an exceptional job of conveying messages about what their dining table issues were, and it resonated with people.”

What does she say to other women considering politics?

“Start where your passion is,” she said. “Wherever you give of yourself now – your child’s school, the food pantry, a church – and get involved in your political party … and don’t fail to reach out to me. I really do want to see more women running.”

For conservatives who worry that their interests will be ignored by a Democrat, there may be surprises.

“I used to be a Republican,” she said, explaining that she changed parties because it better represented her social views and she wants to ensure there’s a solid social safety net. “Everybody will continue to have a seat at my table. What’s fundamental in my district … is that we all care about having a nice community – great schools, good public safety, transportation, we all have each other’s back. I’ve lived here all my life – I’m not going to be a different person than I’ve always been.”

What’s her first priority?

“The most immediate concern is making sure I meet with as many stakeholders as possible before the session begins,” said Smith, who can rattle off the most pressing issues in rapid succession: “Affordable housing, local job availability, an economy that can support and sustain a family, senior housing, education funding.”

Smith isn’t pulling up stakes and abandoning her district for a new home in Sacramento.

“At budget time – January through May – my family will stay here, which is my husband and one daughter at home,” she said.

One of their daughters is a UCLA student, while their other daughter is at San Diego State University.

“They have their own kind of social activism,” she added.

How did Smith develop a passion for politics and the grit to take risks and carry on?

“I grew up in a household where there was domestic violence and unaddressed mental health issues. I have a lot of resolve due to life circumstances,” Smith said. “I think the challenge – really, the opportunity – is that this district is uniquely and truly multi-party, and there’s a huge group that doesn’t fit into any column. I want to stay in tune to the needs of the community.”

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.

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