Sacramento Bee: Californians to Watch: How the class of 2014 fared

December 25, 2014

Quiet rumblings that Sen. Holly Mitchell might snag the Senate’s top leadership post never materialized in 2014, as legislators chose Sen. Kevin de León as their next president pro tem in what was ultimately an uncontested bid.

During her first year in the California Senate, Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, pushed for policies embraced by the liberal wing of the Democratic party, meeting mixed success with a Legislature and governor that lean closer to the center.

Mitchell’s bill to ban the controversial oil extraction method known as fracking failed to get out of the Senate, and her push to repeal a rule that makes women who get pregnant while on welfare ineligible for more money based on the baby’s birth stalled for a second year in a row.

But Mitchell was a leading voice in the successful effort to change California’s drug sentencing laws to remove disparities between crack and powder cocaine crimes that advocates called racist. Gov. Jerry Brown signed her Senate Bill 1010, which reduced the penalty for possession for sale of crack cocaine by bringing it to the same two-to-four year sentence imposed on offenders caught intending to sell powder cocaine.

He also signed her bill to allow law enforcement authorities to seek wiretaps in investigating human trafficking, which frequently involves selling girls into sexual exploitation, and signed another Mitchell measure that requires most health plans to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods.

Mitchell headed the Legislature’s black caucus during 2014, a year in which the caucus grew from eight members to 11 as voters chose African American legislators in several districts that are not predominantly black. Shortly after the election, Mitchell said that having a larger caucus “really empowers us to bring forward the plight of the African American in California.”

Laurel Rosenhall