Laura Richardson’s childhood experience as the mixed race daughter of a single mother inspired her entry into public service. Richardson’s special election victory to fill her late mentor’s vacant seat meant that she served at the local, state, and federal level all within a span of a year. Richardson focused on her port district’s security and economic needs during her congressional career. “There is no longer one color, one perspective, one issue,” she noted of her polyglot, southern California district. “There are many.”1
Laura Richardson was born April 14, 1962, in Los Angeles, California to an African-American father and educator, Lawrence “Larry” J. Richardson, and Caucasian mother, Maryann Fritschler. Her parents divorced when she was young. Richardson and her sister, Leslie, were raised by their mother, who worked as a teamster for a local trucking company.2 The family’s brief time on government assistance and encounters with racism sparked Richardson’s political aspirations. Richardson married police officer Anthony Batts in 1997, but the couple later divorced.3
Richardson attended the University of California, San Barbara, from 1980 to 1981. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1984, with a B.A. in political science. Richardson later received her M.B.A. from the University of Southern California in 1996. She worked a variety of private sector jobs—as a marketing director of a document managing company, the owner of a customized clothing company, and a teacher—before she became a field deputy in Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald’s southern California district office. Richardson also worked as an aid to California Governor Cruz Bustamante.
In 1996, Richardson attempted to start a political career of her own when she unsuccessfully sought a Democratic nomination for the California assembly. She won a seat on the Long Beach (California) city council in 2000, having narrowly defeated a popular local sports star by a scant six votes.4 She served in this capacity for six years before she was elected to the California assembly in 2006.
On April 21, 2007, Representative Millender-McDonald, died after a long battle with cancer. Richardson was one of 18 candidates for the June 26 Democratic special primary election for the vacant House seat.5 The district covered low- to middle- income sections of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Compton, and Carson, including coastal areas known for shipping and manufacturing.6 With an 85 percent minority population, the district—once considered safe for African-American candidates—was primarily Hispanic.7 The three top candidates included Richardson, Millender-McDonald’s daughter, Valerie McDonald, and Hispanic state senator Jenny Oropeza.8 Richardson’s support came primarily from the African-American community, organized labor, and the pro-choice group EMILY’s list. She prevailed with a plurality of 37 percent of the vote. In the heavily Democratic district, Richardson handily won the August 21 special general election with 67 percent over GOP candidate, Long Beach police officer John Kanaley.9 Richardson was sworn in to the 110th Congress (2007–2009) on September 4, 2007.
Facing re-election very shortly after she took office, Richardson won the 2008 Democratic primary easily with 74 percent of the vote. Her primary opponents—college professor Peter Mathews and local newspaper editor Lee Davis—ran as write-in candidates in the general election. Independent candidate, teacher Nicholas Dibs, also entered the general election. Richardson prevailed with 75 percent of the vote. In the 2010 general election, she easily defeated Republican columnist and author Star Parker with 68 percent of the vote.10
Richardson inherited Millender-McDonald’s assignment to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, a panel on which she would serve her entire congressional career. She also picked up a seat on the Science and Technology panel, but traded that post for a seat on the Homeland Security Committee for the 111th and 112th Congresses (2009–2013). In early 2010, Richardson was appointed chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response, a position in which she served for the remainder of the 111th Congress (2009–2011). In late 2010, she was elected to the influential House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which determined party strategy.
Richardson’s first successful legislation was a bill to designate a 10-mile stretch of California’s Route 91 in Los Angeles County to Millender-McDonald. Richardson called the renaming “fitting” because this highway had had been part of the congresswoman’s California assembly district and her House district throughout her career.11
Road and cargo issues were a primary focus for Richardson for her congested, seaside district. Richardson served as a witness at an Appropriations Committee hearing in March 2010, where she implored her colleagues for more money for port infrastructure. She pointed to a bridge in her district, over which 10 percent of cargo entering the U.S. traveled.12 “The Gerald Desmond Bridge is the de facto trade highway gateway to the Nation,” she noted. “However, the bridge is now reduced to wearing a diaper . . . to catch concrete and debris that falls daily from its underside.”13 The bridge eventually received federal funding for a full replacement.14
From her perch on the Homeland Security Committee—especially as chair of the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response—she focused on port security. In 2012, two of her measures to improve security of U.S. import/export centers were included in the SMART Port Security Act, a measure with bipartisan support. Her first measure provided funding for local and state government agencies to provide security services in ports. The second allowed flexibility for funds to repair or replace security equipment. “Ports are the first line of defense at our sea borders and serve vital national interests,” she observed.15 The bill passed 402 to 21 in the House, but died in the Senate.16 In 2012, however, she obtained Department of Transportation grants to increase port security in Long Beach and Los Angeles.17
The California House delegation faced several changes in the 2012 election, which affected their bids for re-election. In 2010, voters approved Proposition 14, requiring an open primary with a single ballot. The top two candidates in the primary, regardless of party of affiliation, would move on to a “run-off” in the November general election. Additionally, an independent citizens’s commission was tasked with adjusting California’s district boundaries irrespective of an incumbent lawmaker’s home address or party affiliation.18 Richardson found herself facing off with Representative Janice Hahn—a first term Democratic incumbent—in a primary to represent a new, primarily Hispanic district stretching from San Pedro north through Carson, Compton, north Long Beach, Lynwood, and South Gate.19
Richardson was further hampered by investigations by the House Committee on Ethics. News had emerged shortly after her first election that she had entered foreclosure on a Sacramento home she owned and revealed other financial difficulties. A July 2010 Ethics Committee investigation cleared her of any wrongdoing in her financial disclosure responsibilities.20 In 2012, the Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations that she illegally compelled congressional staff to work on her 2010 campaign and that she subsequently obstructed the committee’s investigation. In August, the Ethics Committee recommended a reprimand and a fine to which the House concurred.21
Hahn received an endorsement from the Los Angeles Times and she had good name recognition in the district—having previously served on the Los Angeles city council.22 Hahn won the open primary with a 20-point victory over Richardson and her victory won her the official endorsement from the California Democratic Party. Richardson secured backing from the Congressional Black Caucus. Hahn prevailed in the general election with 61 percent of the vote.23
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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