Mia Bonta and Janani Ramachandran
Mia Bonta (left) and Janani Ramachandran. Credit: Courtesy of Mia Bonta and Janani Ramachandran

Two Democrats are facing each other in the Aug. 31 run-off election to replace Rob Bonta in the state Assembly’s 18th District, which encompasses Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro. 

A special election was held in June after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Bonta as California Attorney General. None of the nine candidates received more than 50% of the vote in the June primary, triggering a run-off election between the first and second place finishers: Alameda Unified School Board President Mia Bonta and social justice attorney Janani Ramachandran. 

Bonta, who is married to Rob Bonta, received 38% of the vote, while Ramachandran got 23.7%. 

The victor on Aug. 31 will represent one of the most liberal districts in California. Assembly District 18 is centered in Oakland, and includes all but North Oakland, Montclair, and upper Dimond. Those areas are represented by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks. 

Mia Bonta entered the race with an obvious advantage: name recognition in a district her husband represented for nearly a decade. First elected in 2012, Rob Bonta focused his legislative work on law enforcement, environmental justice, immigration, and tenants’ rights issues. He authored legislation requiring immigrants to be informed of their rights before speaking to ICE agents, and co-authored bills signed by the governor to eliminate money bail for people awaiting trial and to ban private, for-profit prisons in the state. Bonta also co-authored legislation to compel the state Department of Justice to investigate police shootings of unarmed individuals. 

Mia Bonta touts decades of nonprofit work focused on helping low-income students, and building relationships with key people in Sacramento. The Alameda resident is the current president of her city’s school board and is the CEO of Oakland Promise, a cradle-to-career program for Oakland’s students. 

Ramachandran, an Oakland resident, is a former member of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, who worked with immigrant and teen mothers experiencing domestic violence and homelessness as a community health clinic case manager. She now works as a lawyer representing tenants facing eviction.

Bonta has racked up key endorsements from national and state elected officials, including Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, as well as from labor unions like the California Teachers Association, SEIU, the Alameda Labor Council. 

Ramachandran’s support has come mostly from individuals living in the district. The longshoremen and warehouse union ILWU, Oakland Tenants Union, the California Legislature LGBTQ Caucus, and Our Revolution, an organization that spun out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, have endorsed the first-time candidate. 

Throughout the campaign, Bonta has outspent opponents thanks to her large fundraising lead. Her committee has raised about $740,000, much of it from labor and teacher unions, the gaming and casino industry, and the pharmaceutical and medical industry. Money has also poured in from independent expenditure committees. 

Ramachandran has raised about $340,000, mostly from individuals. Calling herself the “corporate free” candidate, Ramachandran has criticized Bonta for accepting donations from large developers and special interest groups. 

In response, Bonta says her wide support locally and in Sacramento stems from her track record. “I am solution-focused, I have the support of people who are in the legislature now, who know I have the ability to work with them,” she said in an interview. 

Building more affordable housing and protecting tenants are key issues for Bonta and Ramachandran. Both candidates support eliminating exclusionary single-family zoning and repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act, which prevents cities from instituting stronger rent control laws. Bonta, who was raised by a single mother in the Bronx, said her family faced unjust rental increases and moved 13 times in 16 years. 

As a state legislator, Bonta wants to look at whether the state should create additional incentives for more swiftly building affordable housing projects. 

Ramachandran has also called for repealing the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants from rent-controlled buildings if they plan to stop renting units in the building, effectively going out of business. During the pandemic, she said she saw first hand how the law was used to evict tenants throughout the state. If elected, she would be the third member of the state legislature to be a full-time tenant. 

“One of the first things I want to do is extend the eviction moratorium, which is ending at the state level in September,” Ramachandran said. “We are going to see this tsunami of evictions that’s going to come.” 

She said she also wants to raise the minimum wage to $22. 

One key difference between the two candidates is their stance on the Oakland A’s proposal to build a ballpark with housing, commercial, and office space at Howard Terminal. Bonta sees a path to building a project that creates jobs for Oaklanders and ensures environmental impacts will be thoroughly reviewed. Ramachandran is firmly against the development, and said it would further gentrify Oakland. 

They also both support police reform efforts, and would vote to approve S.B. 2, a bill by Sen. Steven Bradford to decertify police officers for misconduct, effectively barring them from getting another law enforcement job in the state. California is one of only four states without the power to strip law enforcement offices from their jobs for misconduct, which has allowed troubled officers to move from department to department. 

Ballots were mailed out beginning on Aug. 2. Voters have until election day, Aug. 31, to cast their ballots.

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.