Labor unions split among candidates vying to replace Skinner in state Senate

Six candidates are vying for the state Senate seat currently held by Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who will term out in 2024.

Skinner has represented 847,000 residents in Contra Costa and Alameda counties along the I-880 corridor, including Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and Alameda, since 2016. She built a reputation as a reliable progressive and advocate for housing, earning endorsements from unions representing service workers and the builders and tradesmen.

But now the support of those two major labor groups is split between two District 7 candidates who have emerged as possible frontrunners in the race: Kathryn Lybarger, president of the California Labor Federation, who has pulled support from service worker unions, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, with allies in the trades who would stand to benefit from his pro-housing agenda. The two candidates have raised more money than any of the other four.

Uber has entered the race too, spending over $800,000 to oppose Lybarger, including at least $750,000 on television ads. Uber has also dropped at least $250,000 on television ads in support of Arreguín, bringing the total they’ve put into the race to more than $1 million.

The district, previously District 9, was renumbered for the 2024 election. The two top candidates in the March primary, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the November general election.

The candidates

Democrat Kathryn Lybarger, President of the California Labor Federation

Lybarger is a longtime labor leader but first-time candidate for public office. Lybarger, 56, lives in Berkeley and has served as president of the 2.1 million-member California Labor Federation since 2015. She also works as a lead gardener at UC Berkeley and is the immediate past-president of Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing 30,000 University of California workers.

As a state senator, she would champion working people, she said, pushing for more career- and technical-education programs, better wages and more affordable housing.

“I know what working people are going through and how hard they fight to get by,” she said.

Lybarger has received endorsements from the California Labor Federation, California Environmental Voters, and Equality California, an LGBT group.

On top of the more than $484,000 Lybarger’s own committee has raised, a PAC sponsored by her union has also spent at least $1.9 million, mostly on television ads, making her the candidate with the most money behind her in the race.

Democrat Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley Mayor

At 39, Arreguín is entering his second decade in public office. He was elected to Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board at 20, City Council at 24 and mayor at 32. He has held that seat for the last seven years, leading the city through protests following Donald Trump’s election as president, the coronavirus pandemic, and, more recently, a fraught battle over the future of People’s Park.

During his time as mayor, he’s changed his original anti-development stance to become a vocal supporter of increasing residential development. He helped to push forward a major housing development that will transform the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations, and has backed student housing at People’s Park (unlike Lybarger and Beckles).

That has earned him endorsements from pro-housing groups, like California YIMBY and the State Building & Construction Trades Council, as well as East Bay Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, former chair of the Housing Committee. Arreguín is also the top fundraiser in the primary, with more than $637,000 in donations, many of them coming from trade unions.

“Housing is a my number one issue,” Arreguín said. “If we don’t have abundant housing, that is going to fuel the displacement that is happening in my city.”

Democrat Dan Kalb, Oakland City Councilmember

Kalb, 64, was elected to the Oakland City Council in 2012, on an environmental and social-justice platform. As a council member, he has written legislation to ban ghost guns and divest city funds from fossil fuel companies. He said his years as a policy advocate, lobbying on behalf of environmental groups in Sacramento, equip him to author impactful state-level legislation.

“Being a state legislator is not a high-profile position,” he said. “The real work in being effective is in the intricate, often behind-the-scenes work in complex policy — and that’s the work that I’m very good at.”

Kalb has raised more than $321,000, earning endorsements from Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and California Environmental Voters, among others.

Democratic Socialist Jovanka Beckles, AC Transit Board Member

Beckles served as a progressive city council member in Richmond from 2011 to 2018, supporting a rent control ordinance and increases to the minimum wage, as well as introducing and passing a “Ban the Box” ordinance to combat discrimination against formerly incarcerated people.

After losing a race for California State Assembly in 2018 to Buffy Wicks, she ran for a seat on the AC Transit Board in 2020, which she has held since.

Beckles says she would use her platform to “fight corporate greed” and further workers’ rights.

Democrat Sandré Swanson, Former California Assemblymember

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