The Political Student Assembly, in collaboration with the USC College Democrats and the Women’s Student Assembly, brought Sandra Fluke, the Democratic candidate for the California State Senate, to speak to students Monday evening for a discussion about the value of female leadership and Fluke’s experience in politics.
Fluke, who was the first in her father’s family to go to college, enrolled at Cornell University and took a women’s studies class, which she said changed her view of the way gender discrimination continues to play a role in society.
“College opened up my whole world to the career I wanted to have in social justice as an advocate,” she said.
Fluke first gained national attention as a law student at Georgetown University. She chose a career in law in order to better understand and work with those who faced adversity. While at Georgetown, Fluke became active with a group of students in calling for greater reproductive rights for women, using Georgetown’s poor contraceptive coverage as an example.
Congressional Republicans denied a Democratic bid for her to testify at a Feb. 16, 2012 hearing on a possible government requirement of employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control. The Democrats held an unofficial hearing a week later, and Fluke testified about the difficulty of obtaining contraception coverage at Georgetown.
On Feb. 29 of that year, Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “sl-t” on his nationally broadcast radio show. He later apologized, but Fluke has chosen to remain in the public eye through her activism.
“In my final semester of law school, karma caught up with me, and my career changed rather abruptly,” Fluke said. “If you find the spotlight shining on you for one moment, you grab the microphone and start screaming.”
Since then, she has advocated for reproductive rights and affordable healthcare, and she is mounting a bid for California State Senate.
Fluke remains focused on policy outcomes, and attributes some of Obamacare’s contraceptive protections to the activism and controversy that she and her peers generated at Georgetown.
“I’m not sure we would have the policy that we have in the Affordable Care Act if we didn’t have the attention generated by that controversy,” she said.
Fluke is also determined to increase the representation of women and other diverse groups in elected office.
“When I get into the Senate, I fully intend to immediately begin thinking, ‘Who else can I bring with me?’ My style is going to be kicking down the doors and bringing the community in,” she said.
Fluke describes her campaign as being funded by “average sized bank accounts,” with a mean contribution of around $250. She cites this as a reason why her campaign is part of the movement to bring diversity to Sacramento.
Fluke said the most significant challenge that California faces is Proposition 13, a ballot measure passed in 1978 that placed a cap on the real estate tax and required a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature to ever increase taxes again. The proposition has severely limited how much the state can collect in revenue each year.
Fluke said the proposition has unfairly benefited companies at the expense of individuals and has hampered the government’s ability to raise revenue for important public works projects.
“It contains of tons of loopholes that benefit corporations,” she said. “It has put a stranglehold on our ability to fund important investments and cut off a lot of resources to things like public education, and it makes it very difficult for the legislature to have the flexibility that they need to have to change tax policy.”
Fluke plans to close tax loopholes that benefit corporations and make it easier to reform taxes in the future.
Logan Burkhead, a junior majoring in political science, said Fluke is an inspiration for student’s looking to become activists in politics.
“Fluke’s presentation thoughtfully articulated the importance of combining passion with an unabashed commitment to action,” he said. “She inspired students to make their own voices heard and to fight injustice in their own lives.”