SISTA TO WATCH: State Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-CA)

Holly_Mitchell_head_shot.jpgOccupation: State Senator
Hometown: Los Angeles
Twitter: @HollyJMitchell



About Holly J. Mitchell

The Honorable Holly J. Mitchell has served in California’s Legislature since 2011 and was elected in 2014 to represent the 30th Senate District, which includes the communities of Century City, Cheviot Hills, the Crenshaw District, Ladera Heights, Mid-City, Palms, USC, L.A. Live and the Fashion District in Downtown, Westmont, Culver City and portions of South Los Angeles.

Policy efforts and legislative accomplishments include:

  • Expanded and protected access to contraception
  • Prohibiting the use of grand juries in California in cases where police officers use lethal force
  • Removal of the word “lynching” from the state's criminal code
  • Twice carried the bill to put a moratorium on “fracking” in California
  • Laws to prevent, prosecute and punish sex trafficking of minors
  • Set same penalties for crack as for powder cocaine possession
  • “Health Homes” – alternative care services for frequent hospital ER users
  • Ongoing push to repeal maximum family grant limit for poor families
  • “Mitchell Plan” helped secure 5% benefits increase for California’s poorest families


Senator Mitchell, known for a focus on reducing poverty, chairs Budget Subcommittee 3 on Health & Human Services and belongs to the Senate’s official leadership as a member of its governing body, the Rules Committee. She also serves on the Health, Insurance and Labor Committees. She founded the Senate Select Committee on Women and Inequality, and is a member of the Democratic, Black and Women’s Caucuses. Senator Mitchell previously represented the 47th and 54th District in the Assembly, where she also chaired the Budget Subcommittee on Health & Human Services, as well as the Select Committee on Foster Youth.

Previously, Senator Mitchell was a field deputy in the Los Angeles district office of State Senator Diane Watson. As a policy analyst for the California Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, she sought fiscally-sound ways to expand vital services. As legislative advocate of the Western Center for Law and Poverty, she helped develop the groundbreaking Healthy Families program, later serving as executive director of the Black Women's Health Project in Los Angeles.

Senator Mitchell's commitment to community service and social justice began in elementary school when she volunteered in a congressional campaign. This experience led to student activism and a Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs following her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Riverside.

As the chief executive officer of Crystal Stairs for seven years prior to taking public office, she championed statewide family-focused policymaking.  As the mother of a teenager, Senator Mitchell understands the concerns of working families and advocates legislative policy to meet their needs. She seeks to improve the quality and accessibility of the California’s health and education systems. She focuses on job creation and balancing business, human and environmental needs to expand economic opportunity while protecting natural resources.

Holly_Mitchell_action_shot.jpgHigher Heights: What inspired you to want to work in the political arena?

SENATOR MITCHELL: I heard a speech by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus many years ago, and they said that, ‘The definition of politics was the process by which who gets what, and where.’ At that point, I realized that many in my community didn’t have a long history of strong advocacy, of strong political engagement, of strong political giving, and as a result, we don’t often get what we need in the same timeframe as others who are more politically engaged.

I realized rather early that I have a skill set that allows me to code switch between policy and budget lingo and my community. I’m a good translator. I can help identify needs and the policies that remedy those needs.

Higher Heights: What advice do you have for Black women that want to spark change?

SENATOR MITCHELL: You just have to do it. Some of us can get stuck in analysis paralysis, and not think strategically about how we can individually and collectively be most effective. Sometimes, you just have to jump. If you make a mistake, you have to self-correct, and keep going. In many instances, it’s not that we are confused about the policy solutions. Instead, it’s the collective “we” that often lacks the political will and courage to just do it.

Higher Heights: What do you feel is the single most pressing issue facing Black women today and why?

Black women are not a monolithic group. As a result, it’s hard to identify one single issue. However, the lack of equitable political representation is one of the most pressing issues that I would identify. If more Black women served in elected office, we could then address the myriad of issues that impact and impede the success of Black women.

Higher Heights: Tell us about a woman mentor that has helped you on your journey?

SENATOR MITCHELL: There are three: Former State Senator Diane Watson, sitting Congresswoman Karen Bass, and the former director of the California Department of Corrections, Ruth Rushen. As a sitting Senator, Diane hired me and provided me the opportunity to learn the legislative process, up close and personal. Congresswoman Bass continues to encourage and push me to take courageous political stands. Ruth Rushen, as a very young woman, taught me that opportunity only knocks once, so you always have to be ready.

This interview was conducted by Chelsey Williams, a third year student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She is working towards a BS in Biology along with a BA in Political Science, and had the privilege of interning in the office of Senator Holly Mitchell during the summer of 2015.