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East Bay Assembly Candidate Asks: 'Who Gets to Define Experience?'

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Compliance officer Cheryl Sudduth says elected experience of many of her opponents for the State Assembly seat for the 15th District is not a positive. (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

This story is part of a weekly series of profiles of candidates running for the 15th Assembly District. You can see all the profiles and news about this race here.

By many measures, the field of candidates running for state Assembly in California's 15th District is robust for a local legislative race.

Half of the 12 candidates currently hold elected office in the East Bay, with years of experience on local councils and boards.

Cheryl Sudduth doesn't see that experience as positive.

"You claim to know the answers to fix some of these problems that are happening," Sudduth says of her opponents in the race. "Why haven't you fixed some of these problems while you've been in office?"

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Perhaps buoyed by her status as an outsider candidate, Sudduth speaks her mind like no other candidate in this race at otherwise mundane candidate forums.

She seems to relish taking veiled shots at other contestants and pushing back against oft-used terms like progressive ("It's bastardized and overused"), school-to-prison pipeline ("It's really womb-to-prison") and, possibly her least favorite: experienced.

"I don't like buzzwords," Sudduth says. "Who gets to define experience?"

Sudduth said her own career, working on contract compliance for Sony, Siebel Systems and Goodwill, should be viewed on equal footing.

"I have lived my life in six-point font," Sudduth said of her compliance work, where she focused on, "How can I hold people accountable and how can I deter others from committing any type of violations?"

Sudduth, who's twice run unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said experience in elected office "means you have experience sitting at a podium and pretending that you care about a community."

In contrast to the plans her opponents have rolled out on housing and health care, Sudduth said, "I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do. I'm not making you a promise that I can't keep because I think that's false. "

Sudduth did give thanks to her opponents in the race (even the electeds) for showing empathy towards her at a recent forum.

Sudduth has a degenerative disc disorder in her back, which forces her to walk with crutches. She said she's often exhausted just getting to the candidate events, including a recent forum held up a few flights of stairs.

"My back was spasming, my legs hurt, I was hurt," she recalls. "I was almost in tears I was so hurt."

The candidates picked up on her discomfort, and one-by-one chose to sit, rather than stand, when answering questions.

Sudduth said the Legislature needs actions like that to spur more disability-friendly policies.

"There's an LGBT caucus, there's a black caucus, Latino caucus," she said. "Where is the disability caucus?"

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