Democrats vying for rare open California congressional seat

Two prominent elected Latin Democrat leaders are vying to become a new member of Congress. The race to represent a Southern California swath that stretches from southeastern cities from Los Angeles to Long Beach will be one of the most hotly contested intraparty battles in the state, with the winner earning a pole that could become a springboard to higher positions.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia are running to represent the new 42nd congressional district, a Latino-majority district that was created in December by the commission of state redistricting as California loses a congressional seat for the first time in its history.

“It’s fair to say this is one of the most important Democrat-versus-Democrat races” on the ballot, said Robb Korinke, a Democratic strategist who lives in Long Beach but isn’t aligned with either candidate. . (Korinke was appointed by Robert Garcia to the city’s Technology and Innovation Commission in 2015.)

The new district combined portions of areas currently represented by Representatives Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard to account for loss of population in Los Angeles County without eliminating a district where Latinos could elect a candidate of their choice.

The Roybal-Allard District, which included much of South Los Angeles, the Eastside and Southeast LA County, was the most Latino in the country. Lowenthal straddled Los Angeles and Orange counties. Both announced their retirement in December, creating a rare open seat to represent California in the United States House of Representatives. Robert Garcia and Cristina Garcia revealed their intentions to run for the seat soon after.

Cristina Garcia and Robert Garcia are both 44 years old, children of immigrants, and national attention for their work. They are vying to be the most progressive in the heavily liberal district and will face off in a primary on June 7 where the top two voters, regardless of party, will qualify to contest the November general election. No leading Republicans are running in the race; the deadline for filing is in March.

Robert Garcia’s home is in the Belmont Heights neighborhood of Long Beach, a collection of artisans and beach cottages within walking distance of the Colorado Lagoon and the restaurants and shops of the 2nd Street Entertainment District. town.

About 14 miles north, Cristina Garcia lives in Bell Gardens – not far from where she grew up – in a working-class block of modest houses with security bars on the windows and a backyard rooster that stirs the district.

The communities in which they live reflect the disparate components of the district: along the coast, well-to-do residents focus on issues such as climate change and solar tax credits, while low-income workers in the home fear that their children will suffer from higher asthma rates due to their proximity to polluting industries. Other parts of the neighborhood include Downey and Bellflower, the post-WWII Lakewood homes, and the art deco Long Beach Airport, Cal State Campus and Port.

More than half of the new district’s residents are Latino citizens of voting age, but redistricting experts warn that turnout, especially in non-presidential elections, could disadvantage that electorate. Although Latinos live throughout the district, they are more concentrated in the cities southeast of Los Angeles.

“The core of the voter base is not in the area that is most heavily Latino and where the Voting Act protections are,” said Democratic strategist Paul Mitchell, referring to landmark federal legislation that prohibits the disenfranchisement of minority communities.

The voters most likely to turn out are those living in Long Beach, Lakewood and Signal Hill in the southern part of the district, which Mitchell and other strategists who are not aligned with any candidate in the race say benefits Robert Garcia.

The Peruvian-born gay Latino mayor of Long Beach is widely considered the frontrunner.

It was endorsed by Governor Gavin Newsom, US Senator Alex Padilla, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Lowenthal and several unions. In the two weeks since her campaign was announced on Dec. 17, Garcia raised more than $323,000.

Additionally, at least two independent spending committees that can accept unlimited donations support his candidacy — one funded by business and development interests and the other by LGBTQ activists and workers.

Garcia has received national attention for her handling of the pandemic while mourning the loss of her parents to COVID-19. The New York Times called Long Beach a “model for vaccine deployment”; schools reopened there earlier than in much of California because the city, which has its own health department, prioritized early vaccination of teachers.

“I’ve proven that as mayor I can lead a large, complex organization and it can be done in a way that’s both sensible and progressive,” said Garcia, who was one of a handful of officials. locals who have been granted prime time. speaking slot at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

He has been accused of being overly beholden to powerful donors and criticized for registering as a Republican in 2002 — less than a decade after Proposition 187, the GOP-backed ballot measure that sought to deny taxpayer-funded services to those who were in the country illegally.

He served as California youth coordinator for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000 and founded the Long Beach Young Republicans in 2005. Garcia downplays his involvement in both, although media excerpts from the time cite him proudly playing a leading role in the club. He also notes that he was in high school during Proposition 187 and was not involved in politics then.

Garcia said he followed his family’s lead in supporting the GOP because of their affection for President Reagan, whose immigration policies paved the way for their citizenship.

He registered as a state opt-out voter in 2007, two years before winning a city council seat; and as a Democrat in 2010, four years before he successfully ran for mayor, according to the Los Angeles County Voter Registration Database.

“People are allowed to grow and change,” and former Republicans shouldn’t be treated like “second-class Democrats,” Garcia said, pointing to her refusal to take PAC money and her support for health care. single-payer health. “What matters is your record.”

Her rival, Cristina Garcia, says her story is about her.

“Everyone has to present themselves as a progressive these days. But is that what our record showed? she says. “How committed are you to this whole corridor, not just Long Beach?”

Garcia organized opposition to Proposition 187 while in high school. After college, she became a math teacher and moved away. Then her mother had a heart attack, prompting Garcia to return home.

She became involved in local politics, lost a race for city council in her hometown, and became a vocal campaigner in the corruption scandal in nearby Bell. It helped propel her to a victory in 2012 in a race for the Assembly against a prominent Democratic colleague who spent her heavily.

While in Sacramento, Garcia focused on environmental justice, including cleaning up toxic lead-contaminated soil near the closed Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon.

She’s also been dubbed the “tampon queen” or “period princess” — titles she’s adopted — because of her efforts such as making sure menstrual products are available for free in California public schools. .

The motivations that led her to run for the Legislative Assembly also led her to run for Congress, Garcia said.

“This region has been ignored all my life. This is a frontline community,” she said, adding that elected officials place a lot of importance on the concept of fairness. But how can we make sure we are putting actions behind it? »

As leader of the Assembly Women’s Caucus, Garcia was a vocal advocate for victims when the #MeToo movement rocked the state house in 2017 and 2018. She was featured in a Time magazine photo collage of women female leaders as part of its “Person of the Year”. issue because of his work to hold lawmakers accountable for inappropriate sexual behavior.

Then she was accused of similar behavior. Two Assembly investigations found that although she had breached Assembly policy on sexual harassment and was “overly familiar” with a staff member while intoxicated, her behavior was not sexual.

Garcia, while accepting blame for some allegations, noted that the more serious allegations of groping were unfounded.

In other controversies, she admitted to calling former Assembly Speaker John Perez a “gay,” though she said she didn’t mean an insult. (Perez endorsed Robert Garcia.)

She was also accused by other Democrats of making a derogatory statement about Asian Americans during an affirmative action debate. Cristina Garcia said her remark – apparently, “It makes me want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face” – was taken out of context. She said she was trying to explain how the debate was creating unnecessary and “unhealthy” divisions between ethnic groups.

Current Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, whose Lakewood home is in the district, chastised Garcia during his controversies. But he endorsed his run for Congress, as did Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Treasurer Fiona Ma, several state lawmakers and local elected officials from communities in Southeast Los Angeles.

She didn’t start fundraising until after the first of the year, so her campaign finances won’t be known until the spring.

“It’s not the first time I haven’t had a fundraiser, and we’ve been successful,” she said, referring to her 2012 Assembly run, in which she ran out of money two weeks before the election. Volunteers hand-delivered tens of thousands of flyers.

“We don’t need dollar for dollar,” she said. “We need enough dollars.”

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