CA Central Valley may elect its first Latino congressman
The Central Valley has never sent a Latino candidate to the United States House of Representatives.
This could be the year, say progressives.
People who identify as Hispanic or Latino make up California’s largest ethnic group: 39% of the population, according to the latest census.
The redistricting commission, the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative boundaries based on census data, was required under the Voting Rights Act to form districts with a minority group in the electoral majority to help them elect the leaders of their choice. Three Hispanic-majority voting-age districts in the Central Valley could open the door to a Latino candidate.
“Now there’s a community that’s been overlooked for so long without representation at this level that has the opportunity to put someone there who understands what they’re going through,” said Phil Arballo, who introduced himself. against then-MP Devin Nunes in 2020.
While “Latino” generally refers to people of Latin American ancestry, “Hispanic” is a broader term for descendants of Spanish-speaking countries. The census allowed people who identify as Hispanic or Latino to specify their origin.
The Latino candidates are running as Democrats in each of the districts the commission classified as having a Latino majority: Arballo in the 13th, Eric Garcia in the 21st and Congressman Rudy Salas in the 22nd.
Their victories are far from assured. Hispanic voters swung to the right in the 2020 presidential election. In the 2021 California recall, 60% of Latino voters sided with Governor Gavin Newsom, a smaller Democratic margin than in previous years. And President Joe Biden’s approval rating has dipped, especially among Hispanic voters on economic issues and the pandemic.
Democrats hope in Salas
Still, analysts are giving Salas, D-Bakersfield, a fair shot at unseating Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, in a blue district that leading election watchers say is home to a toss-up.
“I’m okay with being first as long as I’m not last,” Salas said.
Bakersfield City Council’s first Latino, Salas, 45, grew up working the local fields with his father. His family spent Sundays with his grandparents, who only spoke Spanish.
“I think when people find out about my story and learn that I grew up like themselves or someone in their own family, working in the fields and just being immersed in the culture, that helps,” he said. he declared.
Salas has represented the area around Bakersfield in the State Assembly for the past decade, an area that largely overlaps with the congressional district where he is running.
The district had a majority Hispanic population of voting age prior to the last round of redistricting. Valadao, 45, of Portuguese and Hispanic descent by the American historian’s definition of the house, has represented the region for the better part of nine years.
The House Historian is compiling a list of Hispanic lawmakers with the Library of Congress, which works with congressional offices to determine how representatives identify themselves, a library staffer told The Bee.
Pablo Rodriguez, founding executive director of Communities for a New California Action Fund, a San Joaquin Valley nonprofit organizing group, said name recognition would not be an issue for Salas. But he said Salas could be in trouble for supporting and receiving donations from big oil companies, which doesn’t sit well with young Latino voters.
“One hurdle he’s put in place is his stance on climate change issues, maybe something he needs to revisit to understand this district,” Rodriguez said.
Earning Latin votes
Rodriguez said that to gain support from the Latino community — especially Latinas, who he said held key votes — both sides need to appeal to the issues rather than attack each other. He said the problem for Democrats is that they ceded the San Joaquin Valley to Republicans, treating it like an immovable stronghold.
“Will they actually present a platform that will solve people’s problems? Yes or no will decide how Latinos vote,” he said.
Arballo, 43, is running against Democratic Congressman Adam Gray and Republicans John Duarte, David Giglio and Diego Martinez, who is Hispanic, in the 13th district. The company owner pointed out that without Latin American representation, the interests of Central Valley residents would suffer.
“They’re going to fall further and further behind because their congressman doesn’t care to take the 45-minute ride to Los Banos or Newman or to Coalinga. They don’t care unless there’s money down the road for them. And I’m scared and I’m scared of what will happen if we don’t,” Arballo said as a reason to run again.
In the 21st, Garcia challenges incumbent rep Jim Costa, D-Fresno. Costa, 70, identifies as Hispanic and is of Portuguese descent. Garcia, a veteran, campaigns on gun control, climate change issues and support for people experiencing poverty. They face Republicans Matt Stoll and Michael Maher.
Growing up, his father told him how he struggled to speak mostly Spanish in an English-speaking world. As a result, Garcia said he was “hesitant” to learn Spanish, his family’s native language.
“I saw the pain that was still in his eyes after going through that as a child,” Garcia, 34, said of his father who felt ostracized.
Garcia added that in addition to being bilingual, it is important that the representatives be bicultural.
“It’s very important to see someone who looks and speaks like you and has the same experiences represented in your rep because it makes you feel validated,” he said.
Central Valley Hispanic Legislators
The Central Valley, settled by gold miners and farmers until the late 1800s, technically had a Latino congressman — long before the area had its own district.
Romueldo Pacheco, born in Santa Barbara when California was still Mexican territory, represented part of the state from lower San Francisco to the Mexican border known as the 4th District between 1877 and 1883. California, which became a state in 1850, had only four congressional districts then.
Pacheco, a member of Mexico’s wealthy elite known as Californios, was sworn in as the first Hispanic congressman with full voting rights in October 1877. The Republican, who won his election by one vote, was ousted from office four months later when his opponent challenged the results.
He ran again for the District of Southern California in 1879 and served in Congress until 1883.
Former Central Valley representatives Dennis Cardoza, Tony Coelho and Nunes are also of Portuguese descent and counted as Hispanic by the house historian.
Adam Thomas Medeiros, a 22nd Republican, was born in Sao Miguel, one of Portugal’s Azores islands, and immigrated with his family as a child in 1963. A Hanford business owner and member of the Kings County Board of Education, Medeiros is running to bolster law enforcement, water infrastructure and an economic plan backed by former President Donald Trump.
Chris Mathys, a Trump-supporting conservative and former Fresno City Council member, is also running in the 22nd.
Martinez, a business owner in the 13th, immigrated from Uruguay with his mother and siblings as a child. The Hispanic Republican aspires to give people the American dream by supporting law enforcement, tougher immigration policies and better water storage.
“I’m an American citizen, I’m an immigrant, and I’m proud of it,” Martinez said. “I’m proud that the American dream is still alive today. But we have to work for what we get; it is not given.”