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California Hispanics, even Republicans, are primed to make history


Change is happening in Hispanic-American politics this election year.

While two current Hispanic governors — Nevada’s Brian Sandoval and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez — are leaving office as their terms expire, two more Hispanic gubernatorial candidates are running for November election in Idaho and California.

Congressman Raul Labrador’s (R-Idaho) run for governor in Idaho certainly stands out, for his state does not have many Hispanics to run from as a political base. Hispanics are about 12 percent of the state’s population, 196,000 out of 1.7 million people. According to the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of the Idaho Hispanic population is of Mexican-origin and overall it is predominantly native-born, not immigrant. 

{mosads}Labrador himself is Puerto Rican, not Mexican; he is a Mormon, Brigham Young University graduate and a Republican who made conservative waves in Washington, D.C. If recent polling can be relied on, he is running in first place for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and second (among decided voters) in a poll with totally different methodology and not targeted at Republicans. As of now, Labrador looks good.

California, however, is the most politically important state for American Hispanics. As Gov. “Moonbeam” Edmund G. Brown, Jr., is termed out, a new governor will be elected in November.

Hispanics have their best opportunity to elect a Hispanic governor of California since Romualdo Pacheco served as the first Hispanic state governor in U.S. history in 1875.

In this race, former Los Angeles mayor, Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (21 percent) has eliminated the polling gap with former San Francisco mayor (and current lieutenant governor), Democrat Gavin Newsom (23 percent). The candidates are now in a statistical tie. John Chiang runs third with 9 percent support.

An electoral tie would mean a Villaraigosa-Newsom runoff in November. If that runoff happens, Villaraigosa will likely win the governorship easily as Hispanics line up to support him. California’s “jungle primary” means that the top two June primary vote-earners go to a November runoff regardless of party.

Here are November’s political factors:

  1. A Southern California v. Northern California contest for votes. The advantage goes to the former Los Angeles mayor as Southern California’s 10 counties have over half of all California voters.
  2. A Hispanic versus non-Hispanic contest. The advantage goes to Villaraigosa again, who comes from one of the largest “Mexican” cities in the world.

If the current polling continues through the primary, Villaraigosa will be the next governor of California.

Also interesting is the race to replace the California Republican hatchet man, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who earned his political stripes by clashing with President Barack Obama. As chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee he spent thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars investigating Obama’s government. He is the Congress’ richest member.

This 49th District race became exciting when nine-term Issa unexpectedly announced his retirement in January. Democrats had planned a colossal battle against the vulnerable Issa; now, the scramble to replace him now numbers at least 10 candidates. Issa was almost defeated in 2016 when the district overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. The Republican won by only about 1600 votes.

In the contest, Republicans have four elected officials running, including the Issa-endorsed Diane Harkey, an elected member of the State Board of Equalization, which used to be important. It has been seriously downgraded to a minor-league bureaucracy after financial antics within it were discovered by the legislature.

Joining Harkey is former mayor and current San Diego County Board Supervisor Kristin Gaspar who was elected in November 2016 to the five-member County Board after almost a million dollars was raised in support of her against the board’s only Democrat.

San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Brian Maryott most recently threw his hat in the ring. He is a relative newcomer to politics and self-financed his 2016 campaign to the San Juan City Council.

To round out the foursome of elected Republicans running for Issa’s seat is state Assemblyman Rocky Chávez of Oceanside, Calif. A retired United States Marine colonel and the vice-chair of the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, Chávez is the highest-ranking Hispanic-Republican elected official in California.

According to an internal poll by the Chávez campaign, he currently leads Harkey and Gaspar double digits and appears to be set to make it through the primary and be is favored for November’s election.

San Diego County has a Hispanic congressman, South County Democrat Juan Vargas. With Chávez running, North County could elect San Diego’s second Hispanic congressman, only the second since 1850 when Mexican San Diego became American. He will also be California’s first Hispanic Republican to be elected a U.S. Congressman since Pacheco, almost 140 years ago.

Chávez can join Villaraigosa in making California political history this November. The Democrats who were demonstrating every week against Issa lost their cause celebre when Issa announced his retirement, opening the way for Chavez.  

California Hispanics, including Hispanic Republicans, can make history in November. Will Texas and other Hispanic populations take notice?

Ojala! (If God wills it!)

Raoul Lowery-Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy”and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

Tags Barack Obama Darrell Issa Hillary Clinton Juan Vargas Raul Labrador

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