CA-32 Cedillo take note: Voto Latino is not a "gang"

I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County, California, in the district formerly represented by now Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.  Like me, 60 percent of the residents of Congressional District 32 are Latino.  That didn't stop my mother and I both from voting for a Chinese-American, Judy Chu, when she ran and re-ran for Monterey Park City Council in the 80s and 90s.  Nor, by the way, did it stop then-Assemblymember and Latina Hilda Solis from endorsing her.

Today there's a pitched battle to fill Solis' very large shoes, with Judy Chu, currently serving on the state Board of Equalization, running against State Senator Gil Cedillo.  Cedillo's main point of persuasion for voters seems to be that since the 32nd district is a Latino district, as a Latino he is better suited to represent it.

Unfortunately for the Cedillo campaign, however, he's not the only candidate in the race with that qualification.  Emanuel Pleitez, a 26 year-old Mexican/Salvadoran-American who served on Obama's Treasury Department Transition Team, though trailing in third place, is apparently close enough on Cedillo's tails to find himself the target of a vicious piece of attack mail.  The message of the mail piece: Pleitez is a "party animal." The evidence: Pictures on Facebook.

It's no longer necessary at this point to further describe how innocent these pictures actually were; Calitics and The Hill have already done a great job of it.  However, given Cedillo's primary qualification for office, it's worth pointing out another detail his attack piece got wrong.

In the mailer, Cedillo accuses Pleitez of "flashing gang signs -- and then posting the pictures on the internet." It then goes on to ask rhetorically, "Doesn't he know about the lives and neighborhoods that have been destroyed by the gangs?"

If Cedillo knew the movement behind Latino political empowerment a bit better, he may have recognized that the woman standing next to Pleitez in one of those photos is Rosario Dawson, star of 'Rent' and '25th Hour' and founder of Voto Latino.  The "gang signs" the two of them are "flashing" are a 'V' and an 'L,' as in, 'Voto Latino.'  Voto Latino's mission is to empower Latino communities like CD-32 by getting out the vote and promoting civic engagement.  Admirably, Pleitez served on the organization's Board of Directors.

Perhaps failing to recognize the hand gestures for what they were was a simple oversight by an ignorant communications staffer.  But eagerly jumping to the conclusion that Pleitez was endorsing gang activity on Facebook at the expense of families in the 32nd district was a reckless and malicious ploy to attract cheap votes.

The tragedy is that Cedillo has been nothing short of heroic in California in his numerous fights in the State Legislature on behalf of undocumented immigrants.  But in an all-too-typical phenomenon among politicians, the integrity that inspired him to take on these principled fights in the State Capitol have evaporated on the campaign trail.

The good news is, desperate attacks like these tend to backfire.  Unfortunately, they tend to turn people away from important elections in the process.  Senator Cedillo should bear both of these facts in mind next time he decides to go negative on his opponents.

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Gil Cedillo

Gil Cedillo is in free fall. After starting out his campaign to replace Hilda Solis in the House as a co-frontrunner, he has been out-raised, out-endorsed and out-maneuvered by Judy Chu and now he's getting desperate.

Cedillo's latest desperate tactic: his campaign sent out a mailer to voters last week that attempts to smear Chu by claiming a link between her position on the Board of Equalization and the financial crisis.

Below the bolded words "Ever wonder how we got into this mess?" is a picture of Judy surrounded by what look like newspaper quotes and headlines including: "This is an outrage,""Ex-Bear Stearns banker pleads guilty in fraud case," and "Political Malfeasance and the Financial Meltdown." The implication is clear.

The LA Times takes it down:

The language used as headlines on the Cedillo mailers, however, came from articles having nothing to do with Chu. One, "This Is an Outrage!" appeared as a quote in a March 16 Los Angeles Times article about anger over bonuses given to executives of AIG, one of the struggling corporations given federal financial aid. Another, "Political Malfeasance and the Financial Meltdown," ran above a syndicated George Will column March 25 in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

That last one is particularly gauling considering Cedillo here is referencing an oped in which conservative commentator Will attacks 1. the Employee Free Choice Act, falsely claiming it "abolishes" the right to a secret ballot, and 2. the Obama administration for, as he puts it, trying "to stabilize the economy by vastly enlarging government's role in it."

Is this how a real Democrat acts, using a George Will rightwing hit piece to attack a fellow Democrat? Hardly.

Not content to merely mislead and to use a rightwing shill to attack his opponent, Cedillo goes even further in the mailer, attacking Chu for her role as Vice Chair of the Board of Equalization. To hear Cedillo tell it, Chu has given millions in tax breaks to her contributors, but The LA Times provides much needed reality check here as well:

The "tax breaks" cited in Cedillo's mailings are actually refunds of tax overpayments by corporations, according to Board of Equalization records and documentation the Cedillo campaign provided to The Times.

Most, if not all, were routine, noncontroversial matters approved by unanimous vote upon recommendation of the agency's staff, according to Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the Board of Equalization.

Nice try, Gil.

But that's not the worst part. Look at the mailer closely and you see a repeated phrase used to describe Judy Chu: "tax collector." The Board of Equalization is the state's tax collecting body whose mission is to "serve the public through fair, effective, and efficient tax administration," yet Gil Cedillo hopes to use it as an albatross around Judy's neck, appealing to and reinforcing rightwing frames about taxes and the evil tax collector.

Again, this is not how a real Democrat acts.

There's only one real Democrat in this race, one who will proudly join the progressive caucus in Congress, one who will vote to enact real progressive change in Washington and one who will be a reliable partner with our president in the House against the forces of caution and corporate interests. That Democrat is Judy Chu.

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CA-32: Introducing Judy Chu For Congress

(disclaimer: I am doing blog outreach for the Judy Chu for Congress campaign)

On Tuesday, May 19, as all Californians go back to the polls to vote on a series of ballot initiatives, voters in the 32nd district (which stretches throughout the San Gabriel Valley from east of downtown Los Angeles all the way to Covina), will be voting in the primary to fill the latest vacancy in the House left over from the Obama transition, that of Barack Obama's new Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file and the field is now set at 12 including 8 Democrats and 3 Republicans. All candidates will be on the same ballot and any voter, regardless of party ID, may vote for any one of them. If a candidate gets 50%+, he or she wins the seat outright; if not, then the top vote-getters from each party face off in the general election on July 14. Because of the make-up of the district, the general election is really more of a formality. CA-32 chose Barack Obama over John McCain in November 68%-29% and Democrats have a more than 2 to 1 registration advantage over Republicans there. The May 19th Democratic primary is the election.

Out of the field of 8 Democrats, just two are considered truly viable: Board of Equalization member Judy Chu and State Senator Gil Cedillo. I am supporting and have proudly joined the campaign of Judy Chu because her 23 year record of public service gives me confidence that she will serve as a faithful partner to help carry out Barack Obama's agenda and continue Hilda Solis's progressive legacy in Washington, DC.

So, is there a frontrunner? Well, considering the dynamics of the race, it's difficult to argue that it is anything but a toss-up although in one significant respect Judy Chu is considered by many to be the underdog. Conventional wisdom is that it will be difficult for a Chinese-American to win a majority hispanic district (the district is 60% hispanic and 20% Asian-American.) But there are three things going for her that can help Judy Chu overcome this hurdle:

  • Judy is the only Democrat in the race with a voting base within the district. Beginning in 1985 when Judy won a seat on the Garvey School Board in Rosemead, she has been elected and re-elected by CA-32 voters to city council, the Assembly and the Board of Equalization where she currently sits as Vice Chair. Gil Cedillo on the other hand has never represented a single precinct within the district.

  • Judy has been endorsed by Hilda Solis's family. While Hilda is staying out of electoral politics as a member of the new administration, the friendship between Hilda Solis and Judy Chu goes back two decades. When Secretary Solis's sister Irma recently publicly endorsed Judy on behalf of her entire family, it was seen as a tacit endorsement by Hilda and a passing of the torch. The endorsement of the Solis's is a very real reminder of Judy's reputation in the district of bringing all communities throughout the district together. It's no accident that Judy has also won the endorsement of all three members of the Assembly that cover the district: Ed Hernandez, Kevin DeLeon and Mike Eng (who, I should note, is Judy's husband.)

  • Judy has won the lion's share of labor endorsements including SEIU and the Los Angeles County Labor Federation. In a low turnout election as this is expected to be, the army of boots on the ground these endorsements afford Judy's campaign should prove to be a huge boost. In the 32nd district alone there are 40,000 union member households whose doors faithful union activists will knock on and whose phone numbers they will call.

This certainly already has been and will continue to be an interesting race. I look forward to writing a lot more about Judy between now and May 19th. You can learn more about Judy at JudyChu.net and contribute to her campaign over at ActBlue.

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CA-32: Judy Chu Launches Her Campaign To Replace Hilda Solis

(disclosure: while the post below is not an advocacy post, I should disclose that I am supporting Judy Chu in this race and have applied for a position on her campaign)

Last weekend I attended the campaign launch of State Senator Gil Cedillo running to replace Hilda Solis as the representative for CA's 32nd district. Yesterday was Board of Equalization Chair Judy Chu's turn to launch her campaign for the seat. The special primary election has been set for May 19th with the general election set for July 14 but as this district is solidly Democratic, the primary is the election; whichever Democrat wins on May 19th will be the next member of the House from CA-32.

Judy Chu's event was held in a smaller venue than Cedillo's and had fewer attendees but had a few things going for it that Cedillo didn't. First was the visibility. Chu had bands of young people out on the street with signs cheering on Chu urging cars to honk in support. Also, while there was no member of congress on hand to tout Chu as Xavier Becerra did for Cedillo, Chu had a larger and more diverse group of local leaders speak on her behalf ranging from State Contoller John Chiang to Assemblymen Ed Hernandez and Mike Eng (Judy's husband) to Hilda Solis's sister Irma. While Cedillo spoke to a room full of primarily hispanic supporters (I'd say 90+%), the mix of Asian, hispanic and white faces there to support Judy and speak on her behalf was notable. While Cedillo is trying to tap into the majority hispanic population in the district (60% hispanic vs. 20% Asian), Judy Chu, having served on the Monterey Park City Council, in the Assembly and now on the Board of Equalization, already has a voting base in the district that spans all ethnic groups. Cedillo on the other hand has never represented any part of this district before.

There were three primary messages on display yesterday that we can no doubt expect to be at the heart of Chu's campaign moving forward:

  • Judy Chu is Hilda Solis's choice to replace her in Congress

    While the new Labor Secretary is not coming right out and endorsing Judy Chu, the campaign event had Hilda's sister Irma on hand to introduce Judy, saying things like "we are definitely supporting Judy Chu" and "my sister has left a legacy here...Judy can run with it." In addition, Judy made a point of telling the story of her improbable election to the Assembly in 2000; what put her over the top: the endorsement of Hilda Solis.

  • The 32nd district should be represented by someone FROM the district (aka "Psst, Gil Cedillo is a carpetbagger")

    Gil Cedillo's State Senate district is close by but does not overlap the district, so the Chu campaign got in a few jabs at him without using the word "carpetbagger" or even naming Cedillo personally. John Chiang said "We need someone who was born in the San Gabriel Valley to represent the San Gabriel Valley, someone who knows it as something more than just a place you drive through to get to Las Vegas" and a local mayor urged "only people from this valley know the needs of this valley." Chu's various positions representing the district were repeated by several speakers with the clear message that there is only one candidate in the race with experience representing voters of this district in elected office before.

  • Judy Chu is the underdog

    Assemblyman Ed Hernandez said it flat out: "Don't fool yourselves, we are the underdog." While Judy Chu touts the endorsement of all three local members of the Assembly, a proxy endorsement of the outgoing member of Congress, the support of prominent electeds John Chiang and Antonio Villaraigosa as well as the hugely important support of the California Labor Federation, the fact remains that Chu is an Asian-American running in an hispanic-majority district, something Cedillo hopes to capitalize on. In realistic terms, Chu is probably more front-runner than underdog but as long as the race is primarily covered through a demographic prism, it's smart of Chu's campaign to cast Chu as the one with the huge mountain to climb.

  • Chu is about inclusion, Cedillo is about exclusion

    At last week's campaign launch, Cedillo and endorsers such as Rep. Xavier Becerra and Supervisor Goria Molina were using not so subtle language to tell the mostly hispanic crowd that Cedillo is the only candidate who's been fighting for "our community." Chu took this on directly:

    Look at the diversity that's in this room. We have young students, we have senior citizens; we have Democrats, we have Republicans; we have lots of folks from labor, we have folks from business; we have all ethnic groups represented right here in this room. You know there are some candidates who are preaching the politics of exclusion but you know what will be the greatest factor in my campaign, it will be the politics of inclusion. This is a campaign that will say everybody has a place in this district and when we come together the sum is greater than its parts."

It's already getting interesting. Look for more updates on this race from the ground over the next 2 months.

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CA-32: The Fight To Replace Hilda Solis Begins

At the beginning of March, there were three vacant House seats: Rahm Emanuel's (IL-05), Kirsten Gillibrand's (NY-20) and newly confirmed Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis's (CA-32.) As of the end of this month, the special Democratic primary in Solis's Southern California district will be the last of the three -- most likely to be folded into the May 19th CA statewide special -- and it's shaping up to be fairly interesting.

In the field so far are three candidates: CA Board of Equalization Chair Judy Chu, State Senator Gil Cedillo and former Obama Treasury transition member Emanuel Pleitez. The district has a D+17 partisan voting index and so whoever wins the primary can be assured to win the election. The demographics of the district make this race extremely interesting. Judy Chu has represented the largely Asian Monterey Park Assembly district but the congressional district is just about 18% Asian and 60% Hispanic. Hence Gil Cedillo swooping in to run for a congressional district that does not overlap with his nearby State Senate district at all. Pleitez will be competing with Cedillo for the hispanic vote but the fact remains that only Chu has a local voting base.

I attended Cedillo's launch event in El Monte yesterday where Rep. Xavier Becerra officially endorsed Cedillo in front of a 95% hispanic -- and very enthusiastic -- audience and joined other local hispanic leaders on stage to rally on behalf of Cedillo.

David Dayen of Calitics was there as well:

Cedillo will have the backing of the Latino political establishment in the area.  The big news yesterday was that Rep. Xavier Becerra, of the neighboring district of CA-31, was out to endorse.  He joins the local county supervisor Gloria Molina, the local city councilman Ed Reyes (a small part of the district includes LA City), former Rep. Esteban Torres, and several other councilmembers and local politicos in giving their endorsement to Cedillo.  Molina even intimated that Congressional Hispanic Caucus support would be coming.  There was some not-all-that-subtle rhetoric about "our community" and "our people." 

But I think he's right to be skeptical of the size and enthusiasm of the crowd as an indicator of the likelihood of Cedillo to win the hispanic vote in the district.

I don't know how many of those young people are eligible to vote, however, and in particular, eligible in that district.  Cedillo will have no shortage of volunteers, but he doesn't completely have a voting base inside the district, having never represented it.  Outside of Molina, the endorsees are not by and large from the population centers of the district, either.

Not to mention the fact that Chu has been endorsed by an impressive array of hispanic leaders herself and has received perhaps the most important endorsement in what is likely to be a lowturnout election, the California Labor Federation.

While not the most consequential race in the world (the fact is that one progressive will be replaced by another) this is going to be a pretty interesting race. Expect many updates from the ground over the next few months.

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