November 22, 2006

Perspective:

Latino Candidates Make History on National, State, Local Levels

By Juan Esparza

Vida en el Valle

FRESNO — Assembly Speaker Fabián Núñez already knew that voters in his Los Ángeles district would re-elect him Tues. Nov. 7 because he had the luxury of running unopposed.

The 39-year-old Núñez, however, reacted with delight at election results that showed the five state bond measures pass, Democrats hold on to their state seats, and a Democratic tidal wave throughout the country that also bode well for Latino candidates.

“We held on to our seats,” said Núñez during a telephone interview the Friday following the election.

Although Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante lost the Insurance Commissioner race to Silicon Valley millionaire Steve Poizner and Angelides was swept aside by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Núñez pointed out that the successes of state Sen. Debra Bowen.

Appointed Republican incumbent Bruce McPherson, said Núñez, was a “very well-liked man” but lost the Secretary of State post to Bowen. Plus, Republican Tom McClintock, who earned respect from conservative Republicans during the recall election, failed in his bid for Bustamante’s old seat, falling to John Garamendi.

Núnez believes California can set an example for the rest of the country with its bipartisanship relation between a Republican governor and a Democrat-controlled state Senate and Assembly.

“Voters don’t want us digging in our heels,” said Núñez. “They want government to solve problems. That is why they decided to give the power of the government to the Democrats.”

Núñez said the Assembly Republicans’ election of Clovis’ Mike Villanes, a noted conservative, as their leader shouldn’t pose a problem if he is willing to work with Schwarzenegger and Democrats.

“I hope he signs on to the same agenda,” said Núñez. “He can be conservative as long as he’s willing to get things done.”

Latinos make a difference

Election Day resulted in key wins on the national level for several Latinos. First, Sen. Robert Menéndez, a Democrat who was appointed to the New Jersey seat, held off a strong challenge from Republican Thomas Kean Jr. to win his first full term.

Meanwhile, the new House of Representatives will have 23 Latinos: 19 Democrats and three Republicans (a runoff in Texas pits incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla against former Congressman Ciro Rodríguez).

In New México, Bill Richardson — who is being considered as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 — won re-election as governor.

California had a net loss of one Latino in the state Legislature, but Latinos gained seats on state Legislatures elsewhere, according to an analysis by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).


Setback in Arizona

In Arizona, about half of the Latinos who voted supported a successful ballot measure that makes English the state’s official language. The measure also requires that government functions be conducted in English. Immigrant rights advocates said Latino support for the measure isn’t a swipe against immigrants, but rather reflects a feeling that people ought to speak English in the U.S.

“Even the immigrants who can’t vote know they have to speak English to prosper,’ said Lydia Guzmán, chairwoman for the Coalition for Latino Political Action.

Close races in California

In addition to Nicole Parra’s close win over Danny Gilmore in the San Joaquín Valley’s 30th Assembly District, there were a couple of other close races involving Latino candidates.

Former Assemblymember Lou Correa was locked in a close race against Assembly-member Lynn Daucher in the 34th state Senate race. With absentee ballots still remaining to be counted, Daucher had 40,433 votes to Correa’s 50,072.

Meanwhile, Assemblymember Bonnie García, R-Cathedral City, squeaked past challenger Steve Clute, 28,010 votes to 26,875.

Incumbents who won re-election to the state Senate included Dean Flórez, Gilbert Cedillo, Gloria Romero and Denise Moreno Ducheny, all Democrats.

Elected to the state Senate were Alex Padilla, Jenny Oropeza, Ron Calderón and Gloria Negrete McLeod. Also winning seats on the state Assembly were incumbents Alberto Torrico, Joe Coto, Juan Arámbula, Pedro Nava, Fabián Núñez, Héctor De La Torre, and Lori Rae Saldaña.

Also elected for the first time were Richard Alarcón, Kevin De León, Tony Mendoza, Ed Hernández, Charles M. Calderón, Nell Soto, José Solorio, and Mary Salas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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