Tuesday, June 26, 2007

CA 37th Congressional District

I have written about this race here, sharing observations about race and who "owns" which voters. Does the Democratic Party have the right to Latino votes? Black votes? Environmentalist votes? Does the Republican Party have a right to Christian votes? Business people's votes? Veteran's votes? Of course not! Those votes belong to the voters themselves, and we can, must, and will contend for those votes.

In an article at Congressional Quarterly, hidden behind the "Read more!" link, Rachel Kapochunas writes about the race, and the role ethnicity is supposed to be having in the election.
Ethnicity a Key Factor in Tuesday's California House Special Primary

By Rachel Kapochunas, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY
Published: June 25, 2007

Tuesday’s special election primary for the vacant seat in California’s 37th Congressional District almost certainly will not be decisive: With 17 candidates all running on the same ballot, regardless of party, it is unlikely that any will achieve the majority vote needed to avoid an Aug. 21 runoff in the contest to succeed the late Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.

But the 37th District, where Hispanics and blacks combine to make up most of the population, is a Democratic stronghold, and the party’s hold on the seat looks secure. So even though the runoff, if applicable, will involve the top vote-getters in each party, the expected eight-week campaign will be a virtual formality for the candidate who wins the Democratic nomination Tuesday.

Those closely watching the brief but heated special election campaign think the winner of that coveted Democratic prize will be one of two politically seasoned legislators — state Sen. Jenny Oropeza and state Rep. Laura Richardson — who emerged at the top of the field shortly after Millender-McDonald died of cancer April 22.

Both Oropeza and Richardson boast long political resumes that include tenures representing Long Beach, the most populous city in the 37th District. Together, they’ve racked up most of the endorsements and fundraising dollars in the contest to succeed Millender-McDonald.

The primary will define the state of political demographics in a district where Hispanics make up more than two-fifths of the population, but typically have had less voting clout than the African-Americans who make up about a quarter of the district. Oropeza is Hispanic; Richardson is African-American, as was Millender-McDonald.

Millender-McDonald was one of four black House members, all Democrats, from California; some activists and lawmakers have expressed a desire to maintain black representation for the district. The state Black Legislative Caucus resoundingly supported Richardson in early May, stating that she was the “right person for the job.”

But Oropeza has received support from the Latino community, as well as the official endorsement of the state Democratic Party organization.

Democratic members of Congress also have exerted their influence in this race. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) contributed to Oropeza’s campaign, while Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members donated to Richardson’s campaign.

But Richardson was not the only recipient of CBC money. Millender-McDonald’s daughter, political novice Valerie McDonald, also found support from inside Congress. She has the strong support of Democratic Rep. Diane Watson of the neighboring 33rd District and endorsements from some other House members.

McDonald made a somewhat unexpected entry into the contest despite warnings from Richardson supporters — such as Compton City Councilman Isadore Hall III, who had considered a bid for the House seat himself — that a McDonald candidacy might split the African-American vote in the primary and make the goal of maintaining black representation more difficult. Oropeza is the only major Hispanic candidate in the race.

Richardson’s campaign believes that while Hispanics outnumber African-American residents, the story at the polls will be much different. The campaign points to past voting data that suggest Hispanic voting participation tends to lag well behind the group’s overall share of the population. The Hispanic constituency contains individuals who are not citizens and others who are citizens but do not participate in the political process.

Both Oropeza and Richardson claim, however, to have wide support from all segments of the population.

John Shallman, Richardson’s campaign consultant, told CQPolitics.com that voters have been drawn to Richardson from the start because of her local record combating gang violence, poverty and joblessness, coupled on the national level with her opposition to the war in Iraq.

“Her message has been very clear from the get-go... she opposes this war and she wants to bring the resources home to focus on the war in our own neighborhood,” Shallman said.

Oropeza has also been vocal about her opposition to the war in Iraq and her desire to improve education, health care and the environment. Oropeza has the support of the League of Conservation Voters, a major environmentalist organization.

Overall voter turnout will be a challenge for all candidates, as special elections typically draw only a small fraction of all registered voters to the polls.

National Democratic strategists are not playing a significant role in the campaign because of the overwhelming likelihood that a candidate affiliated with their party will ultimately win the seat. Millender-McDonald easily captured more than 70 percent of the vote in recent elections, and faced no Republican opposition last fall when she won re-election to a sixth full term with 82 percent of the vote over a minor-party opponent. Democratic presidential candidates have won by landslide margins in the district.

Oropeza, Richardson and McDonald wield the biggest names among a total of 11 Democrats who qualified for Tuesday’s ballot. Others include Ed Wilson, a Signal Hill city councilman; publisher Lee Davis; Mervin Leon Evans, a businessman and frequent candidate; Felecia Ford, a corporate executive officer; paralegal Bill Francisco Grisolia; educator Peter Mathews; George A. Parmer Jr., a truck driver; and Jeffrey S. Price, a workers’ compensation attorney.

Four Republicans, won of whom will make the runoff if one transpires, are staging longshot bids for the seat. They are minister Leroy Joseph “L.J.” Guillory; John M. Kanaley, a police sergeant and Iraq war veteran; teacher Jeffrey “Lincoln” Leavitt; and businesswoman Teri Ramirez.

Rounding out the ballot are Green Party candidate Daniel Abraham Brezenoff, a clinical social worker, and Libertarian Herb Peters, a retired aerospace engineer who took 18 percent against Millender-McDonald in 2006 as her only opponent.

Also seeking votes is environmental attorney Albert Robles, who qualified as a write-in candidate. Robles was easily defeated by Millender-McDonald in the 2004 Democratic primary.

Check out CQPolitics.com late Tuesday night for live coverage of California’s 37th District special election primary results.

© 2006 Congressional Quarterly
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