Latinos Pushing Antonio Villaraigosa for Senate

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

California Latinos, frustrated because of the seeming anointment of California Attorney General Kamala Harris to replace Barbara Boxer in the United States Senate and the Democratic Party’s apparent willingness to ignore the huge Latino bloc in the state, have launched a campaign to raise the profile of Latino candidates, most notably former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Latino Caucus of the State legislature released a poll this week of 600 voters that showed Villaraigosa has a higher name identification percentage than Harris, 66% to 62%. Though the poll showed Harris with a ten-point advantage over the former mayor, two other candidates appeared as possibilities: Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The pollsters insisted, “the inclusion of a Latino candidate in the U.S. Senate race … will energize a pro-Democratic Latino electorate,” according to KQED News. Members of the caucus pointed out that Harris has appeared on the statewide ballot twice in the past five years, and thus her “advantage over her potential opponents is far from overwhelming.”

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), vice chair of the Latino Caucus, told KQED that there are other Latino candidates in addition to Villaraigosa who could give Harris a run for her money, including Rep. Loretta Sanchez from Orange County, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles. He said, “There many talented Latino leaders who could help energize Latino Democratic voters.”

Harris announced her candidacy on January 13, prompting a cascade of endorsements ranging from Democratic U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who actually advised Villaraigosa not to run, saying, “His loyalty and his relationship with her should be so valuable, and he should, in my opinion, see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that.” Brown’s actions were not unexpected; he and Harris are ex-lovers.

Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez took issue with Brown, telling Calbuzz, “Loyalty is not a one way road show and this potential US Senate campaign is bigger than Antonio. I don’t think he or Kamala needs to step aside. They are both solid leaders and provide a real choice for California and its diversity. Antonio loves Kamala like a sister, but his commitment to public service and history of accomplishments in California makes him more than a good candidate.” Speaking to Calbuzz, another Latino leader blasted, “It’s more than insulting to suggest that the most prominent Latino in California should just step aside because the Bay Area political machine decided that we don’t really matter.”

KQED reports that California Democratic Party Executive Director Shawda Westly lamely protested calling the support for Harris as an “anointment,” saying at a political conference last Friday that the “anointment” is “not a conspiracy, it’s … effective campaigning, but … we only call it that when a man does it.”