Friday, April 19, 2024

Latinos hope for free and fair election as California Senate vacancy sparks early drama

Kamala Harris

When Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced earlier this month that she would not be seeking reelection in 2016, a mad dash for speculative replacements ensued, headlined by the exceedingly popular Kamala Harris, the state’s Attorney General. But those who were quick to sing the praises of Harris – ranging from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to the White House itself – were criticized by the 40 percent of Californians who identify as Latino, and who also felt their voice was being ignored for a decidedly early crowning of Harris for the soon-vacated seat.

“I think Hispanic leaders are concerned about some kind of coronation, as opposed to a real electoral campaign,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “There are certainly talented Latinos who could run for that seat.”

Most notably, speculation has centered on Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles and a widely respected figure in Latino politics. He has been urged to throw his name into the hat by no shortage of prominent Latino leaders, including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA29). Harris, who is half-black and half-Indian, has cultivated close ties with President Obama and is seen by many as a national leader-in-waiting.

“The era is over in California where major statewide races are decided behind closed doors,” said Antonio Gonzalez, a Hispanic political organizer in the state. So too, he added, “is the era where major statewide races have no Latino candidate.”