By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
All in all, the number of reliable progressives in the Assembly will probably go up by about five -- to somewhere between 30 and 35. The progressive victors include Cindy Montanez, the 28-year-old mayor of San Fernando, who defeated Yolanda Fuentes, the candidate of the now somewhat dented Cardenas machine. (Fuentes‘ boss, outgoing Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, apparently lost by a hair his race for L.A. City Council.) Immediately south, in Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks, liberal Lloyd Levine defeated Democratic Leadership Council wunderkind Andrei Cherny, who had the support of the district’s outgoing member, Speaker Emeritus Hertzberg, and his business allies. In the downtown district of outgoing Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (who won his uncontested primary for the state Senate), former L.A. County Federation of Labor political director Fabian Nunez clobbered a business-backed candidate by nearly a 2-1 margin. Other progressive victors included two candidates from districts on the fringes of the Bay Area who defeated the business-supported favorites. And in the center of the Central Valley, Nicole Parra, with the assistance of the United Farm Workers, won a smashing victory over Jim Crettol, former president of the state‘s Farm Bureau (whose campaign attacked Parra for signing on to a “radical lesbian agenda” by accepting contributions from state Senator Kuehl).
These were all hard-fought contests. The two main business PACs -- raising their money from the likes of Chevron-Texaco, BP Amoco, Pacific Telesis, Target, Disney, Tenet, Nissan, the state’s beer-distributor organizations and the ever-popular “Big Five” accounting firms -- spent about $735,000 on independent campaigns for five candidates running against the progressive coalition‘s; other business and allied PACs spent another $150,000 or so. The two progressive PACs ponied up roughly $995,000 for their candidates in those races. None of this counts the direct contributions from legislators, unions, business people and others to the candidates’ own campaigns.
III. Latinos: Movement and Machine
Here in L.A., the involvement of business and labor was superimposed over existing conflicts within local Latino politics, where Latino candidates backed by the L.A. County Federation of Labor and its most active locals (notably, the janitors and hotel workers -- both left-leaning unions whose members are preponderantly Latino immigrants) routinely face off against candidates backed by the political operations of more business-friendly Latino elected officials. Call them the movement candidates and the machine candidates -- and given the Election Day clout of the County Fed, the movement candidates have tended to prevail more often than not.
The movement candidates last week were the County Fed‘s very own Fabien Nunez and San Fernando’s Cindy Montanez. Like virtually every Latino running for office in L.A. today, both are children of immigrants. Nunez cut his teeth organizing among undocumented immigrant workers (like his elders Antonio Villaraigosa, Gil Cedillo, and the hotel and restaurant union‘s Maria Elena Durazo, he had the legendary Bert Corona as one of his mentors) before he went to work for the labor movement proper. Montanez got involved in the fight to establish a Chicano-studies department while an undergrad at UCLA in the mid-’90s; she‘s been an activist ever since.
The pedigrees of the machine candidates were equally emblematic. Yolanda Fuentes, the candidate whom Montanez defeated, became involved in politics first as a volunteer on Alex Padilla’s City Council campaign, and then as a staffer for Padilla‘s friend and ally Assemblyman Tony Cardenas. While Fuentes’ own work as a community-based staffer seems to have been exemplary, the larger purposes of the Cardenas-Padilla organization seem anything but. Within the Northeast Valley, they appeared to center on the care and feeding of James Acevedo, their political consultant, whose drive to be included in any major deals or projects in the area is relentless. In the wider world, Cardenas made his mark by siding with the state‘s Indian casinos in their efforts to avoid unionization, then dunning the tribes for vast campaign contributions as the need arose.
Nunez’s opponent, Pedro Carrillo, has been a longtime staffer for Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard -- a pol with none of the unsavory associations of a Tony Cardenas. Running against labor‘s number-one candidate in the March primary, Carrillo perhaps inevitably morphed into the business candidate. In fact, both he and Fuentes would likely have been a decent vote on most labor issues on the Assembly floor. But it is difficult seeing either taking a leading role, say, in a push-the-envelope living-wage campaign that broadens the scope of the conventional ordinances, while such a campaign would be second nature to a Nunez or Montanez.
For the pioneer generation of Latinos who entered politics 35 years ago, there was neither much of a movement nor a machine upon which they could rely. Richard Alatorre, the “Godfather” of Eastside politics for several decades, built a reputation as a key ally of the fledgling United Farm Workers, and in time built a machine of his own in East L.A. Today, with the growth of Latino political power and patronage, and the growth of a laborLatinoliberal alliance, two largely distinct paths are open to young Latino activists -- and the growth of organized-business and organized-labor involvement in the state Democratic primaries will only reinforce the two tendencies. It’s no accident that no one among the younger generation of Latino political leaders seems able to synthesize, as Alatorre did for a time, both the movement and the machine sides of Latino politics. The institutions of Latino politics, and the options before Latino pols, have grown vastly since Alatorre began his career. (A third political path -- that of the Latino pol who is largely a protege of the non-Latino power elite -- is more characteristic of cities and states that have less of an autonomous Latino infrastructure than L.A. and California do. For the moment, the only local Latino pol who has successfully followed this route is L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.)
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