Describing the close race and three weeks of waiting for outstanding ballots to be counted as a “roller coaster,” Patty Lopez — the Assembly candidate that wasn’t considered a threat to incumbent Raul Bocanegra — tallied a final 466-vote lead.
And with only a few days to spare following the confirmation of her win, and news that Bocanegra would not ask for a recount, the San Fernando resident quickly switched gears from observing the count at the L.A. Registrar Recorder’s office to taking the oath for office as an Assemblymember, representing the 39th district in Sacramento.
Gov. Jerry Brown attended the swearing in ceremony in the Assembly Chamber inside the State Capitol building.
“First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge God my creator, my family, and the army of volunteers, friends, associates and others who have provided me with support, resources, prayers and well-wishes during my long journey here,” Lopez said. “It is an honor and a privilege to represent my district and to serve as an Assemblymember.”
Lopez said she is especially proud to have the distinction of being a Mexican immigrant who has been elected to hold office in the state capital.
“Without the community’s steadfast support and faith in me, this humble homemaker would not be making history today as the only immigrant in the current California State Assembly. I’m absolutely honored to hold this distinction,” Lopez said.
“It’s especially important at this time when immigration is such a prominent point of discussion in light of the President’s recent executive action.”
The 46-year-old mother and grandmother has lived in the United States for thirty years, and has worked closely with the Spanish-speaking community as one of the founders of the organization Padres Activos en el Valle de San Fernando. Lopez has focused much of her grassroots activism on the issues of parent engagement in local schools, and concern for the closure of schools offering adult education.
“I hope that by witnessing my representation at this level of government, the community will see me as proof that immigrants like myself, who’ve lived here for many years, can also be part of the system to fully participate,” Lopez said.
“Community” Is Always In Her Sentences
When Lopez speaks, she references “the community” frequently. Up to now, she has concentrated her activism in working class communities. But now Lopez will represent a very wide and diverse group of cities and communities in the San Fernando Valley that include Pacoima, the city of San Fernando, Arleta, Mission Hills, Sylmar, North Hollywood, Lake View Terrace, Los Angeles, Northeast Granada Hills, Sunland-Tujunga, and Sun Valley.
Lopez said she sees her win as “a victory for the people of the 39th District,” and recognizes the socio-economic and racial diversity in each community that spans the blue-collar and low-income neighborhoods in Pacoima to the middle-class neighborhoods in Granada Hills; the horse communities in Sylmar and Sunland/Tujunga; and the vast business community which includes a myriad of small businesses, storefronts and an industrial district. In addition, Lopez’ “community” will now be further expanded to include fellow legislators and associates with whom she will have to negotiate.
Media interest in Lopez has boomed since she delivered a mind boggling upset to Bocanegra. She is now being asked about topics that she hasn’t been asked to comment on before like marriage equality, abortion and fracking.
Driving some of this interest to pin down her political positions is the swirl of curiosity about her campaign team that have not only included trusted comadres — whom she describes as longtime friends and “angels” — but staunch Republicans like David Hernandez, who has unsuccessfully run for several political offices in the past, and Sylmar resident Ricardo Benitez who recently lost his bid for State Senate against Bob Hertzberg.
Lopez’ association with Hernandez and Benitez has caused many to wonder if Lopez is a “conservative Democrat,” or will be strongly influenced by the pair who devoted considerable time to her campaign.
One political observer, who asked not to be identified, voiced concern. “When Lopez has shown up to meetings, she always has to have one of them with her, which makes it appear that she isn’t yet confident on her own, and worse, their presence makes it difficult to speak to her freely. Why doesn’t she understand that they are plastering their Facebook pages with pictures of them latched next to her, and the association is already hurting her political standing and image before she even gets started?”
Lopez, however, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that she will work with “everyone” and has not made a decision on whether the pair will have a role at the local level in her district office.
Also a non-conventional premise is Lopez’ suggestion that like her campaign, her Assembly office will run in a frugal manner, and will attempt to drive money back into her district when she can cut corners. She even indicated that staff may be encouraged to take a more modest salary than the norm.
“When I heard how much money [$650,000] that Bocanegra had available to his campaign, I thought ‘wow, that is a lot of money that could really have helped the community.’”
Translating Activism to Political Representation
Meanwhile, there is no doubt that Lopez’ unexpected win has rattled the political formula for running for office, and has caused such a stir that candidates for upcoming races are planning strong door-to-door campaigns similar to the one used by the Lopez campaign.
She has said that while she’s in Sacramento she will make it a major priority to fight for increased resources for public schools, including adult education classes that can provide knowledge for skilled trades.
Many are watching to see how Lopez translates her local grassroots involvement into public policy and, as a political novice with a steep learning curve, if she’ll be able to hit the ground running. .
While she has experience addressing politicians as a community activist, Lopez is now on the opposite side of the political dais with the pressure turned up to move her concerns into hard action that can be embraced by fellow legislators.
Lopez told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol she will be in required training for new Assemblymembers this week, and has yet to hire a staff for the state or district office. She is currently searching for an office location that is in the center of the 39th district to make it “equally accessible” for all of her constituents.
“I’m already hard at work very carefully putting together my ‘Dream Team.’ A team I’ve been envisioning for many years, one that will have the expertise, resources and the heart to really investigate, identify and resolve community issues that have festered for decades,” she said.
Who she will place on her staff “team” will also be closely noted, as Bocanegra and other possible candidates look toward two years from now and the next election.
Ending The “Disconnect”
Lopez said for now, that’s not her concern. She is looking at what’s in front of her and maintains that many people in her district have felt “disconnected from the system.” Once her team is in place, she wants to refocus attention on education, special education, jobs, housing and immigration.
While she has yet to outline specific action, Lopez has expressed concern with the growing number of marijuana dispensaries in areas like Pacoima and Arleta that she believes are “out of control.”
“I would impose regulations so that they can’t open too close to each other, no less than two miles from the other, and nowhere near schools or seniors,” Lopez said.
“During my tenure in office, my goal is that many in my community will see positive change that will improve their lives, build their trust and will give them access to connect with government.” Lopez readily admits, “I have much to learn in Sacramento, but I know the people of the 39th District and I will advocate for our community whether I’m in Sacramento or in the district.”
Repeating the mantra that door to door helped her to win the election, she said, “I intend to always be the voice from the community.”