The Presidential race obviously receives massive attention as voters get ready to head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
But there’s a red-hot campaign in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys as well.
The 39th Assembly district, which covers from Tujunga to Newhall and from Arleta to Sylmar, is a rematch of two years ago. This time Assemblywoman Patty Lopez is the incumbent against Raul Bocanegra, whom she defeated by 466 votes in 2014 in a major upset that is still talked about in political circles today.
Lopez earned the victory in part by walking through precincts with her campaign team and personally connecting with as many voters as she could while Bocanegra did little campaigning after winning the primary.
Both are Democrats who advanced to this runoff election after receiving the most votes in the June 7 primary this year. Among a field of six candidates, Bocanegra garnered 44.4 percent of the votes whiles Lopez received 27.2 percent. In California, the top two vote-getters in each race, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the November election.
Bocanegra was raised in the Valley, and earned a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from UCLA. He served as an aide to former Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla. He is a seasoned politician with the backing of the Democratic Party insiders, labor unions, the oil industry and business groups that have contributed more than $1 million to his election war chest.
His campaign has sent out numerous flyers and mailers, and used radio ads to attack Lopez. One of the mailers states that Lopez voted in the Assembly to support NRA legislation allowing loaded guns in schools and college campuses.
Repeated calls were made to Bocanegra’s campaign officials seeking an interview with the candidate, but were not returned.
Lopez, a first generation Mexican immigrant, is still labeled a political novice by detractors. Nonetheless she’s been embraced by the grass roots community for her accessability.
Like her first election, Lopez is running a campaign backed by committed volunteers and friends who have helped her raise just over $126,000 through the sale of tamales, pozole and small contributions.
“I feel people are responding and I feel good my work has always been clean. I’ve never needed to do bad things or run a dirty campaign to win,” Lopez told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol newspaper.
“I have received a lot of attacks from the other side, but personally I feel people don’t believe those lies. I’m a humble person. I’m not doing this to make myself rich, but to better my community. I feel loved and appreciated by the community. At the end of the day, people will decide who’s the better candidate.”
For one voter, the choice is Lopez.
Elisa Vendor, 37, a Pacoima resident and mother of two, said Lopez’ greatest strength is that “she listens” and readily helps the community whenever they ask anything of her.
Vendor said she went to Lopez twice with requests, for help in bringing the Summer Night Lights program to the David Gonzales Park, and for support for the First Five organization of which she’s a member. Each time, Vendor said, the Assemblywoman did not hesitate in giving her a hand.
She also described a time she went to Bocanegra during a Pacoima Christmas Parade while he was an Assemblyman to ask him to come to speak with some children, and he declined. “He said he didn’t have time for us,” Vendor recalled.
Time is something Lopez said she’s devoted to her constituents in the past two years, while she’s learned a lot about the system and politics.
One local businessman who — like Lopez — is an immigrant, said he considered her “a breath of fresh air,” and Bocanegra, “a return to the status quo,” but said he had to work with whoever is elected and opted not to be identified.
Proud Of Legislative Efforts
Among her achievements, Lopez said, is having introduced bills to bring literature programs for the community and extra funds for adult education. Lopez said she was a beneficiary of adult education, and it was one of the issues that motivated her to enter politics.
One bill proposed by Lopez that garnered attention was AB1909, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law. It is now a felony for prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense or falsify evidence in a case. It previously was a misdemeanor. But now, prosecutors could potentially serve prison time for the crime.
“That’s going to bring justice to a lot of people and restore trust in the system that they will get an honest defense,” Lopez said.
Other legislation authored by Lopez includes requiring online childcare job posting services that advertise non-licensed caregivers to notify customers of the California Trustline Registry; requiring all city and county planning agencies to receive and review public feedback in determining the supply and affordability of public housing; and authorizing the Department of Fish and Wildlife to conserve Monarch butterflies and their habitat. There is pending legislation to provide more financial assistance for college students.
In a year when racism and discrimination is part of the political lexicon at the national level, Lopez said she feels “discriminated for being an immigrant, for having an accent when I speak English. But that hasn’t stopped me from working.”
She said that, despite these challenges, she’s proven she’s effective in bringing resources to her community, which is the reason she got into politics in the first place. But she still doesn’t consider herself a politician per se.
“I’m in politics, but I don’t ‘ambition a position.’ This was a desperate yell as a mother, grandmother and activist. I saw that we were putting money in the wrong places and that launched me into this crazy adventure of wanting to bring change,” Lopez said.
“I think the Democratic Party will have to be reformed because they can’t ignore us immigrants. Just because we don’t speak English perfectly doesn’t mean we’re ignorant. They have to respect us,” she added, noting she speaks two languages which makes her able to understand her constituents better.
Lopez said she’ll be in the City of San Fernando on election night, celebrating with (italics) pozole (italics), tamales, (italics) pupusas (italics end) and supporters while she awaits the results.
Bocanegra Representative Extolls Experience
“I’m running for the State Assembly because the residents and small businesses of the Northeast San Fernando Valley deserve an experienced leader who will deliver results for our community,” Bocanegra stated on his campaign website.
“I was born and raised in this district, attended local public schools and have devoted almost two decades to serving this community,” Bocanegra stated on his campaign website. “I have a proven track record of fighting for our community — creating jobs, improving our schools, making our neighborhoods safer, and helping middle class families succeed.”
Alex Reza, a long time community activist who appears in some of Bocanegra’s campaign mailers, thinks this candidate has the knowhow to benefit the district. (Interestingly, Reza initially appeared to be a Lopez supporter after she won, even attending her office opening.)
“He has a knowledge of the community. He grew up here, went to San Fernando High School. He has a lot of experience in the city level and the Assembly. He’s the best person to advocate for the district,” Reza said of Bocanegra.
Reza added Bocanegra, in his first Assembly term, sponsored and received approval of a measure offering tax credits for the film industry.
“That put California back in competition with other states for filming and generated jobs and economic activity, and that will be his priority this time” if Bocanegra is elected, Reza said.
However, Reza also recognized that many in the community see Bocanegra as aloof, and someone who did not create strong bonds with his constituents.
“Once you get to know him, he can be very engaging,” Reza said of Bocanegra. “He’s a ‘can do’ person. I don’t think the personality issue is a major problem to getting things done”.
Reza went on to say that Lopez “doesn’t have the skills” to be an effective legislator. Her major problem, he said, is her lack of experience in politics and how the system works.
“She has very little experience. California is one of the biggest economies in the world and the economic issues are complex. I don’t think she has that capability. Raul is much more well-equipped to deal with these issues.”