Raul Bocanegra

Raul Bocanegra (D-Los Angeles) has quickly moved beyond regaining the state Assembly seat he held prior to his stunning election loss to Patty Lopez in 2014. He’s been appointed the Democratic Leadership team’s Majority Whip for the 2017-18 Regular Session by Speaker Anthony Rendon. 

His office released a standard quote following the announcement this week: 

“I’m honored to be a part of Speaker Rendon’s leadership team and proud to be working on behalf of the people of the 39th Assembly District. Serving as the Majority Whip will provide me a significant opportunity to address major issues facing all Californians, such as job creation, education, transportation and infrastructure, and the environment, among many others.” 

While in office, Lopez was highly praised for having a constant presence in the local community and for giving a voice to immigrants. But she was never fully accepted by Sacramento’s political status quo, although she was successful in authoring 38 bills during her one term — of which 14 were signed by the Governor and became law.

Lopez believed she was never fully accepted because she “was an immigrant and had an accent,” was self-taught, and did not fit the standard view of an elected official.

Perhaps most shocking, she won the election without owing anyone any political favors. She had a big learning curve and many bumps in the road with few throwing her a lifeline. She persevered, although she still made some wrong turns that cost her, including her loyalty to some staff members who were viewed as big liabilities that caused some supporters to distance themselves. 

Bocanegra, however, wasn’t taking any chances for embarrassment the second time around. He raised more than $1 million from labor unions, the cigarette and oil industry, the California Apartment Association, various political action committees and had the endorsement from the California Democratic party to win back the seat.

With a money arsenal, he used broadcast media and inciting mailers that were distributed at the end of the campaign to attack Lopez. The Bocanegra camp went so far as to claim she supported NRA legislation, and in mailers used a large graphic of a gun to imply that Lopez supported loaded guns in schools and on college campuses.

Mailers sent to voters right before an election are strategically disseminated and timed in such a way that an opponent doesn’t have a window of time to respond. 

Lopez, knowing that the political deck was stacked against her maintained that she was “happy with what she was able to accomplish for the community,” especially on the issues that were closest to her heart including restoring resources for adult education.

During her last days in office, her district office in the City of San Fernando was an open house, filled with local residents, many who were immigrants and Spanish speakers like Lopez. 

Lopez said she viewed it as a “celebration with the community,” and now plans to run for the Los Angeles Unified School District Board.

Bocanegra’s loss to Lopez in 2014 has been viewed as a big warning to politicians who are asleep at the wheel and get too full of themselves, taking their positions and constituents for granted. 

While in the end Lopez could not hold on to the seat and could not fight the political machine that was set into motion to help Bocanegra win it back immediately after he lost, a large portion of the community isn’t celebrating his return and is concerned that Bocanegra will be the same politician he was before — being more concerned with operating at a level that doesn’t trickle down into the community he is elected to serve.   

During the campaign, Bocanegra was very slow to denounce the state High-Speed Rail Authority’s plans to cut through the district. Residents will now be watching to see if he will maintain that campaign position. Or will he go back to his initial rhetoric when asked about the high-speed rail that glibly referenced “supporting jobs.” 

While he takes his bows for this prestigious appointment as Majority Whip, it remains to be seen if — this time around — Bocanegra will do more than feather his own nest. Bocanegra has proven he knows how the political game is played to win an election. But does he know how to truly win the hearts of his constituents by representing their voice?