A. Garcia / SFVS

Rep. Tony Cardenas congratulates Luz Rivas (white jacket) for her success in the June 5 primary race for state Assembly.

“Now, let’s go to Sacramento,” proclaimed Luz Rivas Tuesday, June 5, at the end of her speech at Casa Torres Banquet Hall in the City of San Fernando, where she gathered with now fellow politicians and supporters for her victory party following the California primary.

Rivas, 43, is heading to Sacramento next week to take over the 39th District Assembly seat left vacant by Raul Bocanegra who resigned last year following accusations of sexual harassment by several women.

On Tuesday, voters in the 39th Assembly District had to vote twice for the same seat.  The first vote was to decide who would fill the remaining period of Bocanegra’s unfinished term; the second vote was for the full term starting next year.

“It feels good”, she said of winning the run-off race that will allow her to complete what was Bocanegra’s remaining term. “The community really believed in me, ” she said while others still expressed surprise that republican Ricardo Benitez was a contender following the April special election. 

Rivas received  70 percent (20,598 votes) to finish Bocanegra’s term. Benitez received 30 percent (8,926 votes).

“In the short term, [with] just me and Ricardo, I won big. I feel we’re going to repeat this in November and I will be the next Assemblymember,” said Rivas, who received the endorsements of Congressman Tony Cardenas, Los Angeles City Council members Monica Rodriguez and Nury Martinez, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“I’m treating this election like it’s for a full term. I think this is what the community needs and I believe I’m going to be the Assemblymember for the full term,” Rivas added.

Budget Items Will Be Her Immediate Focus

Rivas will be sworn in next week in Sacramento, where she will spend the next month. The legislative session is almost over, so she won’t be introducing any bills. But, Rivas said, “there are some budget items” she can have a say about.

“There is some money that we’re going to vote on next week for projects of infrastructure, parks and highways. The Discovery Cube is up for some money to offer more programs.” she noted.

“There’s a couple of things that affect this area and there wasn’t a representative and I want to make sure it gets through the budget next week,” added the engineer who founded DIY [Do It Yourself] Girls, a Pacoima-based nonprofit that promotes science and technology education for fourth- to 12th-graders.

The November Election

Rivas and Benitez are not done battling for this district, which covers North Hollywood, Mission Hills, Sylmar, Arleta and Lake View Terrace.

Rivas, who grew up in the Northeast Valley and who lives in North Hollywood, served on the Los Angeles City Public Works Commission before resigning to run for the Assembly, will face Benitez again in the Nov. 6 general election for the full term.

In that contest, Rivas managed to come on top with 42 percent of the vote (12,908), but Benitez received 26 percent (7,860). Former Assemblymember Patty Lopez – Benitez’s former boss— got 15 percent (4,664).

Because no one received more than 50 percent of the primary vote, there will be a runoff.

“Last time I was (surprised) that Benitez made it to the second round). It shows that Republicans are turning out and they’re all voting for him,” Rivas said Tuesday. “I thought it would be two Democrats.”

“There are a lot of Republicans coming out because we have a governor’s race. This time I wasn’t too surprised. I think Republicans are voting more,” she said.

Rivas said the strategy for the November election will be the same as before, “knocking on doors, making calls, making sure people know me. This will be the fourth election this year. Now my team knows what to do. We’re a machine that is ready to go,” she said.

Benitez Ready to Battle

For his part, Benitez, said he “felt good” with the results and that his campaign is going well.

 “The only thing you need is more involvement from the people, but I think it can be done,” said Benitez, who said he owns a contracting business and has ran for state legislature before, losing in the 2016 general election in the 18th Senate District. Using somewhat similar Trump slogans, he said he’s working to “bring California back” by helping businesses and the middle class by cutting taxes and adding jobs.

“You see the people’s need and desire for change,” he added in a phone interview in Spanish, his native language and the one he’s definitely more comfortable speaking.

Born in El Salvador 60 years ago, Benitez came to the United States in 1975 as an undocumented immigrant. “I walked through San Ysidro and told the officer I was going to the store to buy something,” he recalled.

He was 17-years-old and didn’t have any family waiting for him here in Los Angeles.

“A Mexican family helped me get established,” he said.

Benitez said he became a US Citizen in 1980, and considers this his country.

He attended Glendale High School and later Glendale Community College, where he obtained certification as a photographer. He took photos professionally but said he didn’t like it, and returned to school for a certification in plumbing and electricity. He is now licensed in those professions.

“In this country, if you look for them, the opportunities show up,” Benitez said.

The father of five added he’s a Republican because he doesn’t want “to be a number” like Democrats treat their members.

“Republicans are more serious, honest,” he says. “They don’t see you as a number.”

Benitez knows he’s in a formidable campaign battle and understands the challenges.

For the 39th District race, Benitez said he only invested $500 in some door hangers, against the thousands of dollars Rivas and her supporters spent in flyers and other campaign material.

“I ran my campaign with everything I had left over from the past election,” Benitez said.

Rivas is not the “people’s candidate. She’s for the big interests,” Benitez said. “My only support is the people.”

He also says he’s more experienced than Rivas because of his previous work he did while  working for former Assemblywoman Patty Lopez. 

Benitez and other opposing candidates have been critical of Rivas for being the “hand picked” candidate for what they describe is a “clique” of current Latino politicians

“This girl doesn’t have experience. She’s been put there and they’re going to defend her. But she’s nothing but a puppet of the big political machine,” Benitez said.

The only thing is he believes he doesn’t have is the money to compete with those interests backing Rivas, he adds.

Over the next few months,  Benitez said he  plans to keep doing what he’s been doing as far as campaigning.

“Unfortunately the people only go [vote] based on the papers they get in their home. We don’t know how to choose our candidates,” Benitez said.

He doesn’t have the money at this point for expensive mailers and it’s unknown whether as the lone Republican candidate he will be able to raise money from GOP coffers, but he said he will continue fighting.

“Fighting is what gets you the victory,” he said.