A Desperate Politician Attacks HSR to Save Her Career
Ralph Vartabedian is really working overtime to try and spin this into a much bigger story than it is. First-term Assemblymember Patty Lopez has turned against high speed rail – but as we’ll see, that isn’t quite the kind of story Vartabedian thinks it is:
The rock-solid Democratic support in Sacramento for the bullet train, which has endured despite legal and financial setbacks in recent years, has developed a political fissure.
Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) says she is withdrawing her support for the project, and she says five other Democrats in the Legislature are reviewing their positions.
Lopez said in an interview that the project would damage her mostly Latino, working-class district, which includes Pacoima, San Fernando and Sylmar. The rail route would cut through the district.
Lopez didn’t identify the other Democrats, and Vartabedian does acknowledge that even if she could, there are plenty of Democrats in the Assembly who do still support HSR.
But I’m not convinced Lopez is right that there are others – and I know that Vartabedian is wrong to call this a “political fissure.”
Patty Lopez was a surprise winner in the 2014 election for the 39th District Assembly seat, defeating incumbent Democrat Raul Bocanegra by less than 500 votes. Her upset victory shocked and surprised many in Southern California, as she was an unknown who was never expected to defeat an incumbent who was a potential future Speaker of the Assembly.
Initial confusion and uncertainty about who Lopez was and what her politics were slowly gave way to alarm among many Democrats and progressives as it became clear that Lopez is aligned with conservative and even Tea Party groups. Arturo Carmona, former Executive Director of Presente and currently Bernie Sanders’ Latino outreach director, reflected the views of many when he called Lopez a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” last spring:
During her campaign, Patty Lopez surrounded herself with Tea Party-aligned conservatives, even seeking campaign advice from Republicans, as reported in the Sacramento Bee. One of her biggest supporters and advisors is David Hernandez, a 9-time Northeast SF Valley political candidate who has had affiliations with the Minutemen, a right-wing anti-immigrant organization that promotes hate and violence against Latinos. Perplexingly, Ms. Lopez also ran her campaign alongside Republican Senate candidate Ricardo Benitez, who she later hired on as staff and has spoken for her at events. Lopez-supporters David Hernandez and Ricardo Benitez are individuals that actively advance issues and causes that go directly against the economic and social interests of the Latino community. And the fact that until recently, Ms. Lopez has had close and public associations with these individual is not only inconceivable but deeply shameful.
Carmona also added that there were already rumblings of a recall effort against Lopez, indicating deep community distrust with their unknown new Assemblymember:
Most recently, I have been hearing community leaders calling on Assemblywoman Lopez to resign. I have also heard the word recall. A long-time parent organizer and community member who has known and worked with Ms. Lopez lamented, “This should have been a moment we should have been proud of — an immigrant, a woman, a Latina. But the sad truth is that it’s a total disappointment.” Ms. Imelda Mendoza went on to say, “I met Patty many, many years ago volunteering for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the truth is that her views are totally extreme and anti-immigrant, completely out of touch with the needs of our kids, of our schools, and of our community. We need someone that can represent us well, that really loves the community,” added Mendoza.
So that’s some important background to consider as we read Vartabedian’s story – especially because, somehow, that information did not make it into his article. At all. You would have no idea from what he wrote that Asm. Lopez is facing a broad community outcry about her extreme views and unsavory friends.
And that background also explains her new position on HSR. It makes sense for an unpopular neophyte politician who is certain to face a strong, well-funded challenger in 2016 to suddenly take the side of an angry community, in a bid to curry favor and shore up her position.
There’s no doubt that many in her district are indeed upset about the HSR project. The California High Speed Rail Authority is working to address those concerns, including studying a tunnel under the San Gabriel mountains that would bypass Lopez’s district.
We will see what the CHSRA decides about the Palmdale to Burbank alignment. But one thing we know for certain: Patty Lopez doesn’t speak for Assembly Democrats. Her views aren’t representative of the larger caucus. And her views are driven by her weak political position, not by anything the CHSRA has or hasn’t done. She faces a very tough battle to keep her seat in 2016 and even her sudden switch on HSR may not be enough to get her re-elected.