Sac Bee: A record number of Latino lawmakers are heading to California’s Capitol after midterm election

December 05, 2022

By: Matthew Miranda

Latinos, mostly Democrats, continue to make gains in the Legislature, pushing them closer to equal representation with California’s population.

With midterm results finalizing, the Legislature is on track for its largest class of Latinos in history, increasing from 32 to 39 lawmakers. All but five of them are Democrats.

Latinos will now make up 32.5% of the California Legislature, which consists of 80 Assembly seats and 40 Senate seats.

Across the nation, Hispanics lawmakers are expected to reach historic gains from the November election, with the largest Latino class in Congress and more than 500 Hispanic state legislators.

The California Latino Legislative Caucus particularly benefited, reaching 34 Democratic members. That’s also a new record. The caucus now has 10 senators and 24 Assembly members.

“We want to reach parity with the 40% of the population,” said Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, chair of the caucus. “But we’re definitely getting closer there.”

Nearly 40% of Californians identify as Latino or Hispanic, according to the latest census data.

Durazo said the increased representation makes a tangible difference, citing recent laws that expand Medi-Cal to all remaining undocumented adults, make it easier for United Farm Workers to hold elections and ease regulations for street vendors.

She said the caucus plans to prioritize policies that tackle extreme heat for farmworkers, unemployment insurance for the undocumented and homelessness.

“We have to turn the number into real gains for the Latino community,” Durazo said.

Incoming members to the Democratic caucus include Sens. Marie Alvarado-Gil of Amador, Steve Padilla of San Diego and Caroline Menjivar of San Fernando Valley, and Assembly members Liz Ortega of Alameda County, Esmeralda Soria of Fresno, Juan Carrillo of Antelope Valley, Blanca Pacheco of Downey, Avelino Valencia of Anaheim and Rick Chavez Zbur of Santa Monica.

Assembly members Juan Alanis of Modesto, Kate Sanchez of Orange County, Josh Hoover of Folsom will join Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh of Yucaipa as the only Latino Republicans in the Capitol.

Menjivar, 33, will be the youngest senator serving in the Legislature. Menjivar, who is an LGBTQ Marine Corps veteran, noted the growing diversity of the Latino caucus.

“These are much needed perspectives,” Menjivar said. “We’re here to represent the Latino community of all backgrounds. I look forward to opening space for incoming Latinos and Latinas to move into these spaces.

The number of Latinos in the Legislature grew despite six incumbents likely not returning. While Sens. Ben Hueso, Assembly members Rudy Salas, Cristina Garcia and Jose Medina all termed out, Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares and Sen. Melissa Hurtado are behind in close races. David Shepard of Visalia, a Republican Latino, is leading Hurtado.

The record number of Hispanic members comes 60 years after Phil Soto and John Moreno became the first two Latinos elected to the Legislature in modern history. It would take another 11 years until the Latino caucus formed. The caucus will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.