(Courtesy of Wendy Carrillo campaign)
As soon as congressman-elect Jimmy Gomez announced he was running for Congress, his Assembly colleague Cristina Garcia got to work.
Garcia, a legislator from Bell Gardens who became chair of the Women’s Legislative Caucus in December, called Gomez, other Assembly members, and labor and environmental groups to make it clear: if Gomez won the 34th Congressional District and vacated his Assembly seat, her priority would be electing a woman in his place.
With Gomez headed to Washington after his June 6 win, Garcia said it’s time to put her group’s plan into action.
"It’s simple," said Garcia, who became caucus chair in January. "As long as we don’t have parity, we’re going to fight at every opportunity to try to get another woman in office."
Women hold 17 out of 80 seats in the state Assembly and nine of 40 of the state Senate seats.
On Wednesday morning, the Democratic arm of the women’s legislative caucus announced it is endorsing Wendy Carrillo, a Democrat who ran in the 34th District primary against Gomez, and who is the only woman running to replace him so far.
"I am impressed by her ongoing activism for environmental justice, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants and social justice movements that are the bedrocks of a progressive democracy and welcome the tenacity she will bring to further promote these issues in the State Legislature with a woman’s perspective," Garcia said in a statement.
Eight other candidates have filed to run for or have announced campaigns for Gomez’ 51st Assembly District. The election date and its accompanying filing deadlines have not yet been set, mainly because Gomez has not stepped down, so another woman could still jump in.
But Garcia is hoping her caucus’ announcement will head that off.
"If the 34th Congressional District race is going to teach us any lessons, it’s that we don’t have the luxury of having multiple women split the field," Garcia said.
More than a dozen women ran in the crowded primary to replace Xavier Becerra in the central Los Angeles District. None of them won more than 10% of the vote.
So Garcia and her colleagues haven’t just been talking about their mission; they’ve been trying to shape the field of candidates, too. Garcia said she reached out to former 34th District hopefuls to gauge their interest, solicited names of potential female candidates from interest groups, and had conversations with a half dozen women who were considering jumping in.
Garcia said she didn’t discourage any women, but was up front with them about the challenges each might face. She’s also encouraged women who expressed interest to "work it out among themselves" in hopes that they could unite behind one female candidate.
It’s a somewhat new tactic for the women’s caucus, which has struggled to unite on political endorsements in the past and is hoping to flex more muscle in Sacramento.
"We are being more strategic now," Garcia said. "It can’t just be like, ‘I like you and you have a great heart.’ That’s not good enough. You have to put in the work and be able to build a coalition and win."
Carrillo said it was "unfortunate" that none of the women in the 34th District race made it past the primary. But, she added, "Men don’t get asked the question of whether they’re worried about splitting the vote."
The outcome in the congressional primary, Carrillo said, had more to do with a lack of money flowing to many of the womens’ campaigns, something she hopes to remedy.
"I’ve learned a lot…just what it takes to build coalitions and how best to move forward in terms of having a strategy to win," Carrillo said.
"Ultimately, the voters are going to decide based on issues," Carrillo said. "I think that I bring a very unique perspective having grown up in the district, in terms of advocating for labor and for education and for healthcare and all the issues that residents care for."
Evacuated workers pray on the fairway of the San Bernardino Golf Club shortly after the 2015 mass shooting at the nearby Inland Regional Center. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) Tom Steyer at a Los Angeles high school in 2014.