| I'm starting a new series here at Calitics. We've seen with the budget fight and the difficulties funding health care reform that the current balance of power in the Legislature just isn't cutting it. This is particularly irksome because they daylight is clearly seen at the end of the tunnel. 5 Assembly seats and just 2 Senate seats would bring 2/3 majorities in those chambers, and yet there is little or no talk within Democratic circles of explicitly going after the vulnerable seats within reach that would give us those numbers.
Well, you shouldn't wait for others tomorrow to begin what you can do today. So I'm going to be profiling districts and candidates that can get us to what should be the overriding goal of 2/3 majorities.
We begin today in California's 80th Assembly District, which largely covers the desert region around Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Indian Wells, but which encompasses Imperial County all the way down to the Mexico border. This district is currently held by Republican and hot Latina Bonnie Garcia, yet there are a plurality of Democrats there. This is the most Democratic seat held by a term-limited Republican, though obviously that term limit can be overturned. But regardless, this seat represents an opportunity. And I met with the man who can not only deliver that seat, but who can give rise to a new movement of young people of color devoted to improving the lives of their constituents.
That man is Manuel Pérez.
|I met with Manuel at a coffee shop in Indio, a working-class town surrounded by the posh hotels and golf courses of the Palm Springs area. It really is a haves versus the have-nots story, with resorts fighting with growers for water resources from the Colorado River, to name just one pressure point. When you move into Imperial County, where the population is 75% Latino and over 65% speak Spanish as their first language, that dichotomy is even more stark. In this environment, someone with ties to the land is crucial. And Pérez' history goes back generations.
Manuel Pérez' parents were immigrants who met in the fields while chasing the crops they picked for work. His mother worked 26 years in the fields, despite raising a family. His father became a veteraño (a veteran of the migrant fields) and worked for the city of Indio on water issues. Growing up in Coachella and Calexico, Manuel worked in the fields himself over the summers when he wasn't in school. His parents understood the importance of education, teaching the values of "service and sacrifice and social justice," and pushing him to advance as far as he could go. At an early age, he saw a community of gangs and drugs where his best friend was killed in a drive-by shooting.
He became the only person in his family to go on to higher education, getting his bachelor's degree at UC-Riverside (and becoming an organizer on campus). He had the opportunity to get a master's degree in Social Policy at Harvard, and took it. Instead of leaving his community behind, he returned to it, organizing field campaigns throughout the state for candidates and issues like Schools Not Jails. This is someone who hasn't waited around for higher office to make a difference in his community; he's rolled up his sleeves and dived in. As a director for the Borego Community Health Foundation, he's created one of the first diabetes resource center in the desert region and has delivered health services to underserved regions. As a researcher for the California Institute for Rural Studies, he put together a groundbreaking study on women's reproductive health issues in Imperial County, where women have little opportunities and resources to manage their own health. With Promotores, he's part of a group of community-based leaders devoted to teaching about health issues and making sure people in the community get the facts about programs at their disposal. As a schoolteacher he started his school's first ever Chicano Studies program designed to allow students to learn history from their perspective. With the Eastern Coachella Valley Social Change Collaborative, he identified farm workers living in the area and trained them to be community leaders themselves. Believe it or not, he's only 34.
Eventually, Pérez and like-minded community leaders saw the ability to effect social change through policymaking. So they founded an affiliation called "Raises," or Roots, a group of people from the community who got their educations elsewhere and then returned to lead. They decided to work in campaigns and put up candidates. The first year, Pérez was voted onto the Coachella Valley School Board. And Eddie Garcia was elected to city council in Coachella. Then Garcia was voted mayor, and Steve Hernandez was elected to city council. It went from 1 to 2 to 3 and this year 5 members running for office and seeking social change. These are community leaders built from the bottom up, infused with the desire and obligation to give back. In Garcia's mayoral election, they signed up 15,000 new voters, and criscrossed the region 5 or 6 times, knocking on doors persistently despite being outspent by 3 to 1. Garcia took 70% of the vote, and so did Pérez.
Manuel Pérez is not only a perfect fit for this district, providing an opportunity to retake this seat and get us closer to 2/3. He represents a new generation of Hispanic-Americans who are dedicated to working for change from the bottom up. He would bring to Sacramento a unique set of skills, as someone who can build coalitions and train a group of leaders far into the future. There are primary candidates on the Democratic side for this seat who appear to be very nice. I don't think anyone combines the résumé and the hope for the future more than Manuel Pérez.
He has an ActBlue page and he is worth your support.
(I should add that if anyone knows of a great legislative candidate they'd like me to profile for the Drive for 2/3, please email me at dday-at-calitics-dot-com.)