Thu, Jun

Harris vs. Sanchez: Ethnicity Shouldn’t Matter When CA Picks a Senator


LATINO PERSPECTIVE--We have all been so busy and preoccupied with the Presidential election this fall but did you know that there is also an important Senate election to replace Senator Barbara Boxer who is not running for re-election? 

Very few people are paying attention to this election. Both Senate candidates -- state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez -- are Democrats and female and come from diverse backgrounds. Whoever wins in the November general election will make history for California and the nation. 

Harris, whose mother is of South Asian descent and whose father grew up in Jamaica, would be the second black woman elected to the Senate; Sanchez would be among the first Latinas elected senator. 

Following on the heels of Barbara Boxer's retirement announcement, the election will fill the state's first open Senate seat in two and a half decades. 

Besides the lack of knowledge on the part of many voters about these two candidates, what’s really interesting is the lukewarm support the Latino community has for Congresswoman Sanchez. 

Last May, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) blasted the California Democratic Party for backing Attorney General Kamala Harris over Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the primary for U.S. Senate. Vela, in a statement to the Washington Post, said the party’s active support of Harris “is insulting to Latinos all across this country.” 

“Congresswoman Sanchez has served her Party and her state in an exemplary fashion for over 20 years,” he also said in the statement. 

“Surely, grassroots California Democrats will recognize that such disgraceful treatment of Congresswoman Sanchez will only lead the party in a foolish direction.” 

Asked why he criticized the state party’s endorsement, Vela said via email to The Post that Democratic organizations should not endorse in primaries: “The establishment should be available to help ALL Democratic candidates equally.” 

“How can the Party claim to be supportive of the Latino community and at the same time alienate a qualified candidate in a historic election?” he wrote. “I hope this statement encourages Democratic leadership across this country to recognize that the Latino community should not be taken for granted. 

California is the most populated state in the country, with the largest number of Latinos than any other state in the country. The California Democratic Party has no business taking a position against Loretta Sanchez,” who, according to Congressman Vela is the “most experienced candidate in this race.” 

“Not one single Democratic Latina has ever been in the United States Senate, and the California Democratic Party’s position is a disrespectful example of wayward institutional leadership which on the one hand ‘wants our vote’ but on the other hand wants to ‘spit us out,’ ” Vela said. 

But the reality is that the Democratic Party endorses in elections all the times where there are two or more Democrats competing against each other; I believe the Republican Party does the same. 

I disagree with Congressman Vela for saying that Latinos should support Sanchez just because she’s Latina. Being Latino or Latina shouldn’t be the only reason to back a candidate. It’s irresponsible to vote for someone or support a candidate solely based on race. 

Vela’s statement that the Party’s active support of Harris is insulting to Latinos all across this country is not true at all. Latinos are smarter than that; we are going to vote for the best qualified candidate. If that candidate happens to be Latino or Latina, then even better. 

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the position of the party is. What matters is the position of the voters. Political parties are political institutions and make political decisions. Congressman Vela should know better. It’s just politics!


(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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