A vote on President Obama’s selection for Labor Secretary, Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte, could touch off a political battle here in California that crosses ethnic and personal political lines.
The jockeying to replace Solis has already claimed one candidate, Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles and set up a political showdown that includes Board of Equalization Chairwoman Judy Chu, D- Monterey Park, and Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles.
But before any of that happens, Solis must win confirmation from the Senate. And while Republicans would have to unanimously oppose her nomination to have any hopes of blocking her ascension to Labor Secretary, they were not happy with Solis after her confirmation hearing.
“She answered no questions,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told Politico. “If she won’t answer the questions, how can you support the nomination?”
Assuming Solis gets through her Senate hazing, another fierce political battle will begin for her Congressional seat.
Romero surprised Capitol observers by dropping out of the Congressional race saying she is committed to running for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2010.
“I have represented East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley for over a decade and have no doubt that with the strong support from my constituents I would have been a formidable and winning candidate and a champion for the people in the next Congress,” Romero said in her statement.
“I have evaluated the wonderful opportunities before me and have chosen to listen to my heart. My passion is education. I understand that education is the civil rights issue of our time — the great equalizer in America … It is for this reason that I have chosen to decline to run for Congress and to pursue my dream of becoming California’s next Superintendent of Public Instruction.”
Romero was believed to be a strong front-runner for the eastern Los Angeles County Congressional seat. Her state Senate district encompasses more than 90 percent of the Congressional district.
That leaves Cedillo and Chu alone as the declared candidates for the seat.
Organized labor is expected to play an important role in the race. In special elections, turn-out is notoriously low, and the support from labor is seen as critical in these low-turn out races. In 2007, labor’s support was instrumental in vaulting Laura Richardson over Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, in the race to replace Juanita Millender-McDonald.
On Thursday morning, both the Service Employees International Union and and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor endorsed Chu.
There have been tensions between Romero and Maria-Elena Durazo, head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. But Capitol sources say Romero decided to focus on the superintendent’s race after consulting with former Sen. Richard Polanco, among others.
The potential Congressional showdown has also divided the Capitol’s Latino Caucus, of which Cedillo is chair. Cedillo has tangled with Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and has even threatened to challenge Perez for his Assembly seat in 2010.
Perez is the cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Villaraigosa is said to be leaning toward endorsing Chu, though his office did not return calls seeking comment.
Cedillo and Villlaraigosa were once close political allies, with Villariagosa using his clout to help Cedillo’s election to the Assembly in a 1997 pecial election. But tensions between the two childhood friends quickly grew, and eventually boiled over after Villaraigosa's failed race for Los Angeles mayor in 2001. Villaraigosa threatened to run against Cedillo for Senate after his 2001 defeat, and the rift has never healed between the two. Cedillo stuck with Hahn when Villarigosa eventually defeated Hahn in 2005.
Villaraigosa enjoys considerable clout with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and its leader, Durazo. But Cedillo also has deep labor roots. He was the general manager of SEIU Local 660 in the early 1990s. And his push for the rights of undocumented residents has made him a celebrity among certain factions of the Latino community.
While labor's decision to back Chu is a blow to the Cedillo campaign, others in the caucus want to ensure the district is represented by a Latino. Polanco has been working hard to unify Latinos behind Cedillo’s candidacy.
If Chu is to win the seat, she will have to earn some Latino support. The 32nd Congressional District is about 62 percent Latino. Asians make up about 20 percent of the district population. Latinos make up about half of the district’s voter registration. Asians comprise about 13 percent of registered voters.
In her departure from the Congressional race, Romero announced her support for Cedillo.
“Senator Cedillo has been a forceful advocate for public safety and anti-gang initiatives. He has been tenacious in his advocacy for the rights and dignity of working families and the preservation of good middle-class jobs,” she said. “He has been a leader in the San Gabriel Valley Caucus’ fight for a more equitable share of transportation dollars for eastern Los Angeles County and the communities we jointly represent.”
Chu has already secured the endorsement of Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-El Monte, who has his eyes on Romero’s senate seat in 2010. Chu and her husband, Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Los Angeles, — two of Hernandez’s top potential rivals — are said to be backing Hernandez for the Senate seat.
“Judy Chu is intimately familiar with the particular challenges facing the people of this district from her nearly 25 years representing them at the local and state levels, and she shares with Hilda Solis the same passionate dedication to public service that has made her such a fierce advocate for our communities,” Hernandez said in a statement. “ I have endorsed Dr. Judy Chu for the 32nd Congressional District because I know she will be a strong and effective voice for the people of our region.”
Romero’s exit from the congressional race sets up a 2010 showdown between Romero and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, for state superintendent. The current superintendent, Jack O’Connell is being pushed out by term limits, and has announced his intention to run for governor in 2010.