Orange County Assembly seat is the future of Latino politics

Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente stepped onto the podium at Anaheim City Hall to address the city council last Tuesday and locked eyes with Councilman Avelino Valencia. The two will face off in the June 7 primary for the 68th Assembly District open seat and are expected to advance to the general election in November.

Your signs are all over Anaheim and Santa Ana, where Valencia and Vicente are from, respectively, and where I’ve lived my entire life. But they had never met on the campaign—until now.

It was revealed last week that the FBI is investigating corruption in the city over the proposed sale of Angel Stadium and a “cabal” allegedly running my hometown. The news made national headlines, and Mayor Harry Sidhu had resigned after Valencia and other council members called for his resignation.

For Vicente, his opponent’s words were not good enough.

Reading from a prepared speech, he accused Valencia of being “funded by the same systems” that polluted Anaheim politics. “How can we trust that with these hundreds of thousands of dollars, there isn’t a political favor?” asked Vicente, before urging Valencia to suspend his congregation campaign “for the love of Anaheim” and to help “clean up the mess he’s about.” has been silent up to now”.

Valencia looked ahead calmly as residents applauded in the packed council chambers.

It was the final volley in their fight for votes. For my voice – and also for my political soul.

The sons of Mexican immigrants represent two sides of the same Latin American political coin that the Democratic Party is in dire need of to stay relevant.

Valencia is a 33-year-old millennial — a first-term Anaheim councilman with roots in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Michoacán — who has worked as a staffer for retired MP Tom Daly, a moderate Democrat, for the past six years.

Vicente is a 26-year-old two-year-old first-time political candidate whose parents are from Oaxaca and who is taking a leave of absence from his job as political director at Chispa, a nonprofit organization at the forefront of progressive politics in Santa Ana.

Valencia has raised nearly $326,000 over the past week from a range of unions, big business and politicians on both sides of the proverbial aisle, including House Speaker Anthony Rendón and former Anaheim Councilman Kris Murray.

Vicente has raised approximately $51,000, mostly from small donations. Two Republican candidates didn’t even raise enough money to report to the California Secretary of State.

The duel is drawing the attention of the entire region, both for what it says about an Orange County that too many people still portray as a conservative wasteland, and for what it means for Latin American Democratic politics in Southern California and beyond represents.

Across the country, young progressive Latinos are raising noisy challenges against established Pols. In South Texas, longtime Rep. Henry Cuellar — the only Democrat in Congress to openly oppose abortion — is at an impasse with 29-year-old Jessica Cisneros. In Los Angeles, Eunisses Hernandez cast incumbent Gil Cedillo as little better than a sale in her race against the LA Councilman. Michael Ortega is doing the same against Rep. Lou Correa, whose congressional district includes the cities that would represent Valencia and Vicente.

They offer something different: a fight for the future, through the future.

“I’m thrilled that OC has more Latinos on the ballot,” said Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, who declined to endorse either candidate. “I’m pleased we’ll have a Latino representative no matter who wins.”

All my Anaheim friends are supporting Valencia whose mailers have been clogging my Anaheim inbox all month. All my Santa Ana friends support Vicente and have flooded my social media feeds with photos of his get-out-the-vote walks. After the council meeting, each side texted me their thoughts: the former group smeared Vicente’s reputation, the latter portrayed him as a modern-day Emiliano Zapata.

The collapse of their respective support doesn’t surprise me: my generation’s Anaheimers are largely from Jalisco and Zacatecas, hotbeds of the libertarian rancho politics I was born with and still broadly support. That Santa Claus I compete with people from other states with more radical traditions that sparked my political awakening in college.

I know Valencia and Vicente well enough that we chatted comfortably when I met them to discuss their efforts ahead of the Anaheim council meeting chocolate (Chicano slang for a soul handshake) and bro hugs.

Who wins my vote?

Both were immediately undecided when I asked them to choose a Mexican restaurant where we could meet the weekend before the Anaheim council meeting. Vicente chose Taqueria Los Grandes, an old-school eatery with a legendary salsa macha that’s on fire.

Valencia opted for Tacos Los Cholos, a social media sensation well worth the hype and long lines.

I met Vicente first and he offered a preview of his Council speech without revealing his plans. Given the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Valencia has received, he said voters in the 68th are fed up with it.

Bulmaro "boomers" Vicente

Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente is the political director of Chispa, an organization that seeks to be the voice of young Latino activists in Orange County.

(Kevin Chang/Times OC)

“People can’t afford rent or gas, but politicians look to special interests instead,” he said while poking around at a plate of enchilada. “The old ways no longer work for us.”

Vicente got into politics as a student at UC Berkeley after police tear-gassed him and others during a 2014 solidarity march for Ferguson, Missouri. The second oldest person was in their 40s.”

“It was important to be that young voice,” he continued, “because I was a voice for people who really weren’t being heard.”

But Vicente returned to Santa Ana in 2018 “exhausted” from politics and with no real plans until he read an article by Chispa that showed how the Santa Ana Police Officers Assn. influenced this year’s local elections.

He reached out to the group and offered his expertise, which they quickly drew on to urge the Santa Ana City Council to pass a rent control measure last year and consider creating a police oversight commission.

However, when it came to lobbying members of the State Assembly and Orange County senators for similar reforms in Sacramento, Vicente said he and his Chispa colleagues were ignored.

“Our generation is influenced by the politics of this generation,” he said. “If this current establishment doesn’t want to fight for us, we have to fight. And our way won.”

When we met, Valencia and I mostly talked about establishment politics.

Avelino Valencia

Anaheim City Councilman Avelino Valencia is under the wing of the Boysen Park Plane at Boysen Park. The lifelong resident grew up playing baseball here

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Recorded phone calls between leaders of Anaheim’s alleged shadow government caught them discussing how newcomer Valencia had a “very simple, bright future” to exploit their schemes.

“They clearly didn’t know me,” he said while wolfing down a beef rib taco. “I can talk to anyone, take their input and at the end of the day not be won over by them and do what’s best for my constituents.”

He said he got that perspective from growing up in a mini-market in Little Saigon owned by his father and specializing in produce from across Latin America. “You should be able to meet people where they are,” Valencia said. “You never know who will walk in the door and how their day has been.”

After attending Fullerton College, Valencia went to San Jose State with a football scholarship as a tight end and considered becoming a lawyer.

Everything changed when, instead of writing a thesis, he did an internship with Steve Bradford, a Gardena-area MP, in the early 2010s. “Seeing laws being made instead of being defended changed me profoundly,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of, give back to where I come from.”

Valencia brushed aside any idea that he is an establishment politician, despite the support of the democratic establishment.

“My constituents understand and believe in my ability to make the right decision,” he said. “They want to look beyond the statements and focus on taking action,” which he said voted against the Angel Stadium deal and in favor of COVID relief.

Both Valencia and Vicente proved smart, genuine and knowledgeable of the needs of the 68th arrondissement. If they were fused into one super candidate, they would be perfect — that is, I’m still not sure who I’m going to vote for.

So I agree with Vicente’s closing words.

“Hopefully we can both make the top two,” he said with a smile, “and then we’ll compete.” Orange County Assembly seat is the future of Latino politics

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