Labor wins elections in So. Calif.

LOS ANGELES – Final election returns from the March 5 California primary once again provided ample proof that voter mobilization efforts by labor and progressive organizations around the state are resulting in some impressive victories.

A dramatic example of this occurred in Southern California, where five labor-endorsed candidates won hotly contested primary races for state legislative and congressional seats. Two of the five are prominent labor leaders, one is now headed to Congress and the other to the State Assembly.

In the newly created 39th Congressional District, which includes part of Orange County and the Southeast Los Angeles suburbs of South Gate, Norwalk and Whittier, Linda Sanchez, secretary treasurer of the Orange County Labor Council, won the Democratic nomination for the House seat. Sanchez won the primary over two challengers. Since the 39th District is heavily Democratic, Sanchez’s election in November seems assured.

Sanchez is a sister of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) who is well known for defeating former Republican Rep. Bob “B1-Bomber” Dornan. Rep. Loretta Sanchez was the first Democrat to win a Congressional seat in Orange County and is also a sure bet to be reelected to her own seat in November, which would make the Sanchez sisters the first sister team in Congressional history.

In the 46th State Assembly District, which includes Eastern Los Angeles County, another union leader, Fabian Nunez, the former political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, easily won the Democratic nomination for the seat with over 60 percent of the vote. Besides his work for the LA County Fed, Nunez was active in the utility workers’ union and helped lead the efforts against utility deregulation. He also helped assemble the campaign against the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994.

Over in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, labor and community groups also played a big role in helping San Fernando Mayor Cindy Montanez win the Democratic nomination in the 39th Assembly District. Montanez, who is just 28 years old, has compiled an impressive resume in her short political career, winning raves as a dedicated progressive activist since her student days at UCLA in the mid-1990s.

Both Nunez and Montanez should easily win election in November, since both districts are heavily Democratic.

In nearby Kern and Riverside Counties, voter mobilization efforts also were a factor in two other hotly contested races. In Kern County’s 30th Assembly District, which encompasses the rural agricultural communities just outside Bakersfield, Nicole Parra, a former Congressional aide, won an unexpected landslide victory in the Democratic primary, thanks in large measure to a massive get-out-the-vote drive by the United Farm Workers Union, which targeted heavily Latino farmworker towns such as Delano and McFarland.

The UFW also played a major role in a voter turnout drive in the rural Coachella Valley area of Riverside County, enabling local labor activist Joey Acuna to win the Democratic nod in the 80th Assembly District.

Parra’s and Acuna’s districts are considered “swing districts,” and both candidates face tough Republican opponents in November. However, if the UFW and other labor and progressive groups continue their voter registration and get out the vote drives in the fall, Parra and Acuna stand a good chance of being elected.