Rep. Grace Napolitano (D)
California 38th District
One of the great population trends in the United States is the upward social movement of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the Los Angeles Basin, from crowded entry-level neighborhoods out on freeways to suburban cul-de-sacs. It is visible east and southeast of Los Angeles, in suburbs that over a generation have changed from solidly white Anglo to largely Latino. Many people here have climbed the economic ladder by working in small smokeless factories along railroad tracks and riverbeds and beneath roaring freeways, and in small business offices and stores. These workers have made Los Angeles the nation’s top metropolitan area for manufacturing, surpassing Chicago. Their values resemble those of working-class Americans of the 1960s: pro-family and traditional (L.A.-area Latinos have lower-than-average divorce rates), patriotic and hardworking (Latino males have the highest workforce participation of any measured group, and the incomes of U.S.-born Los Angeles County Latinos are at the county average).
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Many of these relatively new residents live in the 38th Congressional District of California, where the percentage of Hispanics in 2007 was 74%. This is a swath of Los Angeles County anchored by four primarily Hispanic suburbs. To the northwest is Montebello (Italian for “beautiful hill”), a working-class suburb just beyond East Los Angeles and once the site of oil drilling. Heavy traffic on the Union Pacific line from the Long Beach port has led to proposals to place the rails underground to minimize dangers and routine traffic interference. To the east is La Puente, a center of the light manufacturing economy that created thousands of jobs in the Los Angeles Basin. Increasing numbers of its small businesses are owned by Asians, Latinos, and African-Americans. Farther east is the old town of Pomona, the district’s largest city and the site of the Los Angeles County Fair. It has been troubled for decades by gang wars. To the south are Norwalk, a rail crossroad astride the Santa Ana Freeway, and Santa Fe Springs.
Rep. Grace Napolitano (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Dec. 4, 1936, Brownsville, TX .
Education: Brownsville H.S..
Family: Married (Frank); 5 children.
Elected office: Norwalk City Cncl., 1986-92; Norwalk mayor, 1989-92; CA Assembly, 1992-98.
Professional Career: Employee, Ford Motor Co., 1970-1992.
The congresswoman from the 38th District is Grace Napolitano, a Democrat first elected in 1998. Napolitano grew up in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, married at age 18, and eventually had five children. When she was 23, the family moved to California. She got a job as a secretary at Ford Motor and stayed for 22 years. After her first husband died, she married Frank Napolitano, and in 1980, they started a pizzeria. She served on the Norwalk City Council from 1986 to 1992, and also served one term as mayor, becoming the first Latino to hold the position. In 1992, she was elected to the California Assembly from a district that covered much of her current congressional district.
|Grace Napolitano (D)||130,211||(82%)||($385,568)|
|Christopher Agrella (Lib)||29,113||(18%)|
|Grace Napolitano (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (75%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (71%), 2000 (71%), 1998 (68%)
Term-limited in 1998, she got the opportunity to run for Congress when 16-year Democratic Rep. Esteban Torres announced three days before the filing deadline that he was retiring. Torres’s surprise move seemed designed to promote the election of Jamie Casso, his son-in-law and chief of staff, who immediately announced his candidacy. But Napolitano was not deterred. She persuaded the state AFL-CIO to vote an “open endorsement,” although the executive board had backed Casso and Torres had been a senior United Auto Workers official in the 1960s. Napolitano and Casso waged a fierce campaign. She criticized him for not living in the district, and he criticized her $180,000 loan to her campaign at an unusual 18% interest rate. Napolitano had the financial backing of national women’s organizations, including EMILY’s List, plus the benefit of higher name recognition. The two candidates had few differences on major issues. Napolitano signed a pledge to serve only three terms. She won the primary by 618 votes, and her victory in November was assured in this Democratic district.
In the House, Napolitano has a mostly liberal voting record. As chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2005, she urged changes in the Democratic Party’s outreach to Hispanic voters and was more consensus-oriented on immigration reform than some caucus members. On the Natural Resources Committee, Napolitano was active in the 2004 reauthorization of the California Bay-Delta water-allocation program, which featured unusual bipartisanship among Californians.
When Democrats took majority control in 2007, she became the chairman of the Natural Resources panel’s Water and Power Subcommittee, with a focus on Southern California’s acute need for an adequate water supply of good quality. In 2007, she co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Water Caucus to inform Congress of clean-water needs and to monitor the impact of global warming. She helped to enact a bill in 2008 to study more-efficient management of water resources and to cap the costs to consumers of guards at Bureau of Reclamation dams.
Napolitano is also involved in the needs of the mentally ill, an interest that was sparked by a report that one in three Hispanic girls contemplates suicide. “Mental health is treatable. But [the Latino community has] a stigma attached to it,” Napolitano said. “We don’t want to see it, we don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to feel it. We hide it.” She supports requiring insurers to treat mental health services the same as other medical services in coverage decisions.
Napolitano’s work has played well at home. She has not been seriously challenged for re-election and she continued the unusual practice of charging her campaign 18% for her personal loans. In February 2003, she abandoned her earlier pledge to serve only three terms; she ran for a fourth in 2004 and won. In 2007, she was criticized by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for paying her daughter, Yolanda Dyer, and her daughter’s consulting firm nearly $53,000 for work on her campaigns between 2002 and 2006. Napolitano said her daughter ran her campaigns and probably should have been paid more for her work.
Local Hispanic leaders undoubtedly will have their eyes on the 38th during redistricting and will be nudging Napolitano, who will be in her mid-70s, to retire. Democrats ought to have no trouble retaining the seat.