Latino Democratic officeholders in the southern San Joaquin Valley have faced a paradoxical reality in 2020: two years after former Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) was ousted by outsider TJ Cox (D–Fresno) on a razor-thin 862 vote margin, many privately hoped for the seat to flip back to the GOP.
Why? Cox secured a highly-coveted parking spot in California’s House Delegation representing a district whose population is 71 percent Latino.
Minutes after The Sun and Washington Post analyst Dave Wasserman called the race for Valadao, names of prospective candidates to take on Valadao in 2022 quickly emerged.
While a sizable Democratic field may emerge against Valadao, one thing is certain: the geography of the heavily rural 21st Congressional district will undoubtedly shift due to redistricting in 2021.
Assuming lines remain within rough proximity as they do today, here’s an early look at who may be taking on Valadao in two years.
TJ Cox (D–Fresno)
Current Position: Congressman, CA-21
No, don’t count out a Cox comeback attempt quite yet.
As ballots were being counted this month, Cox filed to run in the current 21st Congressional District in 2022, according to Federal Elections Commission reports.
Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield)
Current Position: Assemblyman, AD-32
Since claiming Valadao’s Assembly seat in 2012 (when Valadao initially captured the 21st Congressional District), Salas has long been vaunted as a likely challenger to Valadao.
With only two two-year terms remaining before he terms out of the California State Legislature, expect Salas to eye or even kick the tires on a new district covering Kern County.
Fresno City Council’s Democratic Bloc: Esmeralda Soria, Luis Chavez, or Miguel Arias (D–Fresno)
Current Positions: Fresno City Council Member
Fresno City Council members occupy a unique spot in the Fresno-Visalia media market. Week-to-week, they are able to singlehandedly shape news coverage.
That’s an interesting intangible unseen in the 21st Congressional District since former Councilman Blong Xiong unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nod in 2012.
Three Democratic council members could be on the trail in 2022.
Soria, a two-termer on the Fresno City Council, is set to term out of office in January 2023. While her previous profession as a policy advisor, lawyer and college instructor are not out of the question, few expect her to leave the political stage upon her term expiring.
But a Soria bid is a complicated dance if Cox sticks with his intention to run in 2022, however. For starters, Soria’s fiancée is Terrance Frazier, one of Cox’s business partners.
Yet, on the other hand, as Soria challenged Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) in this year’s March Primary, Cox cast a vote for Costa over the Councilwoman to win the state’s Democratic Party endorsement.
Meanwhile, Chavez was a high-profile recruit for California State Senate in 2014, unsuccessfully challenging a freshman Andy Vidak (R–Hanford).
Despite the loss, he’s remained on the radar of state and national Democrats since then.
One key ally in Chavez’s corner: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Chavez served as a local surrogate for Bloomberg’s failed bid for President during the 2020 primary. The billionaire media magnate hasn’t shied away from investing heavily in House races.
Adding to the possibility of testing the Congressional waters for Chavez is the fact that he will take the gavel of the Fresno City Council in January, single-handedly shaping the city’s agenda for the next year.
And after two years on the job, Arias has quickly developed himself into the key force in the newly-solidified Democratic bloc – shaking up the agenda of outgoing Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and unafraid to step into battles with the incoming Mayor, Jerry Dyer.
Arias has some other electoral bona fides, too. Though a Fresno City Council member (and former State Center Community College trustee), Arias is a son of Mendota, the westside Fresno County farming town which currently sits within the 21st district.
Nicole Parra (D–Sacramento)
Current Position: Government Affairs Manager, Marathon Petroleum
Nicole Parra hasn’t been in elected politics in more than a decade, but don’t count out the moderate Democratic ex-Assemblywoman.
Sources told The Sun over the weekend that Parra, who currently resides in Sacramento, is eyeing a relocation to Bakersfield and scheduling a listening tour in advance of a 2022 bid for Congress.
Parra served as a trailblazer in the Legislature during the early-to-mid-2000s, leading what is currently known as the Moderate Democrats in the state Assembly.
That subset of the Democratic caucus is now arguably the most powerful voting bloc in Sacramento.
To boot, the ex-legislator has unique bipartisan credentials having backed Republicans in a number of elections in the last decade.
The most notable? A 2010 endorsement of David Valadao, then an unknown dairy farmer from Hanford running for California State Assembly.
Parra’s endorsement of Valadao was featured in an ad with then-outgoing Asm. Danny Gilmore (R–Hanford).
The endorsement was another flashpoint in the long-running feud between herself and former State Sen. Dean Florez (D–Shafter).
At the time, Valadao was squaring off against Florez’s mother, Fran.
Leticia Perez (D–Bakersfield)
Current Position: Kern County Board of Supervisors (Chairwoman)
Perez, much like Fresno’s Chavez, was once a highly-coveted recruit for Democrats at the DCCC.
After a heavy recruiting push to run against Valadao in the Obama era, Perez opted instead to take the plunge to replace former State Sen. Michael Rubio (D–Bakersfield) when he resigned early from office.
A special election in 2013 ended with her defeat to Hanford cherry farmer Vidak.
Since then, Perez has kept her focus largely at home.
One thing may keep her out of the running, however: a singular scandal in 2019 involving a conflict of interest charge filed by Kern County’s District Attorney over her husband’s lobbying county officials on behalf of marijuana interests.
Perez and prosecutors settled the case, forcing her to pay $30,000 in fines and complete community service.
Others to watch
- Emilio Huerta, former 21st Congressional District candidate (2016, 2018)
- Andrae Gonzales, Bakersfield City Councilman
- Joaquin Arambula, California State Assemblyman