In an interview for IVN, Democratic U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez discussed her chances in the competitive race for Barbara Boxer's open U.S. Senate seat.
Sanchez, who currently represents California's 46th Congressional District, remarked on what it would mean to her to be the nation's first Latina senator, the DNC chair's comments on independents voting in primaries, the state of partisanship in Congress, and more.
IVN: Let’s talk about your U.S. Senate Race. Can you give us a brief summary of your campaign?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: My campaign is going great. I announced my candidacy one year ago, at the urging of my congressional colleagues – they knew I had the life experience and legislative experience necessary to serve as senator for California. Since then, I have continued to rise in the polls. I’ve been building a broad base of support throughout California. People want change and they are looking for a candidate that is representative of the population in California and will be a fighter in the Senate.
IVN: This U.S. Senate seat has been held for the last 24 years by Senator Boxer. This race offers a unique opportunity to elect a Latina woman to the U.S. Senate who will represent California, which has a 40% -- soon to be 50% -- Latino population. Why is it important for California to elect a Latina to the U.S. Senate?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: It’s important precisely because of the statistics referenced in this question. I have the life experience that is reflective of a growing population in California. I was raised by immigrant parents from Mexico who, like all immigrants, came to the U.S. for the opportunity of a better life. I am a product of Head Start and public schools. I understand the challenges that many working families face to get by, because that was my family too. I lived it growing up, and I have not forgotten it.
IVN: According to the 2014 U.S. Census, Latinos make up 38.6% of the total California population, but as of 2015, they only make up for 12.5% of the members of the California State Senate and 23.8% of the members of the California State Assembly. Why do you think this is happening? Can your presence in the Senate fix this?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: There are a lot of reasons this is happening – the high cost of running a state legislative campaign, the difficulty in pulling establishment support for a campaign. I believe my presence on the ballot will help garner support for Latino candidates throughout the state, especially on local races for school board, water districts, city council, etc. I have been telling my supporters this is the best election to find strong Latinos to run because I will work to get the vote out and they will benefit. If elected to the Senate, I will work harder than ever to help advance and get Latinos elected, as I have done in the past.
IVN: Looking at this highly competitive U.S. Senate race, what do you think is the cause of political dissatisfaction, such as hyper-partisanship? What will you do to help fix it?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: We hear over and over that Congress is dysfunctional and that people aren’t willing to work together. One of the biggest problems is that there is almost no reward for congressional members that cross the aisle to pass legislation. Those few members, on both sides, Democrat or Republican, end up getting voted out of office when they work with the other side. I’ll work to fix this because from my 20-year experience in the House of Representatives, I have the relationships and am not afraid to work across the aisle. For a majority of the years I’ve been in office, I’ve been in the minority party in the House. As the #2 ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, there are too many important issues to be left to partisan bickering. My work with Rep. Mike Turner from Ohio, a Republican, is consistently pointed to as one of the rare Democrat/Republican pairs that achieve results in the House.
IVN: Latinos have been drifting away from the Democratic Party. Why do you think that is, and how would you remedy that?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: I think this is a result of stalled immigration reform a few years back – there may be some dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party that failed to get enough votes to pass legislation important to them. President Obama signed important and necessary executive orders to help the issue, but there is still so much to be done. Immigration reform is the #1 moral imperative facing our country, and is one of my top priorities if elected to the Senate. I believe being a leader on this issue will bring Latinos back to the Democratic Party. No group, community, or individual wants to be pandered to or paid lip service. I will fight to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
IVN: This may be the first time in history that two members of the same party face off against each other in the general election for a United States Senate seat. How do you feel about that and do you think it will change the campaign dynamics?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: It changes the dynamics because this election allows all Californians to have a voice in choosing their next U.S. senator. The Democratic Party has an obvious registration advantage throughout the state. Under the typical primary system, the Democrats get one candidate and the Republicans get one too. Who do the independents or No Party Preference voters get to choose? Now with the top-two primary, I believe it brings far more Californians into the electoral process to consider their next U.S. senator and brings about a fundamental change to democracy in the United States – allowing citizens to have a say and giving them the opportunity to elect someone who represents them.
IVN: Do you support California’s nonpartisan, top-two primary? How has it changed the election dynamics?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: I support the top-two primary’s process because it expands the system for broader participation of the California electorate and under the top-two system, every voter can cast a meaningful ballot in our state elections.
IVN: The fastest growing segment of the voting population is No Party Preference voters; what case do you make to these voters that are the best to represent them over your opponents?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: My case to the No Party Preference voters is that I best represent them because I have cast some very tough votes over the 20 years I’ve been in Congress. I voted against the Iraq War, which has proven to be the largest foreign policy blunder in recent history. I voted against the so-called PATRIOT Act because it infringes upon our civil liberties. I voted against the Wall Street bailout because it was a raw deal for hardworking Americans who lost their homes due to risky Wall Street speculation. I have been and am still opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership because I refuse to engage in trade deals with countries that are serial human rights abusers and won’t treat their workers the way we would in the United States. With these considerations in mind, I am best to represent the No Party Preference votes because I have demonstrated that I will vote with my constituents, regardless of political affiliation.
IVN: Your opponent has significant party support; in what ways does this make your campaign more difficult?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: I am not the candidate of the party insiders, because I have continually demonstrated my independence as a member of Congress. When voters compare my accomplishments and legislative record, as the only candidate to ever cast a vote in Congress, I believe that I will convince them that I am the right choice for California.
IVN: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently said she would bar independent voters from voting in primary elections if it was up to her. Do you agree or disagree with her? Why or why not?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: I disagree. In California, independent voters can participate only in the Democratic presidential primary, and then in all other elections as a result of the top-two primary process. It should be a personal choice to register in a political party, not one that determines if you are allowed to vote in a primary election.
IVN: There are currently a disproportionate amount of Latinos, Asian-Pacific Islanders, and African-Americans who are registered as No Party Preference. How can both parties better represent these voters?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: The parties can better represent these voters by reaching out directly, receiving their input and incorporating it into their party platforms. As I said earlier, no one wants to be taken for granted. The real challenge is identifying the needs and desires of these communities and listening to them when they offer solutions. There needs to be a stronger connection between parties and the constituencies they serve. There are policy and community problems that are unique to each constituency, whether Latino, API or African-American. Sometimes this is solved by working to support their candidates to amplify the voices in their community; other times it is solved by supporting legislation that addresses a problem unique to the community.
IVN: Do you support raising the minimum wage in California?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: The proposal by Governor Brown, state legislators, and labor leaders to increase the California minimum wage to $15-an-hour is the right thing to do. Income inequality in the United States has become one of the greatest challenges our nation faces. That is why the majority of the American people and business owners nationwide support raising the minimum wage.
Raising the minimum wage in California under the guidelines set by the agreed proposal is a responsible, measured approach that will help millions of workers; provide a boost to our State’s economy; and prevent sticker shock for businesses.
I’m proud that California continues to set the pace for the rest of the nation.
Editor's note: IVN is reaching out to the candidates running for U.S. Senate to publish a series of similar interviews. Stay tuned!
Photo Source: KCBX Central Coast Public Radio