Susan Rubio vs. Mike Eng: A Fierce Independent Challenges A Rank-and-File Democrat

Election competition is taking on a whole new meaning in California. Elections in several races are no longer decided by just members of the dominant political party, but a much broader segment of the electorate.

Take Senate District 22 (Industry, West Covina), where two candidates from the Democratic Party advanced from the nonpartisan, top-two open primary in June — Mike Eng and Susan Rubio.

Independent and Republican voters will decide the race in Senate District 22. This opens a path to victory for the candidate who has proven that they are not beholden to the party line or its leadership. In this case, that candidate is Susan Rubio.

“In years past when it used to be Republican and Democrats, the reality is party leaders already had their pick — they already knew who they wanted for the seat, and someone more like myself, someone who is not part of the establishment would never be the chosen one,” Rubio told me in an interview. “Now, the way the system is designed, someone like myself can get past the primary. Now, we have an independent voice.”

Rubio is a strong defender of the nonpartisan, top-two primary system, and believes every voter should have a chance to have their voice heard, regardless of party.

Looking at the Race: An Independent Voice vs. Establishment Politics

Susan Rubio is a former city clerk and councilmember for Baldwin Park. She also has 17 years of in-classroom teaching experience and is currently a fourth grade teacher with the Monrovia Unified School District. She is running to be the first Latina elected to the State Senate in a non-special general election.

Rubio, like her sister, Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, has a record of being a fierce independent. Her focus since first being elected to city clerk has been on strengthening her community in all areas — from public education to the economy — by maintaining a close working relationship with teachers, businesses, community leaders, and others.

“A lot of the times, people in Sacramento become disconnected, and lose touch as some of the changes are going on,” she said.

Rubio says maintaining these relationships in the community helped save hundreds of homes, kept hundreds of businesses from moving to another city, and saved the local police department from closing. She is running with the endorsements of several current and former elected officials (at the local and state level), nonprofit organizations, public safety associations, women’s groups, and more.

She does not, however, have the endorsement of the Democratic Party.

The party’s pick in this race is Mike Eng, who served in the State Assembly from 2006 to 2012. He also has the endorsement and support of top party leaders and Democratic elected officials — names like Toni Atkins, Kevin de León, Anthony Rendon, Ian Calderon, Norma Torres, Adam Schiff, and more.

Eng is unquestionably part of the Democratic establishment apparatus in Los Angeles County, and has a record of being a rank-and-file party member.

To Rubio’s point, under a partisan primary system, Mike Eng would have likely advanced to the November election with the party’s support, and then voters would not have had any real alternative at the ballot box. In fact, Eng would have likely run unopposed (the 2018 primary had zero Republicans).

Don’t Forget The Independents

Senate District 22, located in Los Angeles County, is a district that Hillary Clinton carried by nearly 70% in 2016. It’s a district that is so blue that Kevin de León ran unopposed in 2010 because Republicans knew running was pointless.

However, the most important and often overlooked variable that will make the difference in this race is the district’s enormous independent voter population — called No Party Preference (NPP) voters in California.

No Party Preference voters now comprise 30% of the district’s registered voter population. Republicans only make up approximately 19% of registered voters. The winning candidate in this race needs support from these voters. Being the party favorite no longer assures a candidate victory.

Susan Rubio says voters in her district are fed up with party-first politics. They are tired of hyper-partisan rhetoric and inaction, and that is being reflected in the voter registration numbers.

“What I hear from my constituents is they think things are already rigged; things are already fixed, so they don’t feel like belonging to a party where their voices are not going to be heard,” she said.

Rubio says she represents “the middle ground voters are desperately seeking,” while her opponent represents the party establishment.

“I have been very successful in getting Republican women groups in particular to be supportive. Even though I am a Democrat and a very active Democrat, I have always cultivated relationships with Republican groups,” she said. These are groups who feel heavily marginalized and disenfranchised because of how Democratic the district is.

“I am reaching out to every single group, letting them know that I don’t represent one party or the other, as it pertains to getting elected. Once you are elected, you represent everyone in the district,” she remarked.

Rubio’s candidacy, along with others like hers, changes the way we look at electoral competition in California. It is no longer simply about who the dominant political party wants; it’s about who has the broadest appeal among voters.

The election in California State Senate District 22 will be held on November 6.